How many of us, probably for entire afternoons, have done nothing but look at and review our childhood photos, peering into boxes, drawers and photo albums around the house. Or how many, while traveling or on a school trip, always had their own disposable camera at hand to be able to shoot and relive the memory of places visited or people met. If it is possible to do this and much more we have to thank in part, if not almost entirely, a young American entrepreneur who lived between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: George Eastman. Probably this name may not mean anything to you, so I’ll try with another simple word etymologically devoid of meaning, but that took a short time to acquire the luster it has today: KODAK. That’s right, George Eastman is none other than the founder of Kodak and one of the greatest pioneers of photography. You may be more familiar with the name Kodak, but why exactly is it so important to us?
Forced to drop out of school at the age of 14 due to a financial crisis that affected his family following the death of his father and the bankruptcy of his company, George Eastman began working at an insurance company, approaching the world of photography only ten years later. While planning a vacation to Santo Domingo, a colleague of his suggested that Eastman document their trip through photography and buy a photographic outfit, complete with camera, tripod, glass tanks, chemicals, etc. The idea of the trip was put aside but since then Eastman did nothing but think about photography and try to simplify the process. After a series of experiments finally in 1880 he perfected a formula for dry emulsions, spread on a glass plate covered with gelatin and a machine capable of producing a significant quantity of them. From that moment on Eastman’s contribution to technical innovation in photography only increased year by year. After founding, in 1880, the Eastman Dry Plate Company (which in 1892 will take the name of Eastman Kodak Company) was launched on the market roll film loaders, flexible celluloid films and the first cassette device loaded with a roll of film negative paper for 100 poses. Once the shots were used up, all one had to do was send the device back to the factory to be reloaded and for the photos to be developed and printed.
“YOU PUSH THE BUTTON, WE DO THE REST”Kodak’s Slogan
From 1899 new models were then put on sale that replaced the negative paper with the new celluloid films, until the creation of the 35 mm film, which will be widely used not only in photography but also and above all in cinema. Initially launched only for amateur customers was the Kodacolor, which not only managed to reproduce color, albeit to a limited extent, but also reduced the costs of use thanks to the introduction of the reversible negative.
Besides a strong entrepreneurial spirit, what mainly stands out in Eastman’s enterprise is a pure and sincere desire to make photography accessible to everyone and to bring as many people as possible closer to this reality. The social contribution of Kodak’s inventions is therefore fundamental to the way in which today we experience amateurism and photography in general.
Eastman’s mission was not stopped even by his death. After his death, in fact, his residence was converted into a museum, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, which aims to preserve and present the history of photography and film.