How a random collection of cameras became a view into a cultural phenomena

I’ve been accumulating cameras since 1971 when I left home for college and picked up a used Nikon FTn. I was so thrilled to own the same camera the professionals used! I was the “photo bug” of my extended family and so as relatives cleaned out their homes, their old cameras found their way to me.

While I loved the idea of having this collection, I really didn’t think seriously about them. Then I was given the assignment of creating a photo essay on the subject of “Collections, Archives and Museums” by a Lindsey White, a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.  Maybe now was the time to get serious about my collection.

I rummaged though my house gathering all the cameras I would find. Then what? The simple solution would be to photograph each camera, either in a documentary style or in some creative “product photo shoot”. OK as far as it goes, but not very intriguing. Then I hit on the idea of creating a website with a page for each camera. I started with a photo and some technical information on the camera. In the process of searching for the technical information I discovered old advertisements, images of people using the camera, the camera being used as props and more cultural artifacts. These got added to the page.

Eventually it became clear to me that I was creating a view into the evolution of the cultural phenomena that is photography. My collection represented a random sampling through time of that phenomena.

One more creative step remained. I created QR codes which, when scanned by a smart phone, would bring up the appropriate page of the website. The public display of my project is simply these QR codes with a date underneath, hung like photos at an exhibition. It looked something like this:

QR codes for Archive Project

If you have a QR code scanner on your phone, you can scan these images to get a similar experience to the viewer of the exhibit. If you don’t, and don’t want to download one (they are free), you can always follow this link (but it is not the same).

Interacting with my camera collection exhibit
Interacting with my camera collection exhibit

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