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The Cavalcade of Color

Kodak and the 1939 World’s Fair
Ariane Pollet
Traduction de James Gussen
Cet article est une traduction de :
The Cavalcade of Color

Résumé

To illustrate the company’s importance in the history of photography and its emergence as a widespread popular practice, Eastman Kodak’s participation in world’s fairs is a particularly useful and informative object of study. The negotiations that surrounded photography’s first emergence as a consumer medium reveal a discontinuous history rooted in a complex process of integration made up of advances and retreats, attempts and rejections, which seem to crystallize in 1939 in the staging of the Kodak Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. The marketing strategies employed to launch the company’s color film were built around a fundamental tension between the familiar and the monumental, between identification and fascination, which made the giant slide show The Cavalcade of Color one of the fair’s most popular attractions.

Notes de la rédaction

An earlier version of this article was presented at the one-day conference ‘Le Spectacle de l’industrie / Exhibiting Industry,’ organized by Claire-Lise Debluë and Anne-Katrin Weber at the Centre des sciences historiques de la culture at the University of Lausanne on June 1, 2012.

Texte intégral

The author wishes to thank Jesse Peers, study center archivist, George Eastman House, Lori Birrell, manuscript librarian, University of Rochester, Kathy Connor, George Eastman legacy curator, Joe Struble, archivist, George Eastman House Photo Collection, and Olivier Lugon for his rigorous and inspired rereading of the text.

  • 1 François Brunet, ‘Refondations: Le moment Kodak,’ in La Naissance de l’idée de photographie (Paris: (...)

1Kodak did not become the world’s leading photography company on the strength of its products alone; it also pursued an aggressive marketing and advertising strategy. Its real accomplishment was using that strategy to establish photography as a privileged medium of consumer society ‘by creating and then capturing a large-scale amateur market.’1 The economic logic was simple: Kodak lowered its prices, increased its production, and guaranteed its profits through a system of patents that quickly gave it a virtual monopoly. Rooted in technical innovation and the internationalization of the marketplace, its marketing was essentially organized around a single powerful idea: the passage of time. The camera becomes its guardian; it freezes the moments, preserves their traces, and reactivates the memory of them. Remembering soon became such a powerful theme that it ultimately gave an almost ritual character to the act of taking a photograph, which could capture human life from birth to death. In order to achieve this, the company had to create a need; it had to persuade consumers to see their everyday life as an event, divesting it of its banality so as to multiply the occasions for using their cameras.

  • 2 See James Paster, ‘Advertising Immortality by Kodak,’ History of Photography 16, no. 2 (Summer 1992 (...)

2Kodak’s marketing strategy relied on a complex web of press advertisements, stores, and exhibitions, with world’s fairs representing the high point. An analysis of the latter, combined with a history of the company’s advertising and slogans,2 presents an effective approach to studying the negotiations that surrounded photography’s first emergence as a consumer medium. Prints were used extensively at these expositions, both inside the pavilions to showcase the products, and outside to highlight the fanciful design of the sites through the distribution of booklets or postcards extolling the fairs. The ultimate aim was to convince visitors to follow suit by capturing the spectacle of these grandiose yet ephemeral events in their own photographs. Thus, the presence of photography at fairs was hardly accidental. Indeed, in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, it caused serious tensions with a profession that sought to defend itself against competition from a growing amateur community encouraged and supported by the photography industry. These debates reproduced in microcosm the conditions that were creating conflict between market regulation and the rise of unfettered capitalism.

3The promotion of amateur photography took on a new dimension with Kodak’s presence at the 1939 World’s Fair. The launch of a new colour process, Kodachrome, gave the firm an opportunity to try out its strategies of persuasion. With the help of a structure as logical as it was spectacular, Kodak developed an immersive exhibition environment designed to amaze and impress its visitors. Immersed in the universe of the brand, prospective customers explored its history and tried out the new cutting-edge technologies. But the process of persuasion didn’t stop there. On the one hand, Kodak managed to appropriate an entire aspect of the World’s Fair by turning the experience itself into something to be photographed: the spectacular promotional pavilions themselves became occasions for photographs and the creation of visual souvenirs. Not merely a sales tool, advertising now became a subject in its own right and a means for directly stimulating the production of souvenir photos. At the same time, the official quality of these events gave an almost political function to that advertising, a phenomenon which Kodak openly exploited in 1939, seeking to cast the use of its products and the production of souvenir photos as a civic duty or patriotic gesture. In each case, the spectacularization and monumentalization of the most everyday forms of amateur photography is evident, symbolized by the highlight of the pavilion, the giant slide show the Cavalcade of Color.

4Situated at the nexus of mass industrial production and the booming phenomenon of leisure, the photography trade show reflected the emergence of a market culture. How did the system of access to photography equipment become established? What mode of distribution was encouraged? What role did expositions play in the marketing of photographic processes? This essay will address such questions, while refocusing attention on an exposition that is now largely forgotten.

Exhibiting the Kodak Brand

  • 3 Eastman Kodak coined the word ‘Kodak’ for the first camera produced by its factories in 1888, the ‘ (...)
  • 4 Undated letter to Henry A. Strong (who served as the Eastman Kodak Company’s first president from 1 (...)

