The Start and Past Camera Shows

Charlie Kamerman next to a few of his favorite Kodak Cameras - 2008


Collecting and Exhibiting Photographica

The recently closed IDCC thread (Internet Directory of Camera Collectors, September, 2007) discussing collections and their destiny prompted me to recall my own exhibiting experiences. Because these experiences occurred over a 15 year period, this post is rather long and took me a while to write. I apologize for this and I hope that my experiences and long-range plans are still relevant and of general interest to the group.
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Starting to collect

Photography and collecting have played an important role in my life. Back in 1979, at the age of 26, I was completing four years of photography at college in Florida. During this schooling I became great friends with a camera store manager who happened to be an amateur photographer and who also collected cameras. Dan mentored me in photography and cultivated my interest in collecting. He suggested that I collect Kodak cameras because they were plentiful and cheap. To this day they are still plentiful but they are not necessarily inexpensive any more!

I received my first camera as a gift from my college girlfriend's grandmother on my way home from college. It was a Kodak Tourist in the original shiny black box.

A few days later in Albany, N.Y., I saw a #3 Folding Brownie Model "A" in the original grey box in an antique store. The dealer was asking $45, much more money than I had and more than I thought it was worth. I left it on the shelf, but I took the seller's information and headed home to Wisconsin. All the way home I could not get that camera out of my mind. Eventually I earned the money, called the store owner and paid $50 to have it shipped to me.

It was then I decided to collect only Kodak things in original boxes. In my travels I had seen lots of Kodaks, but only a few were in original boxes. I thought it would be a way to limit the number of Kodak cameras I could purchase. In the beginning it probably did. But in reality it did not work very well at all.

I moved to Redondo Beach, California in 1980. Eventually, I discovered that I was not the only collector in town, although I was one of the youngest. I found the Pasadena Camera Show and the Western Photographic Collectors Association (WPCA) and a bunch of other camera collectors and collecting associations. I met people from all over the world and still am in contact with quite a few. Many sellers found my in-the-original-box restriction quite interesting and would call me whenever they found something. I usually bought what they found. My camera collection grew quite rapidly! I learned that the WPCA encouraged collectors to set up exhibits at their two-day camera shows and I decided I would give it a try.
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Exhibits in Southern California

In 1981, I did my first exhibit at a Pasadena Camera Show. I had about fifty cameras on two tables (with the shelves about fifty linear feet) in chronological order, all in original boxes. The earliest was that #3 Folding Brownie, circa 1907. The latest was the 1964 Worlds Fair Kodak. I won first prize in my category, Equipment/ General, and I was voted most popular exhibit.

In 1982, I bought my first deco Kodak sign, circa 1932, from John Craig. That year I set up seven tables on two walls at the Pasadena Show. The earliest was a "B" Daylight, circa 1894. The "Western Photographer," Volume 23, Issue 1, WPCA Fall Display & Sale, noted, "The real show-stopper this year had nothing to do with buying or selling photographica. It was, in fact, an exhibit of cameras. Each year the WPCA invites its members to share their collections with the visiting public, and provides a separate room for this purpose. Kamerman simply outdid himself when he put on one of the most outstanding displays of its kind seen anywhere in the United States. 142 cameras dating from 1894 to 1964 in chronological order along seven runs of four level shelving. Then, along side each camera -- and here's the capper -- he placed the original box. When finished, the exhibit stretched nearly half way around the room. It was overwhelming. Thank you very much, not only for sharing your collection, but for raising the standards of collecting to new heights." I won first prize in my category, again Equipment/General, and I was voted most popular exhibit.

In 1983, I set up twelve tables on three walls at the Pasadena Show -- approximately 275 linear feet with 250 Kodak cameras plus accessories in original boxes in chronological order. By this show I had added catalogs, flyers, signs, posters, window displays, boxes of film, darkroom supplies, toys and Kodak Girls.

