Pan Am & Those Real Fine Retro Cameras

Pan Am, the TV series based on the American airline has totally captured my interest. For starters, I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful cameras that are shown in the Pan Am TV series. Pan Am currently airs on Star World Saturdays and Sundays. The time is the 1960’s. It’s the height of cold war and espionage is rampant. Where espionage is present, can cameras be far behind? I am not talking about tiny invisible shirt button or pen cameras. But good old retro (for us) cameras. So, the camera makes an appearance first as a tool for espionage and then later for entertainment. Twin purposes that sometimes get quite entwined on the show leading to one of the various plot twists.

One of the stewardesses, Laura Cameron, played by Margot Robbie is a budding photographer. She’s seen taking pictures of events or carrying her camera case rather elegantly along with her handbag.


The first time the camera takes center stage is in the episode Eastern Exposure  when one of the Pan Am stewardesses, Kate Cameron, played by Kelli Garner, is given a camera to hand over to a contact. She places it in her iconic blue Pan Am bag for safe keeping but it doesn’t stay safe. Her sister, Laura, also a Pan Am flight attendant decides to borrow it to take pictures of their exotic Indonesian stopover. Kate is late for her assignment, which contributes to a sibling fight that culminates in Margot’s character moving out of their shared apartment. To make up, Kate gifts Laura a Yashica EE.



In another episode One Coin in a Fountain, the pilot Dean meets an attractive woman Ginny Sandler on a flight. While on their date, she takes a picture using one of the early models of Polaroid, something like the Polaroid 350, which looks a lot like what Laura is holding in her hand in the Pilot episode.


Finally, in the last episode that I have seen so far, Secrets and Lies, Laura, the budding photographer is taking a photography class. Her assignment is to take pictures of one beautiful face and one interesting one. She uses her drawing-room lamp as a lighting source and places her subjects Maggie (played by Christina Ricci) and Ted (played by Michael Mosley) next to it while she fixes the Yashica EE onto a tripod. We do get to see the final black and white pictures developed in the makeshift darkroom though they are only of Ted for obvious plot purposes. Laura gives Ted some relationship advice which works. By the end of the episode, Ted had gotten her a really fancy camera, a Leica!

The series has many flaws but it captures the period atmosphere of a 1960s America rather well.

UPDATE (19 March 2012): The episode Diplomatic Relations aired on Sunday. It’s another episode where the camera takes center stage but this time with dangerous consequences. When the Pan Am crew is asked to fly to the Soviet Union, there is, not surprisingly, some tension and excitement in the air. On a supervised walking tour of select places in Moscow, Laura takes a few pictures which is deemed as an act of espionage by the KGB. Laura’s new camera is confiscated. (We get to know that it’s a new camera later.) Bridget and Laura are bundled off into a car for questioning. They are saved when Kate intervenes.

Note: All images are sourced from the Internet and credited accordingly. If I have missed out anyone, please let me know, and I will add the image credits. No plagiarism is intended.

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