5In 1888, the Eastman Dry Plate Company – it became the Eastman Company in 1889 and the Eastman Kodak Company of New York in 1892 – celebrated its tenth anniversary by entering the new age of marketing. Until then, a good product was supposed to fill a need and was expected to sell itself. Going against this principle, the company’s founder, George Eastman, enlarged his marketing and advertising strategies, starting with the coining of the word Kodak itself.3 Eastman made no secret of his ambition: ‘The manifest destiny of the Eastman Kodak Company is to be the largest manufacturer of photographic materials in the world, or else go pot. As long as we can pay for all our improvements and also some dividends I think we can keep on the upper road. We have never yet started a new department that we have not made it pay for itself very quickly.’4 With this confidence in the future, Eastman created his advertising department, intended to boost the brand’s image and professionalize its operations; Lewis Bunnell Jones became its manager in 1892. The department was given an annual budget of $750,000, the largest advertising budget in the world at the time, and charged with developing a complex set of strategies to stimulate the consumers’ desire to buy.

  • 5 See Michele H. Bogart, Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art (Chicago and London: University (...)
  • 6 See Karen Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect (Oxford: White Cockade Publishing, 1993), 71– (...)
  • 7 Despite his sarcastic remarks, Stieglitz was a regular user of Kodak equipment.
  • 8 He later became Kodak’s official scenographer. See K. Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect ( (...)
  • 9 Amateur Photographer, no. 26, 1897, quoted in K. Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect (note (...)
  • 10 It should be noted that the available sources are often partisan; a certain degree of discretion is (...)

6With a firm belief in the power of advertising, Kodak had been active in the field of photographic illustration as early as 1901, as soon as technical improvements in halftone screening made it possible to achieve a satisfactory standard of quality.5 In addition to his press campaigns, Eastman set up an international network of specialized stores to spread the brand’s name and move its stock of mass-produced goods. In 1885, Kodak established a wholesale office in London, opening its first store there a year later. In 1889, the Eastman Photographic Materials Company, Ltd., was formed to coordinate sales outside the United States from the English capital. From then on, dozens of branches sprang up in England, France, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.6 On the basis of this international network, Lewis Jones also developed a bold marketing campaign involving a series of travelling trade shows. Designed to appeal to his clientele of amateurs, the exhibitions were primarily made up of state-of-the-art cameras and prints selected at competitions. To add a bit of interest to the lists of anonymous participants, some celebrities were invited to present their photographs as well: in England, Queen Alexandra; in the United States, the photographers Alfred Stieglitz7 and Edward Steichen. The first of these, the Eastman Exhibition, opened on October 27, 1897, at the New Gallery in London. Following an international competition open to amateurs specifically using Kodak equipment, a jury consisting of professional and amateur photographers as well as a representative of the photography industry made a selection of prints from among the thousands submitted. All were then elegantly arranged by a newly hired scenographer, George Walton.8 According to the magazine Amateur Photographer, the result was ‘the biggest and best thing ever done in this country in the way of photographic exhibitions.’9 Attendance, as estimated by Kodak, reached twenty thousand in the space of just three weeks. On the strength of this success, the exhibition travelled abroad to the National Academy of Design in New York the following year, where the number of visitors was estimated at no less than twenty-six thousand.10

  • 11 D. Collins, The Story of Kodak (note 4), 100–103.

7Kodak continued to exploit the medium of the ‘exhibition,’ expanding it to reach a larger and larger area. Between 1905 and 1910, exhibitions crisscrossed the United States by train, while in 1904 the Grand Kodak Exhibition was transported by truck from city to city throughout the British provinces11. The presentation consisted of a slide show, a demonstration film, and forty-one panels, thirty-eight of prints and enlargements and three of technical equipment. The exhibitions required large venues, concert or meeting halls such as the Washington Artillery Hall in New Orleans or the Peabody Hotel in Memphis (both in 1906). Once again, the initiative met with success: Kodak employees even claimed that the doors had to be closed repeatedly to control the crowds.

  • 12 ‘Groundbreaking at the New York World’s Fair 1964–1965,’ The Eastman Company, August 21, 1962. Inte (...)
  • 13 The word ‘Columbian’ pays homage to the four-hundred-year anniversary of America’s discovery in 149 (...)
  • 14 D. Collins, The Story of Kodak (note 4), 78–79.
  • 15 By way of comparison, the price of admission was fifty cents.

8This popular craze took a particularly significant form in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair. After participating successfully in the Universal Exposition of 1889 in Paris, Kodak repeated the experiment four years later at the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition. Galvanized by the prospect of exhibiting for the first time before a large American audience, Eastman sought to turn the fair into a ‘Mecca’12 for amateur photographers worldwide. Invited to participate along with hundreds of other companies, Kodak was determined to set itself apart by becoming a must-see destination. Between spring 1892 and summer 1893, Kodak conducted one of its most aggressive campaigns with the aim of convincing the organizing committee to allow it not only to exhibit its products and prints but also to sell its film and set up a darkroom where it could be developed on site. In addition, the company released a camera specially designed for the occasion, the ingenious ‘Kolumbus Kodak,’13 which was marketed to prospective visitors with the slogan, ‘Take a Kodak to the Fair.’ The company’s booth, which was located in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, sold an illustrated publication with the best sights and attractions. This booklet was presented as a souvenir, but it also served as a model that might encourage visitors to replicate its images and to record the event by taking photographs of their own. According to Douglas Collins, this exhibition set a precedent in the United States.14 Until then, amateurs had not been allowed to take pictures of the sites, a privilege reserved exclusively for professionals. While the practice seems perfectly innocuous to us now, at the time it sparked heated reactions, forcing the organizers to allay official photographers’ fears by charging every amateur entering the fair with a camera a prohibitive two-dollar tax.15 This admission surcharge not only undermined the brand’s promotional efforts, since every visitor with a Kolumbus was forced to pay the supplement; it also highlighted the regulations that impinged on the practice of photography. Under pressure from Kodak, the committee finally relented somewhat and allowed the company to sell its film, but only well after the fair had opened. Kodak took the opportunity to offer it free as compensation for the admission surcharge, which remained in force.