"The Photographist," Number 60, Fall/Winter 1983, reported, "There was one exhibit that was overwhelming! It was sixty feet long, eight feet high, and displayed the largest and most complete collection of Kodak cameras and accessories ALL IN THEIR ORIGINAL BOXES, ever seen anywhere. All this was interspersed with a fabulous assortment of Kodak point-of-puchase displays and store signs. Not bad for a club exhibit? Kamerman's three walls of Kodaks was a truly outstanding display." I again won first prize in my category, Equipment/General, and I was voted most popular exhibit.

The curator of the California Museum of Photography in Riverside came to the twelve table Pasedena camera show. He expressed an interest in doing an exhibit at the museum! My first museum exhibit and a dream come true. In 1985, I opened a six-month exhibit at that museum. It was in a great room with lots of floor display cases very up close and personal. The cameras were generally in chronological order by decades around the room. On the outside were four windows about six feet wide that held four different Kodak window displays from the 1930s and 1942.

From "The Press Enterprise," Sunday, April 21, 1985: "Dan Meinwald, museum curator, calls the collection 'extraordinary. The cameras he owns are not that unusual; we probably wouldn't display the collection if it were just cameras, but the fact he has original boxes and promotional materials puts the collection in a much larger context than cameras -- it's all photographic history.' "

I had approached the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, California before the Riverside exhibit about a possible display and was given the cold shoulder. But I did invite its curator to the Riverside exhibit. A few days after he saw the exhibit, he called me to tell me when I was going to have my exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. My second museum exhibit, I was on a roll!

In 1986, the exhibit in the Lokker Gallery at the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles was incredible, lasting almost a year. When I first saw the empty room, I was scared to death that I was in way over my head, and that there was no way I could fill it! The gallery was a huge, two-story room. It took almost 2 weeks to complete the exhibit. I filled the entire space to the brim with camera items and accessories in twelve large wall cases. Several smaller cases upstairs had catalogs, film wallets and other literature. The walls were covered with signs and posters of all types, and there were four window displays on the mezzanine.

In the Lokker Gallery the average time spent by a visitor in the exhibit was 45 minutes. Most museum exhibits hold a viewer's attention for around five minutes or less. I wish I could say it was my doing, but the real reason is that nearly everyone in the world has been touched by Kodak at some time in their life. When you see 100 years of that history all at one time, emotions run wild. The attendees told me incredible stories as I sat, watched and listened. One story has stayed with me over the years. I came up to a gentleman who was sitting on a chair. He was staring at a Brownie camera and he was crying. I asked him if he needed anything and he said no. That camera had evoked some memories that had been stored inside him for a long time and they were coming out. He was going to be just fine.

An article by Mike Kessler included, "Each time the collection was displayed at our WPCA shows, it grew larger and more beautiful. Now it fills a big, 2-story room in the museum including the walls and wrap-around mezzanine. With this collection there is an overwhelming sense of 'completeness.' For the first time the history of a single photographic manufacturer has been displayed in a manner that puts a grin on your face and educates at the same time."

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Eastman House, Oregon and Seattle exhibits

In 1988, Eastman House borrowed a large assortment of my advertising to use in their Centennial display in Rochester. I packed up four boxes of stuff and shipped them to the Eastman House. Unfortunately, I did not get to attend the exhibit. These pictures were sent to me some time after the exhibit closed and the items I sent were returned. That was one of the best feelings I ever had. Finally, someone at "Kodak" appreciated the existence of something "Kodak" from the outside world! It was a great experience and I would gladly do it again -- anytime.

In 1989, we moved from southern California to Tigard, Oregon. I did three more smaller exhibits over the next six years. The first was at the library in Tigard with twenty Kodak Girls on top of the book shelves, one case of cameras and assorted posters on the walls,

From "The Tigard Times," Week of December 6-12, 1990, page 10: "The 20 photogenic young women on the top of the Tigard Public Library shelves look like they're imploring the people down below to 'say cheese,' these 'standup girls' represent part of his Kodak collection tracing the evolution of American advertising."

