Archive for the 'History' Category

A Photographic Revolution in Rochester!

Posted by on Feb 14 2012 | History, Other, Photography

Sure, the times are changing and technology moves foreword. Yes, it’s sad that films days are numbered, but quit your whining. There’s another revolution in photography and it’s coming from Rochester, the “image city.”  I’m referring to the counter culture of historic photographic processes and they’re hot. Photographers all over the world are making their own plates and papers— and they’re doing it here at Eastman House.


Azo print made with the gelatin emulsion process being taught in April

Tintype being fixed


Coating paper in the gelatin emulsion darkroom 

 Scully & Osterman Skylight Studio, where we’ll shoot tintypes in March


The revival in the daguerreotype process started at George Eastman House back in the 1970s. Hey, we also jump-started the current craze in collodion photography by teaching the very first wet plate workshops in the mid-1990s. In the last two years we introduced dry collodion plates, collodion chloride printing-out paper and even did workshops in the earliest processes of Niepce, Daguerre and Talbot… the heliograph, physautotype and photogenic drawing! In private tutorials here at the museum we’ve taught albumen on glass and even orotones!

In March we have a great three day Tintype Workshop where we’ll make plates under the skylight over at Scully & Osterman Studio and see amazing original images and even collodion era cameras and equipment from the archives at the museum.

Gelatin silver emulsions are soon going to be the next historic photographic process revival and now is the time to gather information before the culture is gone. This April ex-Kodak emulsion engineer Ron Mowrey and I will teach our third gelatin emulsion workshop!

This is the real stuff for all you people who have been so upset about the demise of emulsion. We’ll be making a simple printing paper emulsion, but it’s the first step to the more advanced film emulsions; so one step at a time. If we get enough interest we’ll give a film and plate emulsion workshop next year, but the prerequisite would be the basic workshop. So, the way to keep film alive…is to make it your self!

Read more about all our 2012 Photography Workshops, or contact me directly at to arrange a private tutorial, custom group workshop or if you need some advice with a process that’s giving you trouble.



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Celebrating ‘Snapshots’

Posted by on Feb 03 2012 | History, Other

The following essay is from the recently published exhibition catalogue Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard. The book is published by Yale University Press, in association with the Phillips Collection, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The catalogue is edited by curator Elizabeth Easton with contributions from leading scholars, including George Eastman House Curator of Technology Todd Gustavson. His entry, Innovative Devices: George Eastman and the Handheld Camera is excerpted below. Reproduced by permission. 

In the digital age, making photographic images is so very simple—requiring about the same effort as throwing a light switch—that we do so almost without thinking about it. It’s easy to take for granted a process that seems to involve nothing more than pressing the button and instantaneously viewing the picture. But photography has not always been a simple practice. For nearly a half century after its invention, the medium was almost exclusively the domain of professionals. Not until the 1880s, when George Eastman’s Kodak camera and other instruments intended for the consumer-photography market set the cornerstones of amateur snapshot photography, did the camera begin to become a ubiquitous device.

The photographic process, announced in 1839 by the Frenchman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, captured and fixed the images that were viewed through a camera obscura. This was accomplished through a combination of mechanics (the camera), optics (to improve the image), and chemistry (to sensitize and process the image). Over the next forty years, improvements made to all aspects of the process—cameras, shutters, lenses, and chemistry—led to cheaper and simpler image-making, generating a growing interest for the nonprofessional photographer.

The technicalities of early photography required the photographer, first, to sensitize the media and then to process the image immediately after exposure. Although this system was fine for the professional, it was generally too cumbersome and time-consuming for most amateurs. On April 13, 1880, George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, was issued U.S. Patent No. 226,503 for his machine to coat gelatin dry plates. The following January, with the financial backing of Rochester businessman Henry Strong, he formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company, becoming one of the first commercial producers of light-sensitive photographic emulsions. With reliable plates now available, companies worldwide began manufacturing cameras designed specifically to use them.

Although they were convenient, dry plates had several drawbacks: they were both fragile and heavy to transport. Lightweight, flexible support for photographic emulsion had been investigated starting in the mid-1860s, but without much success. George Eastman aimed his emulsion-making skills at this target and, late in 1884, introduced Eastman’s American Film, which used Rives paper—both flexible and lightweight—as support for its emulsion. Yet because this material was not transparent, during processing the images had to be stripped from the paper support, adhered temporarily to glass for printing, and finally, stored on a “skin” made of a semitransparent plastic. To complement his American Film, Eastman and a partner, William H. Walker (a pioneer builder of cameras with standardized parts), designed and patented the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, which attached to most existing cameras to allow the use of roll film. To reflect its new product line, the firm changed its name to the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. Around this time, Eastman built an emulsions-manufacturing plant in London to avoid spoilage problems he had experienced a few years earlier with film that had been shipped across the Atlantic. From early on, he planned to produce and sell his products worldwide; the London plant was the first of many to be located in major European cities.

All things considered, Eastman clearly needed a new product.  Introduced to the public in the September 15, 1888, issue of Scientific American, the Kodak was Eastman’s first successful amateur camera.

These earliest Kodaks and the models developed over the next decade or so represent the beginning of snapshot photography. The snapshot, a term borrowed from hunting, is one taken quickly and without careful aim. Amateur photographers of the time met with derision for this type of shooting; nevertheless, the snapshot meant lots of exposed film and big business for photographic suppliers. Soon, the many new products made for the amateur market eclipsed those made for the professional, revolutionizing the industry. In 1892, to better connect the success of its cameras to their manufacturer, the Rochester firm changed its name to the Eastman Kodak Company.