9This episode sheds light on the emergence of amateur photography as an object of mass consumption and the upheavals it caused even inside the fairs. From then on, visitors came not just to see the latest scientific discoveries, industrial advances, and colonial conquests but to photograph and preserve a private memory of them. The need for souvenirs became a marketing vehicle in its own right and added an extra dimension to the marketing strategies previously pursued by the photography industry’s exhibitors.

  • 16 See John Raeburn, A Staggering Revolution: A Cultural History of Thirties Photography (Urbana and C (...)
  • 17 The theme reflects a desire to spread optimism and confidence in the future.
  • 18 See Kerstin Barndt, ‘Fordist Nostalgia: History and Experience at the Henry Ford,’ Rethinking Histo (...)

10After its less than successful attempt to democratize the use of cameras at international expositions at the 1893 World’s Fair, Kodak repeated the experiment forty years later at the New York World’s Fair of 1939.16 This time, however, the circumstances were entirely different. Under the aegis of its president Grover Whalen and his publicity director Edward Bernays, the fair was primarily conceived as an opportunity for presenting consumer products rather than scientific innovations; in any case, this was how they interpreted the event’s slogan, ‘Building the World of Tomorrow.’17 A shift was about to occur, from a culture of exhibition, or ‘fair culture,’ to a ‘corporate culture’18 in which amateur photo­graphy would become a privileged medium of communication.

‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow’19

  • 19 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow,Kodak Magazine 18, no. 3 (March 1939), 1.
  • 20 N. M. West, Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (note 2), 202.

11While it had already become fashionable before the First World War to record one’s everyday life – especially family events – the resonance of memory became an increasingly powerful theme in the 1930s. From a tool for documenting happy moments – birthdays, weddings, and vacations – the camera gradually became a witness to life’s last moments as well, a kind of omnipresent ritual of recollection. Although we know nothing about the context or genesis of the project, in 1932 the advertising department began to plan a new campaign called the ‘Death Campaign.’ Slogans urged consumers to protect against forgetting the deceased: ‘Thanksgiving 1930 – the last time we were ever to be together.’20 The sales strategy was never made public, however, perhaps because George Eastman committed suicide in March of that year. Aware that he had a terminal illness, Kodak’s founder decided to end his life. Instead of announcing that fact, the firm observed a lengthy period of silence, full of mystery and emotion. In doing so, it was extending a process of myth-making already begun before his death. To celebrate the brand’s fiftieth anniversary, Kodak had staged an event on a national scale: every child who was twelve years old in 1930 could go to a Kodak dealer, where he or she would be given a special Brownie camera free of charge. At the same time, authors set about writing authorized biographies like Carl W. Ackerman’s George Eastman (1930) or The Origin of the Word Kodak (1938), books that shared the common ambition of building and enlarging the Kodak legend.

  • 21 For a detailed account of the careers of Kodachrome’s inventors, see D. Collins, The Story of Kodak(...)
  • 22 Kodak introduced a projector with a built-in magazine as early as 1954 – the Kodaslide Signet 500.

12At the same time, two chemists developed a colour process that would play a central role in the company’s future. In 1935, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes discovered a new reversal process.21 Initially designed for movie film (16 mm), the Kodachrome process became available for still photography the following year. With its 35 mm format, this slide film could now be used in compact cameras and introduced to the growing amateur photography market. However, despite constant efforts to surmount the technical hurdles, slides had a hard time attracting customers because of their high price and their transparency. They either had to be projected or viewed under highly specific conditions (against a light background, using a light table or special viewer), so that one had to wait to enjoy them, which was then a delicate operation. Kodak had to work quickly to solve the problem. There was an enormous amount at stake: to ensure its growth, the company had to constantly open up new markets. First developed on filmstrips, slides only became easier to handle as separate images in 1938, with the introduction of the square cardboard ‘Readymount’ frame that from then on was their standard format, and the release of the first ‘Kodaslide Projector,’ the forerunner of the famous ‘Carousel’ of twenty years later.22 Under these strained conditions, the invitation to the New York World’s Fair (1939–40) represented a golden marketing opportunity, a perfect occasion to showcase the splendour of the projected image.

  • 23 Official Guide Book of the New York World’s Fair 1939 (New York: Exposition Publications, 1939), qu (...)
  • 24 David E. Nye, ‘Ritual Tomorrows: The New York World’s Fair of 1939,’ History and Anthropology 6, no (...)
  • 25 The Soviet Union withdrew from the fair in its second year, 1940.

