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Personal History: An Interview with Carole Glauber

Book Store Interview Personal History Photographs by Carole Glauber Interview by Blake Andrews For the first thirty years of their lives, Carole Glauber photographed her two sons using a simple 1950s Brownie Hawkeye camera. Her new book Personal History, published by Daylight, collects a selection of her pictures, along with essays by Elinor Carucci and her sons Ben and Sam. photo-eye’s Blake Andrews took a moment recently to chat with Glauber about the book and process behind its creation.
Personal History. By Carole Glauber.
Personal History
Photographs by Carole Glauber

Daylight Books, USA, 2020. 112 pp., 6½x9½x¾".

For the first thirty years of their lives, Carole Glauber photographed her two sons using a simple 1950s Brownie Hawkeye camera. Her new book Personal History, published by Daylight, collects a selection of her pictures, along with essays by Elinor Carucci and her sons Ben and Sam. 

photo-eye’s Blake Andrews took a moment recently to chat with Glauber about the book and the process behind its creation.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Blake Andrews: When did you first become interested in Brownie cameras?

Carole Glauber: I lived in San Diego for 4 years where I was very active at the Museum of Photographic Arts. I began my self-taught studies of the history of photography and learning to identify early photographic processes. The museum was new and I ended up creating the system for cataloguing their permanent collection, although I had never done anything like that before.

My oldest son, Ben, was born in San Diego. Around the time when he turned one, we moved to Portland. I knew only one person, was not familiar with the area, and there was not a Museum of Photographic Arts. My Pentax broke so I took it in for repairs. I was feeling a little lost. On my shelf was the Brownie Hawkeye camera from a thrift shop. I have no idea why, but I had the idea that I could use that camera if I could find film for it.

BA: The camera was on your shelf already?

CG: Yes, the camera was on my shelf at home.

BA: A subconscious fulfillment. There's a myth in some traditions that when you are ready to learn, the right teacher will appear. Which sounds like the Brownie. It was there on your shelf the whole time, just waiting to teach you whenever you were ready...

CG: Evidently! Who was using plastic cameras back in 1987?

BA: There was a small Diana wave in the 1970s into the early 80s. But it fizzled.

CG: Yes, but I think for the most part I was an anomaly. I went to the camera shop and learned I could buy 620 film for it, so I bought 10 rolls to see what would happen. The person behind the counter gave me some take-up spools, or I don't know what I would have done!

I should also mention that while in San Diego, I was asked to shoot portraits of people in the Hebrew Home for the Aged who were being interviewed about coming through Ellis Island. Around the same time, I started doing street photography. All of that created a platform for what I did next. I was always thinking about photography through the prism of history.

My first photograph was the one of Ben that is now on the cover of the book — at least that was the one that made me realize I had something potentially special and unique going on.

BA: What attracted you to the Brownie at first?

CG: I have no idea. But I do say that being a little lost can be a good thing. It created a state of vulnerability that needed to be filled.

BA: When you say you felt lost and vulnerable, are you referring to the way the Brownie is unpredictable? It doesn't record with fidelity. Instead, it interjects focus artifacts, light leaks, etc. Is that why you were drawn to it?

CG: No, I was feeling lost when I came to Portland. I left behind 4 years of my life and I had nothing yet in Portland. I was home with my 14-month-old son, still a new mother.

BA: Did you also take photos of your young kids with "normal" cameras? Or did you switch completely over to Brownie when you had Ben?

CG: Yes, I did make “normal” photos of Ben with “normal” cameras, the kind everyone does. I sent them to family members and made albums.

BA: What about the Brownie photos? Did you send those to family members too? What was the reaction?

CG: I am sure I did not send them Brownie photos. For one thing, they would not have understood. Also, it was new for me too. I had a lot of failure with the Brownie camera. Too much light, not enough light, too much movement, or not interesting.

BA: That's interesting. You shot one set of family photos for public sharing. And another (Brownie) for yourself? Is that an accurate assessment? Did you share your Brownie photos with anyone else? Other photographers?

CG: I exhibited them at the Blue Sky Gallery 20th anniversary show. I took the camera with me when we traveled around Oregon, around the US, to Europe and Israel. Nowadays there are a gazillion people using plastic cameras and there are many competitions and exhibitions. It is mainstream.

BA: What about the new book? Have you sent that to family members? What is the reaction now?

CG: One of the nice things about my book is that it is something anyone can relate to on some level. People use the words dreamy and nostalgic to describe it. People have told me they wished they had done something like this of their kids.

BA: Something like what?

CG: Something besides the usual family photos where they line the kids up and asking them to smile. My years of street photography and portraiture came in to use here. I was always watching and waiting as I would when making portraits or street photos.

BA: I thought Ben's comment in the book was interesting. He wrote, “I have mixed feelings about these photos."

CG: Yes, he is a very private person. In my essay, I wrote about the vulnerability of being in a photograph — where a private moment suddenly becomes potentially public, or at least available for others to see. When I gave him a copy of my book and he looked through it he was very happy with it.

BA: There are delicate issues around sharing photos of minors with and without consent, and who controls the photos or what rights the subject has to their image, etc. I think about that a lot with my own photos of my kids.

CG: Yes it is an important issue now.

BA: What happens?

CG: Parents posting photos of kids on the internet, Facebook, etc. I did ask my sons’ permission for every photo I used in the book.

BA: To quote Ben, I have mixed feelings on that issue.

CG: That is why my kids each have an essay in the book. I wanted them to have a voice. Ben said he had mixed feelings about it and I said that was ok. He is 34 years old and married now.

BA: It sounds like you always had a camera in hand when around your kids. Did you ever encounter the classic photo/parent dilemma, when there was tension between the urge to take a photo and the need to parent? I guess another way to ask that is, how did the act of shooting your kids or looking at them with a photographer's eye affect your parenting?

CG: Let’s say that I did not photograph my kids bleeding, or crying, or distressed. It never occurred to me.

BA: Well that's an extreme example. But what I was thinking of more is the typical photographer mindset, which requires some objectivity. Personally, when I view things through the photographer’s eye (pretty much 24/7), it removes me mentally from the scene in front of me. And with parenting, that's a potential pitfall. Because direct presence is often required. It's something I wrestle with. I'm just curious how others resolve it.

CG: As I recall, your photographs of your kids were fun… that is your skill.

BA: Thanks. Your kids are adults now on their own. Do you still photograph them when you see them? Or is the series done?

CG: I consider the series done. I don't think they would appreciate me following them around with a Brownie Hawkeye! I felt that I was pretty much done when Sam was getting older and I was not making photos that were really new. But I did continue and I am glad I did, although because they were no longer living at home the photographs are at wider intervals. I am glad those formative years are behind me. Now Ben is always looking after us!

BA: Did the final book turn out roughly as you'd expected? Or were there some surprises along the way?

CG: There were no surprises. Ursula Damm is an excellent book designer. We emailed and talked on Skype so there was a lot of discussion about how it could look and we worked together on that.

BA: Were you limited by pandemic restrictions and the inability to travel?

CG: Every negative needed to be scanned. I had that done professionally. Luckily I started that process way ahead of the deadline, so it was done before the first lockdown and the business had to temporarily shut down, as did everyone. So I spent the lockdown preparing the scans for production, working with Ursula, writing and editing,

BA: You probably couldn't have timed the shutdown any better.

CG: I was never bored!

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at