The heyday of the camera

Since their invention, cameras have been a vital part of life. They have been used to preserve and capture moments-in-time important to individuals and society. During the last hundred years, the camera has been reinvented and transformed constantly through human ingenuity, stylistic phases and the advance of technology.

Today, it seems that for many people the camera is almost superfluous. Advanced camera photography is now available in almost every mobile phone. People constantly have the means to capture moments on their device. These cameras are inevitably always close by, with ‘real’ cameras seemingly held in reserve for professional photography and special events.

So, it seems that the twentieth century was the heyday of the camera.


2. Ashburton man, Mr H J Chapman is a past principal of Hampstead School.

Camera collections

Naturally various types of cameras have fallen into the safe hands of Ashburton Museum over the years. The museum has a fantastic vast collection of cameras gifted to the museum by local people. They range from box brownies, to Polaroids, to cameras that record onto floppy disks.

Many of these cameras came to the museum with stories of origins and owners. Two, interestingly, stem from Egypt.

A small black Folding Ensign Camera came all the way back to Ashburton from Egypt where it was bought in 1914. Another is a Vest Pocket Kodak Camera engraved with the name Gwenyth Fulton. It was a parting gift given to Dr Noel Fulton by his sister when he departed to Egypt in WWI, whose father features elsewhere on these site in an article about Dr Fulton and an unusual elastic stone that he once owned.

3. A quirky and humorous photograph of a group having fun on a icy lake. Can you spot the camera.

Valued histories

While researching our camera collection, it was difficult not to think about the valuable work these retired cameras did for our community. Without cameras like these, we would not have the important visual evidence of what our ancestors looked like, what our streets looked like, and what people found to be significant events to capture.

I studied Classical Studies at University so I have some idea about the struggles historians would have without this photographic evidence. I would love nothing more to find out what Emperor Augustus really looked like, not just what he wanted to be portrayed like!

Museum staff and scholars two thousand years in the future, will be incredibly grateful for the careful preservation of the local twentieth century photographs we hold here at Ashburton Museum – all as a result of these little things called cameras.

One of our wonderful museum volunteers is photographer Anita Badger. In a twentieth century turn of events, she used a specialist digital camera to photograph the relatively small Brownie Starlet camera at the top of this article. The act gives a great snapshot of changes in photographic technology.

By Libby Neumann


  1. A relatively compact Brownie Starlet camera. It is about 10cm across. Photographer: Anita Badger
  2. Ashburton man, Mr H J Chapman was a past principal of Hampstead School. He was a very keen photographer. Ashburton Museum has a lot of his images in the collections. ©Ashburton Museum.
  3. A quirky and humorous photograph of a group having fun on an icy lake. Can you spot the camera? This image was taken by renowned local photographer, Frederick Cooper, who lived most of his life in Ashburton. ©Ashburton Museum.

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