The second occurred at a small museum in Hood River, Oregon with two cases of cameras and assorted advertising on the walls (sorry no pictures), and the third happened at the Seattle Convention Center in 1995. The Convention Center exhibit was small but sweet. Eight floor cases were filled with the best stuff I had at the time, and there was enough wall space for some rather large advertising posters. It also had a another great display of a row of about twenty Kodak Girls. However, the Kodak Girls that were so popular in the library exhibit lasted only a few days because the display was offensive to the liberated women in the area, and sadly the girls had to be removed. The rest of the exhibit remained on display for nine months, three months longer than scheduled.

An October 1995 letter to me from a well known collector stated, "I know of no other photographic collection that encompasses the changing styles and tastes in so many different disciplines; Clothing, advertising, technical advances, industrial design, printing, commercial art, taste, photo history and the past 100 years of the American experience are all touched upon in your wonderful collection. It deserves to be on permanent display somewhere."
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"Teague Teaser" produced by Rick Soloway for the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design's upcoming exhibit.

21 cameras and one magazine from my collection that were designed by Walter Dorwin Teague will be part of the display.
The exhibit runs from June 1st through August 31st, 2012. The following pictures were taken by Ralph or Bobbie London
who attended the display. Ralph gave a talk on Teague designed cameras.

My friend Allison Teague.

The USPS poster with the stamp that has a photograph of a Baby Brownie from my collection.

I did not ste this exhibit up. Ralph, Rick and I determined which cameras would fit in the case.
I packed everything up and sent them all to Allison. It was an absolute pleasure to be part of this exhibit.

My unusual ways of preparing exhibits and collecting

All of these exhibits were done before eBay. I never asked to be paid and I never will. I set up every exhibit with little or no help, not because it was not offered, but because there were no plans or layouts, and there was a lot of fragile stuff. First, I arrange the cases in the room, then on the floor in the middle of the room I pile lots and lots of Xerox paper boxes filled with my collectables and start placing things where I guess they should go in chronological order. I keep going until the cases, walls and whatever was available was filled to the brim. I do not have a list of what I have, and the boxes are kind of filled randomly with stuff. So I never actually know what is going to be where or where it will end up going until I am finished.

Okay, you get the picture. I have the BUG! I am an insane accumulator. My enjoyment comes from the hunt, sharing information and having exhibits. I have no collecting goals to have every camera (as I believe it is impossible to get every camera in an original box), but I would like to be able to set up a small, predominantly Kodak photography store in any decade from 1888 to the present. Or at least a window display if I do not have enough inventory for a store. At the moment I believe I can do it, but I have not tried lately.

Since joining eBay in 1997, my collection has grown explosively to around 6,000 items, maybe more, about 98% Kodak, Hawk-Eye, Premo, Graflex and 2% other. My positive feedback is at 3543, all from purchases. My sole restriction is that I only buy cameras and accessories in original boxes. By design, I have many duplicates. When I pay for an eBay item, I always include the following note which has led to many additional purchases:

"I am always looking for Kodak cameras and accessories in original boxes, Kodak advertising, Kodak literature, Kodak point of purchase materials, Kodak boxes of film, Kodak girls, Kodak signs, Kodak posters, Kodak toys, cars, trucks etc."
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My future plans based on my experiences

Eventually, I would like to get some financial reward for the time and money I spent over the years, but I do not believe that one person or institution would want to spend very much to keep my collection together. On the other hand, both Fred Spira and Jack Naylor sold major collections to single entities. I do not believe either collection is currently on display. Recently at auction, Spira sold significant items and Naylor sold a major collection.

Here is an example of the frustrations I have had with museums. There used to be a wonderful advertising museum in Portland which is now gone. I have not been there for many years. They had a couple of collections from beer and cigarette companies and other general advertising items. I have a lot of Kodak advertising, so much that Eastman House borrowed some back in 1988. It covers point-of-purchase items to seventy foot long billboards and everything in between. All together, it's over a hundred years of some incredibly beautiful stuff. Kodak spent a lot of money on advertising! For ten years my mother and I tried to get someone at the advertising museum to look at the collection to see if they would be interested in any kind of exhibit. We could not get an audience with anyone. We could not get the time of day.

