Exposing History

Penelope Johnston examines Kodak photography's past.

To celebrate 150 years of photography, a new $10 million study and research centre has been added to the George Eastman mansion (which itself has been given a face-lift), the former home of George Eastman, the inventor of the 'Kodak' and 'Brownie' cameras, in Rochester, New York.

At 900 East Avenue, the study and research centre is at the rear of the largest private house in the town. Built in 1905 this Georgian-style mansion with its thirty-seven rooms, nine fireplaces and thirteen baths was the home of the eccentric millionaire bachelor George Eastman and his mother.

Eastman and his two sisters, one of whom was paralysed by polio, were raised in poverty by their widowed mother. George left school at fourteen, and went out to work, but in the evenings in his mother's kitchen he experimented to create his own gelatin emulsion which would remain sensitive after photographic plates were dry: until this time portraits were taken by a professional photographer using the wet process' – wet plates. He next manufactured a plate-coating machine.

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