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Kodak: A Retrospective

- 8 years ago

Rochester, New York existed as the home of Eastman Kodak for 125 years until it entered into Chapter 11 in the US during 2012

Far from being the end of the company, Kodak took the opportunity to shed its debt and reform by selling off many of its assets and intellectual property and unlike filing for bankruptcy, as a company would in the UK, this is precisely the reason why the process of Chapter 11 exists in the U.S.

Unfortunately though, many of Kodak’s analogue technologies have also now been ditched but others have flourished and the company are now strong in VR and 4K action cameras, whilst they retain a strong UK high street presence, serving more traditional print products.

We’ve furnished the information below, outlining the history of the Kodak business, with images that were taken by Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb. Not so long ago, the couple explored the after effects on the communities in which the analogue roots of the photographic industry were built in Rochester. Whilst (Magnum photographer) Alex shot his last rolls of Kodachrome for the project, a formerly vibrant colour film that can only now be processed as black-and-white. Rebecca, who still uses film for all of her work, responded to the medium’s uncertain future by creating a melancholy refrain of colour, still lives and portraits of Rochester’s women past and present.

Details of the resulting book can be found at the foot of this piece.

Rochester. Open Door Rescue mission. Women's clothes distribution. Staff/volunteer/student lunch w/ mural showing volunteers and staff.

Rochester. Open Door Rescue mission. Women’s clothes distribution. Staff/volunteer/student lunch w/ mural showing volunteers and staff.

Key Moments in the History of Eastman Kodak

1853 – Bausch & Lomb founded.

1884 – George Eastman patents first roll film.

1892 – Eastman Company renamed The Eastman Kodak Company. Once a poor bank clerk, George Eastman would later become one of the richest men in the world.

1900 – World’s image Centre. At the turn of the century, the dominance of imaging and optical industries, including Kodak and Bausch + Lomb, would lead to yet another nickname for the city.

1901 – George Eastman becomes a major benefactor for what will become the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).


The inventors of Kodachrome, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr, were also accomplished musicians. Mannes a concert pianist and Godowsky first violinist for both the San Francisco and Los Angeles Symphony Orchestras.

In the 1930s Eastman Kodak Hired the two men and gave them a lab in Rochester to continue working on the colour-film process they’d been developing in their off hours as musicians.

As the story goes, while working in the darkness in their lab at Eastman Kodak, the two musicians measured film development times by whistling the last movement of Brahms’ C-minor symphony.


1921 – Eastman School of Music founded by Eastman.

1932 – George Eastman commits suicide. In increasing pain due to disc problems, George Eastman, perhaps a result of seeing the suffering his mother experienced in her later years, kills himself. He left a memorable note: “To my friends. My work is done. Why wait? GE”

1935 – Kodachrome invented by Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes. Godowsky was married to painter and sculptor Frances Gershwin, the sister of George and Ira Gershwin, noted U.S. composer and lyricist.

1949 – George Eastman House opens. This first museum dedicated to photography opens in Eastman’s former mansion.

1958 – Haloid company changes name to Xerox.


1969 – Photographer Nathan Lyons Founds The Visual Studies Workshop. An artist-run education and support centre for photography and other media arts. Its first graduating class includes such photography-world notables as Anne Wilkes Tucker (curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) and photographer Henry Wessel.

1969 – Xerox moves its world HQ to Stamford, CT. Only two years after the Xerox Tower is completed – and becomes Rochester’s tallest building.

1987 – Kodak, Bausch + Lomb and Xerox employ 60% of Rochester’s work force.

2009 – Kodachrome discontinued. The very next year in Parsons, Kansas, Dwayne’s Photo, the last remaining Kodachrome processor in the world, stops processing the film.

2012 – Kodak, Bausch + Lomb & Xerox employ 6% of Rochester’s
work force.

2012 – Eastman Kodak files for Chapter 11 in the U.S.

2016 – Various licenses successfully being fulfilled across the globe, keeping the Kodak brand prominent. The likes of Kodak’s PixPro 360 (HD, 4K and VR versions) and Kodak Alaris looking after the high street print stores along with Bullit‘s new serious offering with the Ektra phone/camera suggest that the brand is still strong and recognisable by the general public as an imaging brand.

PhotoBite definitely rate the action cameras at the very least and you’ll find our views in writing in The Measure


Memory CityAlex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb

  • ISBN 9780500544327
  • 30.00 x 24.80 cm
  • PLC (no jacket)
  • 132pp
  • Illustrated in colour and black and white throughout
  • First published 2014 by Thames & Hudson


About the author

Read Kodak: A Retrospective

Simon Skinner

Co-founder // Editor

Having spent many years working in various pockets of the music industry, and always with a camera in hand, Simon has worked with organisations such as Warner/Chappell, Food Records and ultimately, co-founding the innovative independent record label, Izumi Records before moving fully into the world of publishing in 2007. Amongst numerous other projects in the last decade, he has been responsible for a number of specialist photo trade magazines and journals for the filmmaking and photography communities, along with a coffee table book entitled, "Great Britons of Photography' which he produced with Peter Dench and Leica. Now heading up PhotoBite, Simon and the team have set themselves a task of delivering informative and inspirational content for photographers of all levels, from the beginner, shooting with smartphones, to the seasoned photographer and filmmaker.