Our staff build, preserve, and provide access to the Newberry’s collection of 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 500,000 manuscript pages. Many of them also methodically curate their own personal collections ranging from coffee mugs to Kennedy memorabilia.
In this blog series, Newberry staff members share their personal collections and explain how and why they collect what they collect.
NB: In accordance with professional standards for museum and library workers, Newberry staff practice strict “social distancing” from anything related to the Newberry’s collecting interests to avoid any possible perceived conflict of interest.
Collector: Analú López, Ayer Indigenous Studies Librarian
Collection: Vintage Cameras
How and when did you start your collection?
I first started my camera collection when I was 14, the same year I also became interested in photography. A family member at the time introduced me to the “darkroom” (where you develop and print photographs). My stepfather was also interested in photography and showed me how to use a camera. It was probably these two individuals who had the most impact on my interest in photography. Later I started wanting to collect all types of cameras.
I have roughly 100 or more vintage cameras, and most of them still work. They range from the 19th century to present-day models!
What interests you about vintage cameras?
When I first started collecting cameras and became interested in photography, I didn’t know my aunts and grandmother were also very interested in photography. One of my aunts had a darkroom in the house I currently live in.
In the beginning, it was more about the different types of cameras I loved using and adding to my collection. I’m a gear-head, so I really like the different types of editions and what each does. I’m especially intrigued by polaroid cameras and have a few of the models that you can use large-format polaroid film on. This film has long been discontinued, but I also collect some of it when I can find it!
What is the gem of your collection?
The gem in my collection has to be my grandmother’s very first Brownie camera. My aunt gifted it to me, and it is my favorite camera because of its sentimentality. I also find the Brownie camera very interesting because it is the first camera created in 1900 that introduced the snapshot to the masses. The Brownie was a long-running popular series of simple and inexpensive cameras made by Eastman Kodak. Sometimes I compare the Brownie to our iPhones when I am trying to teach someone about the impact this camera had at the time. Suddenly, everyone had access to photography and was a photographer. My grandmother saved money just to purchase one of these cameras so she could document our family. Many of these photographs we still have in the family. I come from a long line of women photographers, historians, and knowledge keepers.
Are you actively building your collection?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I purchase lenses for my contemporary camera (Canon 5DS). These lenses help with the photo shoots I still do. I’ve been photographing events and portrait sessions since 2003. I haven’t purchased a vintage camera in probably a few years––although one that I still want to repurchase is a fully manual 35mm Pentax K1000 because that’s the one I shot on for over 20 years. Mine stopped working and literally fell apart from so much use!