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O’Rork Brothers Photographic Studio

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 O’Rork Brothers Photographic Studio: Guadalcanal Edition

Never ones to sit idly by, the O’Rork twins, Bill & Dave, got back to their old business: photography. The O’Rorks were serving as corpsmen in the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Medical Battalion training with the rest of the unit on Guadalcanal for the upcoming invasion of Bougainville in late 1943. But six months felt a long time without any action, and the twins wasted no time in setting up the island’s own O’Rork Brothers Photographic Studio.

Despite the ban on personal cameras on the island, Bill happened to have his Kodak Brownie in his sea bag. Having worked with their other brother, Charlie, at the original O’Rork Studios in Orlando and having been trained by the Army at x-ray school in Corpus Christi, Bill was able to use the materials in the medical tent to develop the photographs he took. He developed the photos he took with the Brownie camera onto V-mail paper using x-ray chemicals.

Bill & Dave saw an opportunity and took it: O’Rork Brothers Photographic Studio, Guadalcanal edition, opened to their fellow Marines. Business came in quickly. Turns out, there were many more clandestine photographers on Guadalcanal than the O’Rorks. They worked after lights out with help from the medical officers. Once all the photographic film ran out, they custom-cut x-ray film and modified the brownie camera by hand to adapt to the change. They charged $2.50 to develop a roll of film, and by the end of their venture had sent over $3,000 back home!

Always the buzz kill, mail censors reported the surge of photographs being sent home and Headquarters ordered the twins to shut down their studio. They did so, at least temporarily. They started back up, were caught again, and were demoted to Seamen 3rd Class. In my speaking with Mr. Bill O’Rork, it seems that the memories captured in the photos they took were well worth the demotion. They would go on to serve at Bougainville, Guam, & Iwo Jima.

The adapted Kodak Brownie camera.

[Gift of William “Bill” O’Rork, The National WWII Museum Inc., 2010.503]

Bill & Dave step in front of the camera for a change. Guadalcanal, 1943.

This post by National WWII Museum Curator Meg Roussel

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