2/5/10

Anscoflex Camera - Hideously Beautiful

My dad was an engineer. No, not the kind that wore a funny hat and drove a train. He designed machines. He never designed a camera, but if he did, I think it'd look a lot like this Anscoflex.

Anything dad built, he overbuilt. Knobs had to be big... big enough to operate with mittens on, maybe even while wearing a pair of catcher's mitts. If it was made of aluminum, it could be left bare. If it was made of steel, it'd be painted this same shade of Institutional Grey-Green (I.G.G.) that you see in the picture. Everything must be screwed together, so you could take it apart if you had to. The screw heads were left exposed, and as such, all had to match. You could never have mix-and-match screws in my dad's school of design. It must also be able to tolerate a three story drop without major malfunction.

Durability and repairability were the watchwords of my dad's design ethic. Elegance and minimalism were not. There was no Apple-esque, breathtaking, fragile other-worldliness to my dad's machines. he saved that for his woodwork. In the parlance of Tolkien, his designs were more dwarven than elvish.

This is not a criticism. It's just a fact. This is why I think this Anscoflex is both hilariously ugly and great at the same time. It's an almost perfectly un-stowable squaretangle. It fits in no pocket. Any bag used to carry it can carry nothing else unless the bag is really huge. It has that leather strap that, if you look at the little illustration in the lower left, might be long enough to go around your neck. Fine. So you were to carry this thing around your neck, having it's three-pound bulk thumping you in the sternum while you walked around Santa's Village, spilling food on it while you try and eat. This is what they call a "box camera". It's meant to be worn around the neck, so you could look down into the viewfinder to line up the shot. See the gray door on top?
It's not a missile silo. That's the viewfinder in there.

It looks like it was designed for the person who is normally intimidated by overly-fiddly cameras. THere aren't many controls. There's a giant knob to advance the film and a button to take the picture... and the button is bright red. No focus or exposure. I like the textured metal face behind the lens garage door thingy. It could be flat aluminum, but instead it's textured, like metal burlap or something. Style!

Come to think of it, most of the hardware on Thunderbirds looks like this. Clunky and lumpy. You can tell what parts are meant to twist and what parts are meant to be pressed. There's no sneaky disguising a button as a piece of decorative trim, like on my Logitech Harmony universal remote. You can operate it without looking, because no operable part is flush mounted or smoothed into the surrounding surface. Things like that are designed to be looked at, but not used. So, my mixed review of this camera would probably be that it's a joy to use and manipulate, but a huge pain to carry around.

UPDATED: Here's a funny thing - looks like if I were a bigger jerk, I could try to sell this ad on Ebay for ten dollars. I bought the whole magazine for four at an antique store.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Your dad is my hero. I wish more designers had that attitude.

steve Miller said...

$15.95 in 1954 dollars is equivalent to $133.96 today... Even the 1954 price strikes me as pretty steep for what must have been little more than a small step up from a Brownie, though the film was larger.

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