13Held in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the World’s Fair was an attempt to stimulate industry and national trade, which had been ravaged by the Great Depression: ‘The eyes of the Fair are on the future – not in the sense of peering into the unknown and predicting the shape of things a century hence – but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow.’23 In 1935, the organizing committee agreed on an overarching theme for the fair. Its members, mostly financiers, chose to weight the event more toward industries than countries.24 In spring 1939, global tensions were at their height. On April 30, when the World’s Fair opened, the Nazis had already invaded Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland was imminent. War was officially declared on September 1, resulting in the immediate closure of a number of pavilions, including those of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Poland.25 David Nye views these departures as a sign that the nation state was now in its death throes, with its place in global markets being taken over by private companies. The emphatic optimism of the theme coupled with an unprecedented advertising campaign seems to have attracted enormous numbers of visitors, forty-five million in two years, equivalent to a quarter of the US population. These crowds swept aside the committee’s fears of having organized a cynical counterpoint to the economic crisis.

  • 26 Stanley Appelbaum, The New York World’s Fair 1939/1940 in 155 photographs by Richard Wurts and Othe (...)

14To make the site reflect the theme, it was divided into seven zones: Amusement, Communication and Business, Community Interests, Food, Government, Production and Distribution, and Transportation. The Kodak Pavilion was located in the Production and Distribution zone, which contained industries that converted natural resources into manufactured products. In addition to this thematic structure, a network of three main arteries imposed a broad-stroke division of the site using primary colours, whose shades intensified the further one got from their starting point. Thus, the visit began in the whiteness of the Trylon and Perisphere, which were located at the intersection of the three main roads, and continued in shades of red on the Constitution Mall, yellow on the Avenue of Patriots, and blue on the Avenue of Pioneers.26 The Kodak Pavilion was situated at the end of the blue road at the corner of Rainbow Avenue, a curved and colourful street that connected the three main arteries, hence in the most brightly coloured zone. Its location itself was already highly symbolic.

15Thirteen hundred exhibitors, including forty of the largest US industrial corporations (General Motors, Ford, AT&T, etc.), were invited to exhibit in self-financed, custom-designed pavilions. Although there was competition among the companies, collaboration was the order of the day. Practical solutions were devised to increase visibility and ensure high attendance. Thus, Kodak designed the projectors for General Motors’ Futurama (one of the most popular attractions with five million visitors annually), while the chemical company DuPont exhibited its plastics at the Kodak Pavilion. Each company diversified its presence while attempting to stand out from the crowd with its own pavilion; combining collaboration and the setting aside of rivalries, the need to innovate, and the need to control the market, this was a microcosm that allowed capitalist principles to come fully into play.

16As in Chicago in 1893, Kodak sought to give its products a new dimension by appropriating the event. Eastman designed two special World’s Fair Edition cameras: the Bullet Camera and the Baby Brownie Camera, which were introduced a few weeks before the opening. The strategy was simple and targeted: Kodak wanted to be linked with the fair inextricably – ’Take a Kodak to the Fair’; ‘Your Kodak at the Fair – What to Take and How to Take It.’ Just as at the Columbian World’s Fair, these slogans cast the camera as a privileged tool for capturing the highlights of an event that was as ephemeral as it was spectacular. In addition, Kodak once again published a booklet of the best views of the fair. Not content merely to guide visitors and provide them with the ideal equipment, the company also showed them how to make their prints and above all what to photograph.

17Kodak had been developing consumer-oriented strategies like these since its earliest days, with lines of differently coloured cameras for different situations: in a car, for use by a woman, a child, in the streets of a world’s fair. These ‘Kodak moments’ multiplied and became more and more woven into the fabric of everyday life. This way of playing with transient occasions and fleeting emotions ultimately seemed to force experience and memory into predefined ‘formats,’ but here it was the experience of the marketing spectacle itself that was framed and controlled by its promoters.

  • 27 See D. E. Nye, ‘Electrifying Expositions: 1880–1939,’ in Fair Representations: World’s Fairs and th (...)

18In addition to the now-traditional press campaign, Kodak also offered its retailers free promotional materials specially designed for the occasion. Displays adorned with images of the fair were made available at all US branches. Dealers were encouraged to remind their customers to make sure they had the proper equipment so as not to miss any of the attractions, which went on day and night. For the spectacle continued round the clock; at dusk, the pavilions were transformed by neon lighting. Needless to say, Kodak stood ready with the most effective means for working in these special conditions – a specially sensitive film.27 To ensure that it received the greatest possible advertising coverage, Kodak reminded its resellers that millions of visitors were expected, an increase in customer numbers that was previously unimaginable. Nor did the campaign of persuasion stop there: Kodak offered all the promotional materials free of charge and facilitated the process of setting them up in shop windows and stores by providing an explanatory kit. The company took care of everything, from the material to its use, from the dealers to the customers; its control was absolute.

The Kodak Pavilion: Selling Memory

19The opportunity to design its own pavilion allowed Kodak to create a powerful promotional space large enough to overwhelm the viewers and immerse them in a monumental and unforgettable environment. But while it’s easy to invest a lot of money in a building, it’s harder to attract a large enough public to make one’s investment profitable. Although Kodak had vast experience in marketing, advertising, and organizing trade shows, this New York experiment involved a new mode of distribution. After spreading its presence to the four corners of the earth, Kodak was now for the first time constructing an entire building to its own greater glory, one capable of accommodating thousands of consumers.