The handheld camera loaded with roll film was a collector of moments, facilitating the preservation of visual impressions. Many artists frequently used the camera as a sketchbook, a tool for quickly transcribing a likeness that could later be “developed” into a more finished work. They were drawn to its potential for capturing the fast-paced, ever-changing nature of modern life and culture. An early “mobile device,” the handheld camera advanced a fresh way of seeing based on a new way of measuring time. Although the snapshot was not exactly an instantaneously produced image, it represented shorter pieces of time than previous photographic technology had allowed. And the camera’s waist-level perspective—differing greatly from that of the human eye—is readily apparent in many works of art. Frequently, the results were unconventional images that reflected the poet Charles Baudelaire’s influential characterization of modernity as “the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent.”


Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard exhibition opens tomorrow at The Philips Collection in Washington D.C.


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Forever Brownie

Posted by on Oct 11 2011 | History, Other, Photography

The other day I received an invitation to an exhibition opening, which isn’t unusual, except the envelope was wearing a Baby Brownie stamp. As a fancier of all things photographic, I was much more interested in the stamp than in going to the out-of-town shindig. A couple of research clicks later I discovered that back on June 29th of this year, the USPS issued a set of twelve commemorative stamps honoring Pioneers of American Industrial Design. Among those honored is Walter Dorwin Teague, considered the dean of American design, who styled a number of Kodak products.

My cancelled Baby Brownie stamp


I’ve always been curious how this arrangement began. A little research brought me to transcripts in the GEH library of a 1970s interview between Reese Jenkins (now professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University) and Kodak retiree Adolph Stuber. Stuber’s father, William G. Stuber, was hired by George Eastman in the early company days; he went on to be the company CEO after Eastman retired in 1925. Adolph grew up with Kodak and also had a distinguished career in the company himself, becoming manager of the Camera Works in the mid-1920s, then ending up as a company vice president in the sales and advertising department after WWII. It was Adolph Stuber who interviewed and hired Teague, then a fledgling New York City artist, to do facelifts on some of the cameras, as the old designs had become a bit dated. Teague became a design consultant for Kodak for the next thirty years or so. Many of the milestone Eastman Kodak Company products, such as the Baby Brownie (the first injected-molded camera made by Kodak), the Super Kodak Six-20 (the first auto-exposure camera), and the Bantam Special (the first Kodak camera with the f/2 Ektar lens) were Teague designs.

Super Kodak Six-20

Bantam Special


The success of the plastic Baby Brownie would prompt the company to produce more cameras of this type. Most Baby Boomers’ photographic experience began with descendants of the Baby Brownie, such as the Brownie Tourist, the Brownie Holiday, and of course the various Brownie Star models. One of the last cameras Teague was involved with was the Brownie Starflash of 1957; it was the first Kodak camera featuring a built-in flash holder. It was also my first camera.


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PhotoHistory XV Symposium

Posted by on Oct 07 2011 | History, Other, Photography

When Director Anthony Bannon welcomes The Photographic Historical Society’s PhotoHistory XV symposium to the Dryden Theater this October 22, it will be the 15th time we have shared resources with George Eastman House in the 41 years since the first PhotoHistory. It is a valuable partnership for all concerned.  For our Society, it provides an association with the premier photographic historical facility in the world. For Rochester and GEH it brings an unmatched degree of attention created by the attendance of the world’s leading photo historians who will be in attendance here this October.  We are extremely pleased that our long relationship continues with respect and affection.

We anticipate that PhotoHistory XV will bring some 150 visitor-historians drawn here by a rich selection of original papers that will cover old photographic processes, the development of the photo industry, the history of color photography and much more. Our speakers join us from five countries for the talks, which are a major component of the symposium. Registrants also participate in a Trade Show and Swap meet on the following day.

At previous symposia have heard from such notables as Beaumont Newhall, photographic historian and Director of Eastman House; Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera; and Steven Sasson, inventor of the digital camera.

The Photographic Historical Society, founded in 1966, is the first organized society devoted to photographic history and the preservation of photo antiques. This year, in a bid to attract younger historians, we are offering students free admission to the symposium. The 15th PhotoHistory changes from a triennial event to one held every two years by popular request. As president of The Photographic Historical Society and general chairman of PhotoHistory XV,  I invite you to check our web site at and to join us to meet historians, collectors, photo experts, and dealers from around the world.



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Restoration Project: The Palm House

Posted by on Sep 27 2011 | History, House & Gardens

The Palm House at George Eastman House is a glass-roofed, greenhouse room built in 1905 as a unique component of this National Historic Landmark. Also called the Solarium or Sun Room, it serves as an essential connecting space between the museum galleries and the historic mansion. It has a distinctive design, historic character, and is bright year-round— which we really enjoy during those gray and gloomy Rochester winter months.

Remarkably, the Palm House glass roof has stood the test of decades of our rigorous climate, but it is now deteriorated to the point where the room cannot be used for anything but a pass-through.


Aerial View showing the Palm House from the exterior.


Palm House interior today with signs of deterioration and temporary repair.


Palm House used as a Member’s Lounge in the early 1950s shortly after Eastman House became a Museum.


Greenhouse interior during George Eastman’s day.


A view of the Palm House exterior during George Eastman’s day.

As you may notice in the historic images above, there were four green houses and an orchid lean-to located next to the Palm House. The lean-to was connected to a potting room, which was connected to the Palm House where tropical plants were grown.

The restoration process is underway with several goals in mind: to restore the safety and comfort, to develop usability of the space, and last but not least—  to make it more energy-efficient. As the gateway between the historic house and the modern museum, it serves as both a first glimpse to the legacy of the man who lived here and his impact today.

Editor’s note: The Palm House Restoration is one of the projects featured in our Photo Finish 5K  Philanthropy Challenge fundraiser.



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