The Wizard of Photography: A Green Light Productions Inc. film for WGBH/Boston and The American Experience (Aired Spring, 2000)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 2, 2000
- pp. 69-70
- Additional Information
Regular Feature | Film Reviews Film Reviews The Wizard of Photography A Green Light Productions Inc. film for WGBH/Boston and The American Experience (Aired Spring, 2000) When the "wizard" George Eastman, the focus of this biography in the PBS American Experience series, first thought ofmaking photographs, he simply wanted an easy way to record some images of land he was interested in buying. He had never taken photographs, but in 1877 as a twenty-three-year-old junior bookkeeper in the Rochester Saving Bank, he had noted that wealthy depositors were often involved withreal estate. George's father had died when the boy was seven; to make ends meet, his mother had been forced to take in boarders, to scrub and cook for strangers. Perhaps George too could at last begin to build financial security with prudent real estate transactions. As this PBS production goes on to detail, from this relatively inauspicious beginning George Eastman went on to preside over the founding and development of one of the largest business enterprises in the world. The program asserts that in the process of making "Kodak" a household name, he democratized the taking of photographs and changed the way we see our world. Photography in 1877 depended on the collodion wet-plate process. One needed to carry a large camera, a tripod, glass plates and plate holders, chemicals, and dark tent into the field. To make a negative, one first had to coat the glass with a sticky, light-sensitive collodion emulsion, expose the plate while wet, and then develop the plate in the dark tent. Eastman sought a simpler way. Learning that British photographers were experimenting with dry-plates, he came home after each day at the bank to experiment in his mother's kitchen, mixing various chemicals and floating emulsions over glass plates, even though he was a high school dropout who had never studied chemistry. When a local photographer saw his results, he recommended the plates to the Anthony Company, a leading national supplier of photographer products. George Eastman launched the Eastman Dry Plate Company in 1880, when he was twenty six. The program details how Eastman's entrepreneurial spirit, in this and subsequent instances, put him at the edge of innovation . First there were the dry plates. Then, since glass plates were still cumbersome and fragile, he created roll film and invented a roll film holder that in 1885 garnered critical acclaim and awards at a London exhibition for new inventions. But when professional photographers found the film inferior, Eastman began to consider a new market: why not produce a camera that would be easy for ordinary people to use? The result in 1888 was the Kodak camera. For twenty-five dollars, one could buy the camera already loaded with film for one hundred pictures. After exposing the roll, one returned the camera to Kodak. The film was unloaded, die negatives developed and printed, the camera loaded with fresh film and returned to the customer. It was a stroke of genius, one of the commentators on the program suggests , for Eastman to hide the professional chemistry involved in photography, reducing the act of photography from the customers ' perspective to the simple act announced in the advertising slogan: "You press the button, we do the rest." Within a year of its introduction, Eastman sold thirteen thousand Kodaks, and his factory was processing six thousand photographs each day. Still, the cost was relatively high, about three months wages. So in 1900 Eastman introduced the Brownie, named after popular storybook characters and pitched to children. It sold for one dollar. Again, one of the program's commentators underscores the shrewdness of this move. Starting young, children would grow up to buy more Kodak cameras, becoming "full grown, healthy Kodakjunkies." One hundred fifty thousand Brownies were made in 1900, more cameras than Eastman had sold in the twelve years since he had introduced the Kodak. In a few years he would be listed at the sixth wealthiest man in the nation. Yet The Wizard ofPhotography is more complex than this briefsynopsis, for the wizardry wasn't all Eastman's. He brought in crucial allies whose names now have none of the familiarity...