Originally presented as part of GRAMMAS CAMERAS II (2013), an exhibition of photography and writings.
My family calls me a pack rat. I call myself a collector. I’ve been told I can’t let go. But, if I don’t save something, who will?
As a kid, I collected everything. Think of something, and I have probably had a small collection at some point in my life. There were pencils, erasers, coins, rocks, playing cards, Pogs (remember those?), t-shirts, scrap fabric, pins, candles, Barbies (of course, I was a little girl once!), flip flops, greeting cards, just to name a few. My mom hated it!
After I grew up, my obsessive collecting subsided. Well, I say it did, my husband might argue differently. Most collections have been split up over the years, amongst my nieces and nephews, or have just been lost or forgotten.
But, there are a few collections I still have, and that keep growing. Those would be my postcards, buttons, and old cameras. I can’t go into an antique shop, or to a yard sale without walking away with something that will fit into one of these categories.
I was five or six when I became interested in post cards. My cousins loved to send them, and I loved receiving them. There was something special about getting mail with my name on it. I loved the idea of a picture and a short message to go along with it. I would think, the sender picked this one out just for me! My mom’s side of the family quickly caught on that I saved every postcard I received. My grandma started saving hers, and in a short time I had quite an impressive stash of postcards from very interesting places.
When I was thirteen, I was given a collection of postcards that belonged to my uncle’s mom. She was someone I called grandma, because my cousins did. I spent a lot of time with her, and I never knew she had these amazing treasures. Her family wanted me to have her collection, and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized how amazing that was.
My most prized postcard is one that my grandpa (on my dad’s side) sent from Japan to my grandma when he was in the Navy in World War II. After she passed away, he gave it to me. Not only was I excited that it was a postcard, but it also has meaning to our family. His message to her was short. It included details of the weather, what he did that day, and that he missed her. That’s what I love about postcards. The words are carefully picked out, because there isn’t a lot of room. It’s definitely a reason why I still collect them.
So now, the bamboo chest I keep my cards in is overflowing. I still have the original ones sent to me as a child, and some I’ve picked up in my own travels. I have ones I’ve purchased at antique shops, and those given to me by my family. And I keep acquiring more. I started my button collection similar to the way I began collecting postcards. I was little, and I started saving ones that intrigued me. Pretty soon after that, I was confiscating the extra buttons that came with new shirts and coats. I asked my mom to buy me buttons at the store. I would even take them off clothing. Sorry Mom, that’s where all those missing buttons went.
My mom’s mom also collected buttons. When I was in college, Grandma passed away. I was given the opportunity to look through some of her things. In a big tin where she kept her sewing supplies, there was a smaller tin filled with buttons. I couldn’t believe it. It happened again! I was really close to her, and I had no idea she collected them until after she passed.
I have since mixed my buttons with hers. I recognize some, but there are ones I have no idea about. Every so often I open that tin up and dump it out on the table. I choose a button and see if I can remember where it came from.
I’ve told you about my obsession with postcards and buttons. Now I want to get into the reason I brought you here, the reason I started ‘Gramma’s Cameras’. As I mentioned before, I also collect cameras. I am a photographer, and a huge photo history nerd. I got into photography at a young age. My black and blue Fisher Price camera was always around my neck. But, unlike my postcard and button collecting, I didn’t become interested in cameras until I was in college. As I learned about alternative techniques, and studied photographic history, my interest in vintage cameras peeked. After I graduated, I only had a few that I picked up from a local antique shop. I had borrowed some to experiment with, but I had to return them.
So when my best friend offered to give me a box of old cameras from her grandma’s house, I was ecstatic. I was reluctant to play around with them at first. Her family trusted me, and I didn’t want to cause damage to them. There was so much of her family history in this one box. I have since taken them out and played with some of them. They are still on loan to me, and if any member of her family wants them back, I will be sad to see them go.
I also have cameras from my own family. Again, one that belonged to my own grandma is my favorite. It’s a Kodak box camera that she was known to carry with her wherever she went. My grandpa gave it to me for the same reasons he gave me that postcard from Japan. It’s something I will have with me forever.