“You push the button, we do the rest”
More than 130 years ago, in the year of the ‘White Blizzard’ of 1888, George Eastman revolutionised photography, with the launch of his Kodak camera. It was in the same year Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States. Eastman successfully brought to the world, an easy-to-use affordable camera, which for US$25 (around $680 in today’s money), came preloaded with a roll of 100 exposure flexible film.
The user simply pressed a button to expose the image, used a film-advance winder and, when the roll was finished, simply sent the camera to Kodak factory where the film would be processed, images printed and a new roll fitted in the camera before all were returned to the user – for the sum of $10. There was no viewfinder on the camera; instead two V-shaped lines on the top of the camera leather were intended to guide pointing the camera at the subject.
However, it wasn’t until the year 1900 when The Brownie camera, came to market costing $1, which made photography truly affordable.
A significant new era in photography had come about – no longer was photography only available to the well-off, thanks to Eastman, it was now available to the world. Gone were the days when photographers used the wet-plate or dry-plate method which featured heavy glass plates covered with a mixture of silver and other chemicals, taking an entire day to develop.
Eastman believed that, not only would amateurs be interested in his new Kodak camera, but so too would people who wanted pictures to serve as mementos of their daily lives. The world was his oyster and it was Eastman who himself coined the phrase “You Push the Button, We Do The Rest”.
Eastman, with an astute business brain, wanted to make photography easy and for everyone – not only did he create a business selling his Kodak camera, he also created a second element to the business – that of developing customers exposed film and printing their photographs. In the first six months since launch, Eastman sold more than five thousand Kodak cameras.
Dominating competition and leading the way in photography innovation for years, Eastman’s Rochester-based business was soon to become one of the largest companies and biggest employers in the State of New York. The complex known as Kodak Park eventually covered several thousand acres. Entering into the twentieth century, Kodak controlled around ninety percent of the photography market.
The Kodak camera was an instant success. For the first time, anyone could easily take their own pictures. After 100 pictures had been taken, the camera could be returned to the Kodak factory for developing and printing at a cost of $10. The camera, loaded with a fresh roll of film was returned with the negatives and mounted prints.
George Eastman tragically died from suicide on March 14th 1932 as a result of a single gunshot to the heart. He was 77 years of age. In his suicide note, he said “To my friends, my work is done – Why wait?” Eastman had suffered in the final two years of his life with depression as a result of a debilitating spinal disorder. He was in intense pain, had difficulty standing and walked with a shuffle. He was buried in the grounds of the company he founded, now known as Eastman Business Park.
Revolution in Photography.
Recently, I saw a top-branded (body-only) 50MP sensor medium format camera body advertised online for $45,000 (new). 190 years ago, the first known photograph was created by French inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and took 8 hours exposure time (The view from the Window at Le Gras).
Between then and now, development in photography has accelerated rapidly in many ways – so much so that we could refer to this period as nothing short of ‘revolutionary’.
‘Revolution in Photography’ is intended as a summary of key events over the past 190 years or so. A brief, one-pager insightful summary of the developments in photography since the 19th century. Download the file here – revolution-in-photography-a-summary