  • 28 There were ‘mammoth color reproductions inside and out, and a Photo-Garden that offered unusual set (...)

20The end of Rainbow Avenue opened onto the Kodak Pavilion, which was located in Lincoln Square. The architect Eugene Gerbeux and the scenographers Walter Dorwin Teague and Stowe Myers created a design that was uncompromisingly modern: a flat roof; large plate glass windows; and clean, uncluttered geometric spaces. The building’s form and function worked together to monumentalize the company’s flagship products, especially its colour film.28 Outside, the entrance façade was painted two different colours, with one wall royal blue and the other white to set off the huge pictures that covered them; inside, photomurals and projected Kodachromes underscored the rationality of the building, designed as a showcase for the brand. The structure stood out from a distance thanks to a triangular tower more than twenty metres high with twenty black and white images (2.5 x 3.3 metres) and three additional rotating supports (2 x 3.7 metres) at its base. This staging gave substance to the organizing committee’s intentions: here the national flag was replaced by the product and company logo. The print replaced the banner.

  • 29 Especially since clients were prevented from developing their own colour film by the difficulty of (...)
  • 30 ‘Pair of Pageants,’ The Kodak Salesman, April 1939, n.p.
  • 31 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow’ (note 19), 1–2.

21After passing under this structure, visitors entered a one-way linear path. The choice of this design element echoed the famous slogan, ‘You Press the Button, We Do the Rest,’ and in a larger sense it exemplified the absolute control that Kodak sought to maintain over its customers, either by anticipating their desires or by relieving them of all responsibility.29 Taken completely in hand, all the visitors had to do was follow the ‘canopied promenade’30 that led to the main entrance. The dimly lit entry hall contained a series of Kodachromes and offered a foretaste of the contents of the main hall, the Great Hall of Color, an enormous semicircular space with a radius of fifty-five feet and an area of two thousand square metres. There they discovered the Cavalcade of Color, the highlight of the pavilion and one of the fair’s most popular attractions, with four million visitors annually: a colour slide show with sound, made up of monumentally enlarged Kodachromes (which we will return to later). After being almost literally submerged in this installation, the public continued its journey through the Kodak universe. It first made its way toward a globe nestled in the opening of a wall with little light bulbs indicating the locations of Eastman factories throughout the world and, showing next to it, two films about the company. To the right of this ‘Kodak World’31 were texts and films documenting the working conditions of the company’s employees, including wage policy and pensions and other benefits. Halfway through the pavilion, three exhibits depicted the various fields in which black and white and colour photography were used, for example, amateur photography, medicine (x-rays, photomicrography, spectroscopy), astronomy, education, home movies, and commercial photography. This collection was enlivened by a life-sized colour projection of a young woman’s body which faded out at regular intervals, to be replaced by an x-ray silhouette. Finally, the visitor came to a historical display retracing photography’s hundred-year history and a reinstallation of the exhibition Tennessee Eastman Corporation, originally presented in 1920. This historical mise en abîme then led to the final stage of the visit, the garden, which contained a miniature version of the entire Flushing Meadows site.

  • 32 See Dominique Poulot, ‘L’élysée du musée des Monuments français: Un jardin de la mémoire sous le Pr (...)

22The innovative architecture of the World of Tomorrow formed the centrepiece of the Photographic Garden, which sought to recreate the wonders of the World’s Fair in concentrated form. Like the jardin à fabrique, its purpose was to instruct and to elicit emotion.32 It held surprises in store for visitors, surprises whose purpose was less to make them think than to generate memories. The fair’s most striking attractions (the Trylon, the Perisphere, etc.) were reproduced in scale models to persuade the ‘picture takers’ of the event’s photogenic potential. Offered as a place to relax, the garden was a privileged environment in which to spend quiet time with one’s family, taking photographs. The relationship to time was central; everything possible was done to make the moment memorable; nostalgia was on sale here, and photography provided the most adequate tool for recollection. This way of manipulating time seems to invert the general principle of the 1939 World’s Fair: where the organizers of the World of Tomorrow intended to bring the future into the present, Kodak sought to transform that future instantly into a memory.

  • 33 The commercial possibilities of having their products used on site seem to have been attractive to (...)

23After its lacklustre performance at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, this time Kodak managed the reversal perfectly. From a propaganda tool, the fair was transformed into a photographic subject and an object of consumption. Beneath the attractive exterior lay a highly aggressive marketing strategy. The pavilion’s function was twofold: on the one hand, its architecture and exhibits presented the company’s latest technological innovations; on the other, a team of technicians guided potential buyers as they decided which of the advertised products they wished to purchase and use at the fair.33

The Cavalcade of Color: ‘The Greatest Photographic Show on Earth’34

  • 34 The Kodak Salesman, April 1940.
  • 35 In the Amusement Zone, an attraction designed by Salvador Dali, the Dream of Venus stood side by si (...)
  • 36 ‘Kodak Giants at the World’s Fair,’ Kodak Magazine, May 1939, p. 16.
  • 37 The following year, the pavilion’s program was focused on amateur moviemaking. Two prototypes of in (...)

