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George Eastman House acquires Kodak’s Colorama archive

Exhibition of legendary photographs opens June 19

Rochester, N.Y., June 11, 2010—George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Kodak Colorama — the gigantic panoramic images that dominated Grand Central Terminal for 40 years, from 1950 to 1990 — with an international touring exhibition titled Colorama debuting June 19, on view at Eastman House through Oct. 17, 2010. At the same time, Eastman House is announcing Eastman Kodak Company has donated its Colorama archive to the museum. 

 Coloramas were promoted by Kodak as “the world’s largest photographs” and called “technically remarkable” by Ansel Adams, who photographed several. The towering backlit transparencies were 18-feet high and 60-feet wide, each illuminated by more than a mile of tubing. A total of 565 Coloramas were publicly displayed, changing out every three weeks.

The archive gift from Kodak of several thousand items includes display images of all Coloramas, including ones that were intended but not featured, plus research documents, negatives, guide prints, proof prints, model releases, and digital files. This archive will join the Eastman House current holdings of high-res scans and a detailed history compiled by long-time Kodak and Colorama photographer Norman Kerr.  

“We are delighted that this treasure trove of photographic history and imaging technology, which enthralled millions of people over the years, has found a home where they will be preserved for many more people to enjoy in the future,” said Kodak professional photographer Steve Kelly, himself the creator of several Coloramas. “These images were Kodak Moments of the highest order, and we at Kodak are proud to have them reside at the home of our founder so that the public can once again experience the magnificence of these images.”

When each new Colorama was unveiled, it often received ovation from New York City residents and travelers. Photographer Edward Steichen telegraphed Kodak upon viewing a Colorama in 1950, stating, “EVERYONE IN GRAND CENTRAL AGOG AND SMILING. ALL JUST FEELING GOOD.”

 “These illuminated images reflected and reinforced American values and aspirations while encouraging picture-taking as an essential aspect of leisure, travel, and family,” said Dr. Alison Nordström, Eastman House curator of photographs, “The Coloramas taught us not only what to photograph, but how to see the world as though it were a photograph. They served to manifest and visualize values that even then were seen as nostalgic and in jeopardy, salvageable only through the time-defying alchemy of Kodak cameras and film.”

 A constant in the first two decades of Colorama was a model using a Kodak camera, photographing family, an activity, or beautiful scene. “Coloramas resonate with nostalgia, a staple in Kodak advertising since at least 1900, reminding us to pause, via photography, in the midst of present enjoyment to record it for later remembrance,” Nordström said. In addition to Adams, well-known names associated with Colorama include photographer Elliot Porter, artist Norman Rockwell who art-directed a Colorama, and TV’s Ozzie and Harriett who appeared in several.

 The Eastman House exhibition, which will travel internationally after its Rochester debut, will focus on the 1960s — featuring cowboys in the Grand Tetons, waterskiers in Florida, children visiting Santa and breaking wishbones on Thanksgiving, tourists at the Taj Mahal, snowmobilers in New Hampshire, and the Junior Miss Pageant in Mobile, Alabama (at center is the 1964 winner, ABC’s Diane Sawyer). Eastman House representatives have been asked if a full-size original Colorama will be featured. The answer, frankly, is even one is too large to display in the museum.

 The Eastman House exhibition will feature 36 Coloramas, some as large as 80 inches, as well as two video presentations. “We are determined to show the Coloramas looking as vibrant as they looked when they were first presented,” Nordström said.

 Colorama was a technical feat undertaken by Kodak’s advertising and photography teams. Making the exposures for each display was a full day’s work in almost total darkness. In early years the wet 20-foot transparencies were dried overnight in the swimming pool at Kodak’s employee recreation center — the only building large enough to accommodate Coloramas-in-the-making.

 For those who have seen the uncropped versions of the Coloramas, witnessed are the studio lights and wooden set frames in the periphery— proof that the perfect Thanksgiving dinner or summer outing was fictional bliss. But for those passing through busy Grand Central, these scenes were a moment of escapism, as New Yorkers and tourists longed for these Kodak moments to unfold in their own worlds.

 “Everyone who sees the Colorama should be able to visualize themselves as being able to make the same wonderful photo,” said Adolph Stuber, a Kodak vice president when the project was conceived, who told his staff, “Talk photography first —Kodak next.” The Colorama exhibition is being presented in honor of Waldo B. Potter, Kodak’s vice president of advertising beginning in 1958, who was director of advertising operations when the Colorama was conceived and launched.

The 1990 renovation of Grand Central Terminal to landmark condition marked the end of the Colorama. The final display was a glittering nighttime view of the New York City skyline, with an oversized red apple nestled among the buildings — the only digital enhancement ever created for the Colorama program. The accompanying copy read, “Kodak thanks the Big Apple for 40 years of friendship in Grand Central.”

 “The Colorama archive is important to the study of photographic history and Kodak advertising, and this generous gift from Kodak also further enhances our comprehensive collection of color photographs and motion pictures,” said Dr. Anthony Bannon, the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House. The museum announced in March its acquisition of the Technicolor company archive and holds many of the earliest research documents related to color photography and color motion pictures. The Eastman House already holds the archive of Kodak’s print-advertising collection and camera technology.

In 2004 Eastman House published with Aperture a popular book titled Colorama: The World’s Largest Photographs from Kodak and the George Eastman House Collection, which featured 50 Coloramas. The book launch prompted the museum to host the first-ever reunion of Colorama photographers and models, which brought together former Kodak co-workers as well as adults who had served as child models. This included a 20-year reunion of the babies from the popular “15 Babies” Colorama from 1984. The celebration was covered by CBS News Sunday Morning and televised nationally.

The Colorama exhibition and tour are generously supported by the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation, inc. in memory of former Kodak Vice President of Advertising Pete Potter’s instrumental role in bringing Colorama to life.


Mad Men®-style exhibition party celebrates Colorama and advertising

6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 25

To celebrate the new exhibition Colorama, the public is invited to a party themed in the style of TV show Mad Men® to recognize the advertising marvel that was Colorama and the era on which the exhibition focuses, the 1960s. Pillbox hats and fedoras optional. Grab a martini and be part of a modern Colorama (panoramic image) to be shot during the party, by Kodak’s Steve Kelly, who photographed several Coloramas. Admission: $10 general ($5 Eastman House members and members of “young professionals” organizations). Event sponsored by Stolichnaya.\

Share your Colorama story!

Did you work on a Colorama or appear in one of the images? Do you recall experiencing the giant photographs as you walked through Grand Central? If so, we want to hear your story! You can share your story online on Facebook by visiting the Colorama Story page, or by emailing us at [email protected]. By mail, please address your letter to Colorama Story, George Eastman House, 900 East Ave., Rochester, NY 14607.


Attn. Media: High-res Colorama images from the exhibition, and displays at Grand Central,

are online at http://secure.eastmanhouse.org/pressroom (click on Colorama)