With the festive season approaching, this month’s camera might just spark a distant Christmas morning memory in readers of a certain age. Whilst to all intents and purposes this is simply an Action Man figure, dressed as a war correspondent, complete with video camera, it turns out that it is also a functioning, if extremely basic, film camera.
I found mine at a car boot sale, where I paid £1.50 for him, and mine, unlike several others I’ve seen, still has his trousers! Photo Mission Action Man to give him his full title was made in 1998 and sold in the UK by Hasbro, in the US, he was known as “GI Joe”. Available in a wide range of outfits and with numerous accessories, it’s a rare boot sale or charity shop that doesn’t have an Action Man or two lurking around somewhere.
Toy cameras have something of a cult following, several books are available about using them creatively, but there is no agreed definition of a toy camera, some people tend to go more by the photographer’s intention than the characteristics of the camera, and even include well specified automatic cameras like the Lomo LC-A in the toy category. Few would argue that by any standards this one really is a toy. At its heart is a generic basic 110 camera, with a single shutter speed and no adjustments whatsoever, like all such gadgets it needs good bright daylight to be usable.
Once you decide to put a film in the camera, the story behind the absent trousers starts to fall into place. In order to load the film, they have to be gently lowered to expose the film door catch, a bit of a fiddly procedure, which would hamper a quick re-load, though I can’t imagine a wedding photographer for example using one of these for a busy shoot.
The original toy came with a twelve exposure film, and I wonder how many of these were actually used, I’m pretty sure not many owners would have used more than one film, the initial novelty probably wore off quite quickly, and if the film was used in the weak post-christmas daylight, the results would probably have been rather discouraging.
My own self-inflicted mission to use a different film camera each week of the year, meant that sooner or later, Photo Mission Action Man would be pressed into service. Sure enough his call up papers arrived, and it was time for him to drop his trousers and take one for the team. Film loaded, and dignity duly restored, we were ready to go. The figure is quite cleverly designed, with the shoulder mounted video camera acting as a crude viewfinder, and the camera’s lens placed in the middle of the chest. You have to take care not to cover the lens accidentally though, and wearing any kind of jacket is obviously off limits. The shutter release button and wind on wheel are both on the back of Joe’s body, and that’s all there is to it.
As a middle aged man, I wasn’t about to risk ridicule or worse by walking around in public with a soldier doll pressed up against my face, so I decided to seek out inanimate subjects where possible. Joe and I went on a tour of some of the local war memorials, where there were suitable military subjects to be found. At the end of our mission, we returned home where I popped out the little cartridge and developed the film myself, though 110 film processing is still readily available if you look for it. Framing was a bit hit and miss, and many of my photos had missing heads, this is one of the better ones!
If the sights on the enemy’s guns were as inaccurate as the viewfinder on Joe’s camera, perhaps it’s no surprise that our diminutive war correspondent lived to film another day. He may have managed to hang onto his trousers, but somewhere along the way he lost his boots, so I expect he’ll be spending the rest of his retirement on the novelty shelf in my camera collection.