24Ten minutes long, the main slide show consisted of 2,112 images projected on a semicircular screen just under sixty metres wide. The word ‘cavalcade’ means ‘parade’ or ‘procession’ but also ‘series’ or ‘remarkable event.’35 Concealed in a booth attached to the ceiling,36 eleven projectors specially designed for the occasion projected Kodachromes the size of a postage stamp, the same model used in the company’s miniature amateur cameras. This detail was widely publicized by the firm in its magazines and also at the site, because it strengthened the connection with the users in the hall.37 The Kodachromes were then enlarged fifty thousand times, appearing on screen with dimensions of 17 x 22 feet. The projectors were perfectly coordinated to produce illusionistic rhythmic and spatial effects. The fluidity of the result was due to an ingenious moving mechanism: two drum gears, a metre in diameter and capable of holding ninety-six images each, rotated side by side around each projector, causing the images to follow one another very quickly.

  • 38 This text dates from 1949, the year of the first restoration of the Cavalcade of Color. Although we (...)

25The show evoked the universal and now traditional theme of the passage of time, highlighting the Kodak camera’s usefulness as a means for capturing the significant moments of human life. The choice of images not only reflected the conventions of amateur photography, with a number of photographs taken from the company’s various competitions; it also demonstrated the wide range of subjects that Kodachromes could capture: landscapes, family, animals, flowers, and so on. The rhythm of the slide show varied to keep pace with that of the soundtrack, which included a text read aloud by a baritone voice, the gist of which was as follows: ‘Remember Haloween / Remember what happened at Christmas / Then chapters of romance. / Chapters of good times. / The one and only day, the one and only girl. A picture forever to be remembered. / The picture so real it almost seems to live. / They find delights in simple things like these – modeled and remodeled by a change of light, a new-cast shadow. / Our camera fan, like a Rembrandt, sees beauty everywhere and helps us to see it too. / Beauty in youthful grace and form. / Photography brings to us the beauty and majesty of this great country of ours. / This great country where centuries ago men began to build with a spirit, with a tolerant reverance which is a part of our national life today. / This great country with its natural wonders. / Yet America is more than natural wonders. / guarding our very homes, is a priceless heritage, / a heritage of liberty. / This is America.’38

  • 39 See Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton, eds., The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citi (...)

26This highly conservative and patriotic discourse, organized around the citizen, hearth, and home, is reminiscent of how the pavilion itself replaced the national flag with a print. Had photography now become a patriotic gesture? Indeed, the interwar years were marked by significant changes in American politics. The New Deal (1933–36) created a coordinated program of economic reforms to counteract the disastrous results of the stock market crash. The various policies adopted led, among other things, to a new way of seeing the consumer. Regarded for years simply as a link in the economic chain, he or she now became an important political actor, his or her every purchase viewed as a contribution to economic recovery, an act of citizenship.39 A strong advocate of a free-market economy but privately opposed to democratic solutions, Eastman Kodak must nonetheless have been able to share this vision of private consumption.

  • 40 The Kodak Salesman, June 1940, n.p.
  • 41 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow’ (note 19), 1–2.
  • 42 ‘The Eastman Kodak show in their Hall of Color was one of the most effective in the New York World’ (...)
  • 43 ‘“I know now how Gulliver must have felt in Brobdingnag,“ said a visitor after viewing a ten-minute (...)

27The slide show subtly interwove aspiration and accessibility. The visitors found themselves torn between a fascination with the cutting-edge technology of the shifting panoramas and the familiarity of portraits of newlyweds and animals. To increase their emotion they had no place to sit, they remained standing and raised their heads to look at the images projected above them, crowded together and contained (‘packing them in’),40 in a position that fully engaged their senses and imaginations and caused them to completely lose their bearings. In the darkened hall, one spectacular effect followed another in a succession of seasons and places; in the space of just a few seconds, a summer panorama changed into a winter landscape, with the transformations moving from left to right. Similarly, a western valley passed from sunrise to sunset in a matter of just a few moments; a frieze of Greek statues in black and white changed to colour before fading to black and being replaced by women in contemporary dresses.41 The few available eyewitness reports stress the amazement felt by the visitors; people exclaimed that the fair was ‘colossal,’ ‘stupendous,’ and ‘gigantic.’42 One visitor even claimed to know ‘how Gulliver must have felt in Brobdingnag.’43 Indeed, the whole pavilion seems to have played upon variations in scale, with the monuments reduced to the size of toys in the Photographic Garden and children and pets enlarged to the size of giants in the Cavalcade, and so exploited a fundamental tension between the familiar and the monumental, identification and fascination. As Gulliver was confronted in Brobdingnag with a strange world, that of the giants, what overwhelmed and enthralled the visitor in the Kodak pavilion was precisely the familiar.

  • 44 For a history of this museum (unfortunately lacking references), see A Collective Endeavor, The Fir (...)
  • 45 ‘Eastman Cavalcade of Color,’ January 20, 1956 (George Eastman Archives, Rochester).

