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History of Photography

George Eastman: Creator of Kodak Film


George Eastman is the man behind the creation of the Kodak film business. Kodak is a household name but not any name for familiar to George as he made the name up. Why didn’t George name it after himself? Maybe he thought his invention would not go far and he wanted to save himself some embarrassment. Not only did the business do well but George made more money than he could have imagined. To celebrate his success, he donated money to some of his favorite organizations where he felt the extra finances would be a welcomed blessing.

George was born in Waterville, New York on July 12, 1854. At the time, the western half of the United States was still primarily frontier. So, living on the East Coast and in New York was not too bad. Life was busy there, and the newspaper brought the political gossip of the day. George’s parents were well off. His father was in charge of a business college in Rochester. His mother stayed home caring for George who was the baby of the family. No doubt the two sisters older than him helped out nurturing and caring for George.

When George reached age 7, his father died. His mother rented rooms in the home to earn income and keep her family going. George loved going to school in Rochester but felt his mother needed him at home more. In 1877, at the age of 23, George found work as a bookkeeper. He earned good money and saved what he could to invest in his hobby as an amateur photographer. During a trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan, George spilled photographic chemicals and ruined his clothes. He needed a better way to travel with his photography supplies and thought about what he could do.

The first thing George did was try photography using dry plates instead of wet ones. This new technique took the messy spill able chemical away during photo processing. He then created a coating machine to apply gelatin to a dry plate and the device he used for this he patented in England in 1879 and the United States in 1880. After selling his English patent, he opened a shop in his hometown to manufacture his plate. He eventually replaced the glass with paper. When someone developed film, they could pull the paper away, and the remaining product was a negative copy.

George, along with another man named William Walker, took the product one step further by creating a roll, forming a more extended portion of the film and a holder for storage. The holder could fit any camera at the time. Sometime later others came along to create a similar product using the technology used by workers in Eastman’s manufacturing plant. A lawsuit ensued with George having to pay the suing party a large sum of money. It did not deter him, however. He continued to work to improve his product. In 1888, George created a Camera he named Kodak. This camera allowed ordinary folks to take photos and send them to the manufacturing plant for processing. It was easy to use and affordable. George marketed his product on simplicity and convenience. By 1892 George founded Eastman Kodak Company where his film products could be mass produced.

George continued to improve his product and to reinvent his business. He was a driven man not only for money and prestige but also he looked for ways to give back to society. George was a job creator. He treated employees well and assisted other inventors. George provided products used in Hollywood and world war. George never married. Perhaps he never found the time to find a suitor. Maybe his world gave him joy nothing else could. George ended his own life after pondering his accomplishments. He did this because he felt he had completed his work on earth and there wasn’t anything else for him to do. His rest was to be his final rest.

What would George think of his product now where so many have depended on his technology? Even today with all of the digital technology available there are those out there was still love to process film and enjoy the products that George created over 100 years ago.

The George Eastman Museum 

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Benjamin F. Butler: His Use of Profile Portraits


I am embarking upon a new journey into the public and private world of Benjamin F. Butler. This is a series of blog posts that will document some of the histories as I study them. The purpose of my study is better to understand why Butler made decisions that brought much controversy and caused public opposition to his policies throughout his career and life.

b-butler-display
An 1870’s portrait of Benjamin F. Butler, from Wikipedia.

 

Butler’s Professional Portrait

Inside of Benjamin F. Butler’s autobiography, you will see a copy of a portrait of himself. He poses with his side to the camera with a signature that reads, “Compliments of Benjamin F. Butler.” The copy is from an engraving of a painting that Darius Cobb did in 1890. Darius Cobb, of the famous Cobb Brothers, hailed as one of the great American artists of the 19th century. (1) Darius himself also painted portraits of Abraham Lincoln and General U.S. Grant. Perhaps the reason Butler chose Cobb to paint his portrait was on the word of mouth by Lincoln and Grant. The choice by Butler may have been deliberate to add extra authenticity to his image by presenting a proud portrait to the public he so loved in his life. It can also be deliberate because of the controversy surrounding his life and career that often overshadowed his good works and real intentions. With the accompaniment of the portrait in his autobiography, he adds the stamp of approval, making the work official with his photo and signature. (2)

The photograph itself does not stand out much during the late 19th century. Profile portraits are very common during this time, and there are plenty of examples of them in historical archives. The placement and choice of the photographic pose in Butler’s autobiography are significant because it keeps Butler in a neutral position. The portrait represents Butler as a public official, a professional, and a compassionate yet capable leader. It also leaves plenty to the imagination of the observer. It may have been Butler’s ultimate intention to allow individuals to judge his past with one’s own eyes and interpretations, absent from popular folklore biases to glean the truth of who Benjamin F. Butler was. (3)

References used:

1. For background and general interest in Benjamin F. Butler, see: https://www.google.com/#q=benjamin+f.+butler.; Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892).

2. “Darius Cobb.” Wikipedia. December 30, 2014. Accessed January 01, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darius_Cobb.

3. “Photography in Nineteenth-Century America.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Accessed January 01, 2015. http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/art-music-and-film/essays/photography-nineteenth-century-america.

Further reading:

“PhotoTree.com Is Dedicated to Research, Restoration, and Preservation Of19th and Early 20th Century Photographs.” 19th Century Photographs. Accessed January 01, 2015. http://www.phototree.com/history.htme.

“Portrait Painting.” Wikipedia. Accessed December 30, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_painting.

Snead, William Thomas. Portraits and Autographs: An Album for the People. London: Mowbray House, 1890.

 

 

 

 

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