The Colorama was one of the longest running corporate advertising campaigns of the twentieth century. First conceived by Eastman Kodak Company in 1949, when Waldo B. Potter was its director of advertising operations, these massive backlit transparencies were designed to demonstrate the brilliance of color photography. Between 1950 and 1990, a new Colorama was installed in Grand Central Terminal every few weeks, resulting in a total of 565 transparencies. Each transparency was 18 feet tall by 60 feet wide, earning them the famed slogan of the “world’s largest photograph.”
Eastman Kodak relied on a particular kind of imagery to sell products to its target market. The advertising department created scenes representing natural beauty, recreation, vacations, and Christmas celebrations. People using Kodak cameras were included in many of the images. Consistent with the prevailing approach of mass advertising at the time, the families presented were white, middle-class, and patriarchal. Starting in the early 1960s, there were occasionally “exotic” sites meant to promote foreign travel as a desirable experience enhanced by using Kodak products.
The Colorama advertising campaign ended in 1990 as Grand Central Terminal prepared for renovations that would restore the original architectural integrity of the landmark building.
Each giant transparency was destroyed after display, but original photographic negatives and transparencies used to create them remain preserved at the George Eastman Museum.
Neil Montanus (American, 1927–2019) photographed 55 Coloramas–the most of any photographer. A graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, Montanus was hired by Eastman Kodak as a staff photographer in 1954. In this capacity he produced photographs in a wide variety of genres, and his work took him to six continents and more than 32 countries. Over the course of his 35 years working at Eastman Kodak, he became a celebrity spokesperson for the company and a celebrated photographer in his own right. After his retirement, Montanus served as an “ambassador” for Kodak at Yosemite National Park.
Montanus’s picture was the second Colorama to depict the site of the Incan city of Machu Picchu. The first, by Peter Gales, Colorama #243 went on view in 1964, and followed the Kodak convention of the time in featuring a white American man and woman making photographs. For his part, Montanus adopted a higher vantage point, and the tourists at the center of Gales’s picture were replaced by a native Peruvian tending to three llamas. In the background below, the ruins of the city are cast in patches of sunlight breaking through the dramatic cloudscape that engulfs the Andes.