On the other hand, I do know that Wayne Ellis, a great, long-time collector who passed away several years ago, sent most of his collection to Duke University. I am not sure what the status is or whether it was donated or sold. The information can still be found by a standard Google search, but I could not get any links to open.

Print Advertisement Collections in the Hartman Center The Wayne P.Ellis Collection of Kodakiana spans the dates 1888 to 1989, and was created by Mr.Ellis over a period of nearly four decades.

My remaining dream is to have one last monumental exhibit -- pretty much everything I have -- "From the Original to the Digital" (maybe with a little NASCAR twist but that is another story). I would like it to be at the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y., to last at least a year, hopefully for three years, and to be viewable during a PhotoHistory symposium which occurs every three years. I believe that the Strong museum has the space and that they could provide the cases. But I am not sure whether they could actually free that space for a period of time, especially for a camera collection. If they could, I would get everything there, and I would set it all up for free. I could fill a room or I could fill a building, and people would come, look and learn. I doubt very much that this dream will ever come true. I would need powerful advocates and they just do not exist. Officials at Kodak do not really care about history, they never have, and I believe they never will. In fact, I think they are afraid of it. This conclusion is based on several events that have occurred over the years. One of those events is that I never could get anyone from the Kodak Office in Whittier, California, located minutes from the museum, to come to see the exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

There have been plenty of references in this thread to willing recipients of collections. So I can not say for sure that no one in the world would be willing to house a very nice collection. And I would love to be part of a photography museum as presented in the thread! But from someone who has spent a considerable amount of time pursuing the exhibition, please do not hold your breath waiting for someone to seek you out. And once a collection is received by a museum, it does not necessarily follow that it will be on permanent display or that it will even be available for reference.

Please realize that the general public and in many cases, immediate family, may not be the least bit interested in what It takes us a lifetime to accumulate! Family members do not usually fight over who will get our most prized possession so they can pass it down to the next generation. Rather, they usually fight over the best way to dispose of the collection! In fact, the items that interest ourselves and our collector friends the most are usually the things that the general public will find the least interesting. In general the rarer the item, the more monetary value it has, and the less general interest value it has. As a result, It takes more than a few rare old interesting cameras to hold the attention of the general public for more than a few minutes. Even a large collection of cameras that people have not generally used will not hold their attention for very long. To keep their attention for a long time, you have to present them with a mix of items that they can relate to and that they find interesting for a variety of reasons. These reasons are usually based on their life experiences.

Here is an example that relates to perceived value. For the exhibit in the Lokker Gallery, I borrowed a couple of cameras. One of them was a boxed, Original Kodak that I borrowed from Mike Kessler. It was far and away the most valuable camera on display, and it was inside the first pedestal case with a plexi-glass top as you entered the gallery. The collection was in chronological order around the room, the first case with the Original and the last case with the newest camera, a Kodak Disc 4000. The two cases were almost close enough to touch both at the same time. The collection was self insured, which meant the collection was not really insured at all! Museum officials called one day to tell me that there had been a burglary. They were going to add some guards to the exhibit for my benefit but that I should come down to see what had been taken. So of course I thought the worst, that I was going to have to call Mike and tell him that his one-of-a-kind Original was gone and that I would do everything possible to get him another one as fast as humanly possible. (It only took me 20 plus years to find one recently for my collection!!!) I got to the museum, my heart pounding. I went to the gallery to find that the case with the Original had not been broken into at all. The burglars had removed the glass from the last case, not the first case, and had taken the $20 Disc 4000 camera and a couple of 1984 Kodak Olympic Pins! What a relief that was.

I am not holding my breath for some rich person out there who would care to have a photography museum named after themselves. Since I am not finding any one with a huge space to deal with the volumes of stuff I have accumulated, it would be rather absurd to require someone to have it all on display as part of a sale. As a result, I assume that my collection will be scattered throughout the world by me or by my family at some appropriate time in my life or afterward. But at 59 I am not quite through accumulating and hopefully, I am not through exhibiting either!



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Kodakcollector 2008


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