When Dusty Parrish, an Allen-based photographer and educator, stumbled across a Kodak box camera from the 1930s while browsing in an antique store in McKinney, he had no idea how significant the camera in his hand would be in his life, nor did he know how important the purchase would be for so many children’s lives. Drawn to the striking tan leatherette camera with golden fittings and a large, gold-foil 50th anniversary sticker, Parrish knew he had to take the near-mint Brownie home to add to his collection.
As a photography instructor, he knew the Brownie was one of the most important cameras in history; it introduced the idea of simple-to-use cameras and low-cost, “snapshot” photography to the masses. “But I’d never had a box camera before,” Parrish says, so he handed over $20 for it. “It was the 50th anniversary edition camera, and when I took it home, I shook it and there was a box of unused 120 film dated from 1931.”
The unopened, very-expired roll of film piqued his curiosity and spurred him on to further investigate the tan model Brownie. (Despite the name, the majority of Kodak’s Brownie models were black, so a tannish-brown “blondie” model really stands out on a shelf.) Kodak introduced the cameras to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary, and 557,000 of the limited-edition cameras where manufactured to be distributed by authorized Kodak dealers for free to children who were 12 in May 1930.
“So the kid that got this free camera never used it,” Parrish says. “It looks brand new, and the film was still in the box. And once I realized that, that’s how the idea came up.”
Instead of just handing children free cameras and film at a camera store and then sending them on their way, his idea was to mentor some potentially up-and-coming photographers to help them capture interesting photographs with a 100-percent analog box camera. But bringing back the simple photography experience to today’s students wouldn’t come cheap. So Parrish set up his Box Camera Rebirth campaign on Kickstarter to help him fund the purchase of 30 Kodak box cameras from the 1930s, as well as the film and chemicals needed to develop and print enlargements.
Parrish explained on his campaign page: “I would like to provide instruction, old box cameras, prints of student works from an elementary school and host an exhibit for them.
“I firmly believe the ‘best’ way to learn is by doing,” he continued. “I also believe that making these kids rock stars at an exhibition of their works created from these little boxes would also boost their confidence, while also recognizing their work as young budding artists!”
Parrish plans to mentor students at Boyd Elementary School in Allen, teaching them the history and simple mechanics of box cameras, composition guidelines, the basics of film exposure and developing, and printing and exhibiting the images. “Kids need project-based learning,” he says. “They need to see a result and feel the result. To touch and feel the learning. A photograph. A piece of art. You remember the process more if you have a physical part in creating it.”
He posted about the Kickstarter campaign on social media in a few photography groups, and soon the campaign gained momentum. Then the folks behind the Film Photography Project podcast featured Parrish’s mentoring idea in the final minutes of Episode 172 on Nov. 7. (When the podcast was recorded, Parrish only had five backers at $290.)
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Quickly, the campaign spread through various film communities online, and by the time the campaign ended last week, 99 backers had pledged $3,310 to help make Parrish’s analog idea a tangible reality. “Basically, people were blowing it up on social media,” he says.
Parrish says it “feels awesome” to see the far-reaching support from the film community online. In addition to folks from all over North Texas and a handful of backers who are former students of his, he says the campaign attracted photographers from across the U.S. “I ended up having people backing this from as far away from Ireland and the UK.”
“It’s the best gift ever,” he said of the campaign coincidentally meeting its goal on his birthday.
What’s next for Parrish? He says once he has the workshop up and running for students at Boyd Elementary, “the goal would be to bring these workshops to other schools.”