Thursday, July 31, 2014

Right There in Black and White

A family wedding took me to Rochester, New York, a pretty city bisected by the Genesee River, home to craft-beer breweries, better-than-average pizza, Frederick Law Olmstead-designed parks, and the George Eastman House, a museum of photography and film.

My husband and I set out on foot from our hotel to the museum, a walk that took us past imposing 19th and early 20th century houses and shade-giving street trees. We had two free hours and no expectations.


The museum’s history of photography proved absorbing as did an exhibit of photos by Lewis Hine, a photographer who spurred social change via his pictures. Mostly, though, I was fascinated by the story behind the 1888 creation of the Kodak camera, an invention that put picture-taking in the hands of the average American.

George Eastman came up with the name Kodak. He wanted a word that started with K (a crisp sound), was memorable, and easy to pronounce in any language. Eastman also came up with the Kodak’s first advertising slogan: “You press the button—we do the rest.” The company sold the camera for next to nothing because it made money on film and processing.   
The success of the Kodak reminded me of the popularity of a 2007 invention that happened to start with K—Amazon’s Kindle. Amazon sells it cheaply because the company knows buyers will fill it with e-books purchased from--wait for it--Amazon.

Had Amazon founder Jeff Bezos visited Eastman House and studied George Eastman’s career? Perhaps, but it’s more likely the creation and marketing of the Kodak camera is the stuff of business-school classes.

Eastman Kodak went on to introduce the Brownie camera in 1900. It sold for $1 and film went for 15 cents a roll. Small wonder (pun intended) George Eastman is credited with the democratization of photography.

Two hours and no expectations changed my perception of modern-day photography, product marketing, and K-words. Oh, and did I tell you how much I liked Rochester?


Liz Flaherty said...

I don't think I'd ever heard any of this. That was a good walk you took!

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

I love how exploring with no expectations can turn up the most unusual and fun things.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
I didn't know a thing about George Eastman or the development of the Kodak camera, so I was wowed. That "you push the button--we do the rest" slogan made family-vacation pictures possible.

That was a very good walk!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia,
I've been known to over research locales, and when I do that, it's satisfying to find what I expected to find. The element of surprise is tons more fun, though.

Of course, not all surprises are good. If I had it all to do over again, I'd have made inside-the-restaurant reservations for San Antonio in July. The heat. The crowds. Whoa.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

Eastman's house sounds really cool - will be on my list if I ever go to Rochester! Sad how the company failed to innovate 100 years later.

Jessica Topper said...

Your post brings back good memories of growing up in Rochester, Pat. Ah, the simple days - when Amazon was just a river... ;)