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Category : Photography Pioneers & Inventors

01 May 2020

George Eastman’s Kodak


“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.

26 Oct 2016

Revolution in Photography



Summary of key developments in the revolution of photography over the last 190 years.

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

04 Oct 2016

The World’s First Photograph – 5 Key Facts

View from the Window at Le Gras, World's first photograph

Le Point de View de la Fenêtre du Gras” (The View from the Window at Le Gras)

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, French, 1765 – 1833

The World’s First Photograph – 5 Key Facts

  1. The World’s first photograph was produced by the French inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in c.1826
  2. The photographs’ image was View from the Window at Le Gras
  3. The photograph was produced using a bitumen coated pewter plate and a wash of oil of lavender and white petroleum, which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen that had not been hardened by light
  4. It took a massive 8 hours of exposure time!
  5. The treasure slipped into obscurity after its last public exhibition in 1898 and didn’t reemerge until 54 years later in 1952

And here’s a brief story…it wasn’t until c.1826 that the world’s first photograph came about – a permanently fixed photographic image to be exact. Created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce It was a result of him experimenting with improvements to the new printmaking technique of lithography (which was terribly fashionable in France at the time). Niépce used a camera obscura and lens, a bitumen coated pewter plate and an exposure time of eight hours (yes eight hours!), together with a wash of oil of lavender and white petroleum. The resultant Niépce creation was his View from the Window at Le Gras, France. He called his process heliography (sun writing).

According to Barbara Brown in her article in the Abbey Newsletter Volume 26 Number 3 Nov 2002, the treasure had slipped into obscurity after its last public exhibition in 1898. It didn’t reemerge until 54 years later when in 1952, Helmut Gernsheim, himself a photographer and a photo historian, traced the work’s background and last recorded owner. Apparently, the owner had forgotten it was stored away!

In 1963, Harry Ransom purchased the Gernsheim Collection for The University of Texas at Austin and Niépce’s heliograph was subsequently donated to the institution. Quoting Barbara Brown, “The Niépce heliograph – the world’s earliest extant permanent photograph from nature – forms the cornerstone not only to UT’s Photography Collection but also to the process of photography which has revolutionized our world throughout the last one and one-half centuries. Because of its uniqueness and its significance to the arts and humanities, it is among the world’s and the University’s rarest treasures”.

Further research/recommended educational videos

The History of Photography

The History of Photography in 5 Minutes

Birthplace of Photography