28In 1948, the Cavalcade of Color underwent a first round of restorations before being permanently installed at the George Eastman House in Rochester. Located in Eastman’s former home, this photography museum, devoted entirely to the history of the brand, opened its doors the following year. Because extensive alterations were required to accommodate the projectors, work began in the fall of 1947.44 The only space that was large enough and also circular, had previously been a garage, used first for carriages and then for cars. Christened the Mees Lecture Room (it is the Curtis Theater today), in addition to the monumental slide show it also exhibited the latest photography equipment and its applications, especially in basic research (Serving Human Progress through Photography). A second restoration campaign began in winter 1954 in order to have everything ready for the celebration of the centennial of George Eastman’s birth. This construction involved extensive alterations: the number of projectors was increased from eleven to fourteen, and their mechanism was completely redesigned by the Devrex Company to improve the quality of the images. The soundtrack – including the narrator’s voice – and the sound system of the hall were also replaced.45

  • 46 For more on the images used in the Coloramas, see Alison Nordstrom and Peggy Roalf, Colorama: The W (...)

29At that period, the rapid growth of illustrated magazines and the movie industry completed the process of popularizing colour. In this favourable context, Kodak was invited to develop a new advertising campaign in the heart of New York City. On March 15, 1950, the Colorama made its debut, a triptych of backlit Kodachromes with a total area of 18 x 5.5 metres, installed in the bustling hall of Grand Central Station, where it remained until 1990.46 As usual, Kodak did everything it could to appeal to an audience of travellers passing through the hall on a daily basis by projecting carefully selected images as optimistic as they were stereotypical. The company reprised its exhibition strategy and reiterated the dialectic of the familiar and the extraordinary that had characterized the Cavalcade of Color. At Grand Central Station, the spectacularization of colour photography occupied the space of everyday life itself. Rather than attempting to install an everyday practice within the context of an exhibition, the Colorama brought the latter into the settings of everyday life. The transformation of colour photography into a popular practice and an instrument of memory was now complete. While the Coloramas went on to be a resounding success, including with critics, the Cavalcade of Color, shut away in its museum, eventually fell into disuse. Rather than permitting it to share in the general enthusiasm for colour photography, history led to it being forgotten.

Notes

1 François Brunet, ‘Refondations: Le moment Kodak,’ in La Naissance de l’idée de photographie (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2000), 216. See also Brian Coe and Paul Gates, The Snapshot Photograph: The Rise of Popular Photography 1888–1939 (London: Ash & Grant, 1977).

2 See James Paster, ‘Advertising Immortality by Kodak,’ History of Photography 16, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 135–40; Nancy M. West, Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000). The history of advertising in the United States is a burgeoning research field; see especially Richard Wightman Fox, The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing, ed. T. J. Lears (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

3 Eastman Kodak coined the word ‘Kodak’ for the first camera produced by its factories in 1888, the ‘Kodak Number One.’ By synecdoche, it soon became the company name. See Kodak Milestones (Paris: Eastman Kodak Company, 1980), n.p.; F. Brunet, ‘Refondations: Le moment Kodak’ (note 1), 233–37.

4 Undated letter to Henry A. Strong (who served as the Eastman Kodak Company’s first president from 1884 until his death in 1919), in Douglas Collins, The Story of Kodak (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1990), 81.

5 See Michele H. Bogart, Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995). In 1933, a third of all advertising images in the United States were based on colour photographs: Nathalie Boulouch, Le ciel est bleu. Une histoire de la photographie couleur (Paris: Textuel, 2011), 90. See also Patricia Johnston, Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Marianne Fulton, Bonnie Yochelson, and Kathleen Erwin, eds., Pictorialism into Modernism, The Clarence H. White School of Photography (New York: Rizzoli, 1996).

6 See Karen Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect (Oxford: White Cockade Publishing, 1993), 71–82.

7 Despite his sarcastic remarks, Stieglitz was a regular user of Kodak equipment.

8 He later became Kodak’s official scenographer. See K. Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect (note 6), 61–62. See also Olivier Lugon, ‘Kodakoration. Photographie et scénographie d’exposition autour de 1900,’ études photographiques, no. 16 (May 2005): 182–97.

9 Amateur Photographer, no. 26, 1897, quoted in K. Moon, George Walton, Designer and Architect (note 6), 61. See also the authoritative study by Julie K. Brown, Making Culture Visible: The Public Display of Photography at Fairs, Expositions, and Exhibitions in the United States, 1847–1900 (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 2001).

10 It should be noted that the available sources are often partisan; a certain degree of discretion is advisable when making use of them.

11 D. Collins, The Story of Kodak (note 4), 100–103.

12 ‘Groundbreaking at the New York World’s Fair 1964–1965,’ The Eastman Company, August 21, 1962. Interview with William S. Vaughn, president of Eastman Kodak.

13 The word ‘Columbian’ pays homage to the four-hundred-year anniversary of America’s discovery in 1492. In order to better appropriate the fair, Kodak spelled the name of the explorer Christopher Columbus with a ‘K.’

14 D. Collins, The Story of Kodak (note 4), 78–79.

15 By way of comparison, the price of admission was fifty cents.

16 See John Raeburn, A Staggering Revolution: A Cultural History of Thirties Photography (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006). It would be interesting to pursue this investigation by exploring the use of amateur photography at world’s fairs in greater detail. Were visitors allowed to take photographs inside the pavilions as well, and if so beginning when?

17 The theme reflects a desire to spread optimism and confidence in the future.

18 See Kerstin Barndt, ‘Fordist Nostalgia: History and Experience at the Henry Ford,’ Rethinking History 11, no. 3 (September 2007), available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13642520701353330.

19 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow,Kodak Magazine 18, no. 3 (March 1939), 1.

20 N. M. West, Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (note 2), 202.

21 For a detailed account of the careers of Kodachrome’s inventors, see D. Collins, The Story of Kodak (note 4), 205–15.

22 Kodak introduced a projector with a built-in magazine as early as 1954 – the Kodaslide Signet 500.

23 Official Guide Book of the New York World’s Fair 1939 (New York: Exposition Publications, 1939), quoted in Bill Cotter, The 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair (Charleston, Chicago, Portsmouth, and San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 9.

24 David E. Nye, ‘Ritual Tomorrows: The New York World’s Fair of 1939,’ History and Anthropology 6, no. 1 (1992): 1–21.

25 The Soviet Union withdrew from the fair in its second year, 1940.

26 Stanley Appelbaum, The New York World’s Fair 1939/1940 in 155 photographs by Richard Wurts and Others (New York: Dover Publications, 1977), xiii.

27 See D. E. Nye, ‘Electrifying Expositions: 1880–1939,’ in Fair Representations: World’s Fairs and the Modern World, ed. Robert W. Rydell and Nancy E. Gwinn (Amsterdam: Vu University Press, 1994), 140–56.

28 There were ‘mammoth color reproductions inside and out, and a Photo-Garden that offered unusual settings for souvenir snapshots’; S. Appelbaum, The New York World’s Fair 1939/1940 (note 26), 56.

29 Especially since clients were prevented from developing their own colour film by the difficulty of doing so. Once exposed, the negatives were routinely sent to the laboratories and then returned to the sender, who paid for this service in advance.

30 ‘Pair of Pageants,’ The Kodak Salesman, April 1939, n.p.

31 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow’ (note 19), 1–2.

32 See Dominique Poulot, ‘L’élysée du musée des Monuments français: Un jardin de la mémoire sous le Premier Empire,’ Dalhousie French Studies 29 (1994): 159–68.

33 The commercial possibilities of having their products used on site seem to have been attractive to other exhibitors as well, including the Crosley Radio Corporation and the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which exhibited radios and televisions; see R. W. Rydell and N. E. Gwinn, eds., Fair Representations: World’s Fairs and the Modern World (note 27), 213.

34 The Kodak Salesman, April 1940.

35 In the Amusement Zone, an attraction designed by Salvador Dali, the Dream of Venus stood side by side with the Cavalcade of Centaurs. Scantily clad women swam in water tanks, looked at themselves in mirrors, or sat topless on horseback. The word itself comes from the Latin caballus, meaning draft horse.

36 ‘Kodak Giants at the World’s Fair,’ Kodak Magazine, May 1939, p. 16.

37 The following year, the pavilion’s program was focused on amateur moviemaking. Two prototypes of interiors were installed to demonstrate home movie systems.

38 This text dates from 1949, the year of the first restoration of the Cavalcade of Color. Although we don’t know the extent of the changes it made, this version gives one an idea of the original.

39 See Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton, eds., The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2001).

40 The Kodak Salesman, June 1940, n.p.

41 ‘Kodak in the World of Tomorrow’ (note 19), 1–2.

42 ‘The Eastman Kodak show in their Hall of Color was one of the most effective in the New York World’s Fair because of the manner in which it played on the emotions of the audiences and the deep satisfaction which it appeared to give them’; Exhibition Techniques: A Summary of Exhibition Practice (New York: New York Museum of Science, 1940), 56–58. This invaluable work describes the system used to project the Cavalcade of Color; all other sources of this type appear to have been published by Kodak itself.

43 ‘“I know now how Gulliver must have felt in Brobdingnag,“ said a visitor after viewing a ten-minute cycle during which more than two thousand color slides were projected. “It’s simply stupendous – and beautiful!”’; ‘Kodak Giants at the World’s Fair’ (note 36), 16.

44 For a history of this museum (unfortunately lacking references), see A Collective Endeavor, The First Fifty Years of George Eastman House (New York and Rochester: George Eastman House, 1999).

45 ‘Eastman Cavalcade of Color,’ January 20, 1956 (George Eastman Archives, Rochester).

46 For more on the images used in the Coloramas, see Alison Nordstrom and Peggy Roalf, Colorama: The World’s Largest Photographs from Kodak and the George Eastman House Collection, (New York: Aperture, 2005) (yes, I found the text on Google books), http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/coloramas/colorama.html. For more on the commercial and artistic use of colour slides, see Nathalie Boulouch, ‘La diapositive: une image-lisière,’ in Les Espaces de l’image, ed. Gaëlle Morel (Montreal: Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, 2009).

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Ariane Pollet, « The Cavalcade of Color », Études photographiques, 30 | 2012, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 02 juillet 2014. URL : http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/3486. consulté le 21 août 2017.

Auteur

Ariane Pollet

Ariane Pollet is an art historian who is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on Edward Steichen’s term as director of MoMA’s Department of Photography (New York, 1947–1962) at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) in the context of the RNS research project “L’exposition moderne de la photographie 1920-1970” under the direction of Olivier Lugon. She has recently published “Mass media et musée d’art: le MoMA en crise, 1940–1947,” in Olivier Lugon, ed., Exposition et médias: photographie, cinéma, télévision (Lausanne: L’Âge d’homme, 2012); and “Of Power and Politics: Steichen at MoMA,” in Françoise Poos, ed., The Bitter Years (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012).

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