Today one of my long-time dreams came true - I got a chance to park The Photo Palace Bus right in front of the Kodak world headquarters building in Rochester! What an amazing experience; to have my darkroom in front of the central nervous system of the company that started it all (or at least popularized photography and brought film to the heights at which it once soared) was truly special. Yes - Kodak is not what it used to be. Yes - some nay-sayers say it's dead and gone. Yes - some of their absolutely best products are nowhere to be found these days. BUT - the spirit of Film remains. I feel that spirit and hope to be a part of perpetuation of its legacy well into the 21st century. Therefore it was truly special to visit this legendary company at its heart.
It appears that Jenny - chief blogger and the person responsible for social media at Kodak Co. actually noticed Gilli on her way to work this morning as she was parked behind George Eastman House. Soon upon waking up I received a few twitter notifications and was delighted to see an invitation from Jenny to visit Kodak. I was planning on doing that anyhow, but with an invite it's just that much better. I assured her that I'll be there by the end of the day and went back into GEH to once again enjoy the show there, so let's get back on a timeline and take things in chronological manner.
I had to adjust a few things on yesterdays blog entry as I apparently connected the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film with Kodak Company - let's make it clear once and for all: they are two separate entities and have very little to do with each other. As it was explained to me by Mark Osterman (whom I ran into at the museum cafe), the museum is a privately owned organization and in the past it may have had a lot tighter connection with Kodak Co. (such as some exhibit items and prints coming from Kodak to GEH) the connection has been getting thinner over the past years and now is about as thin as "a spiderweb thread". So I corrected that and then had a lovely chat with Mark over a cup of coffee.
He really is a fascinating character and has led quite a marvelous life. Apparently during the summers for 20 years from 1979 to 1999, while on vacations from teaching high school, he traveled the country with an amazing vintage show. He traveled as a self-invented character called Dr. Bumstead and drove a 1914 model T Ford which he converted into a pop-up stage/banner complete with vintage PA system, collodion studio and all the trinkets that made traveling showman of yore special. You can find a lot more information about this HERE. It must have been quite an experience and perhaps that is why I felt instantly connected to Mr. Osterman in spirit upon meeting him yesterday. Traveling photographers are not as common these days as they once were and I think we ought to stick together. However, I will not blame Mark for a split second for coming off the road and taking a job with GEH - that's a dream-gig and now he travels all over the world giving workshops throughout Americas, Europe and Asia - that's life! He truly deserves it - I never met a man who holds more technical knowledge and is at the same time such a gentle and creative spirit.
I spent quite some time in the bookstore and was completely fascinated with all the imagery that was concealed within all the pages of the seemingly endless rows of books there. I really felt like a kid at a candy store (especially if the analogy was extended to a kid being able to eat all he could while inside the store for free, but didn't have the funds to actually buy any candy to bring it home). I hope some of that imagery left a more permanent impression upon my creative thread - let's see about that after I develop the next few rolls, right?
I was recommended that I stop by Image City gallery, so that's what I did while being on the way to Kodak. They are located very close to GEH, so it was a natural stop-over. Image City is a gallery dedicated solely to photography and I had a pleasure of looking around there or a while before leading two of its members on a little tour of Gilli The Bus. They were both old-school darkroom workers who have since gone to the digital side. Sad to say, but that's the way things go nowadays - faster, easier, cheaper.... While I admit that digital has it's place I refuse to accept it as a primary artistic medium in still non-manipulated straight photography. Coming from the exhibit at GEH it was rather sad to see the quality of prints in Image City - some were badly over-sharpened, others showed some serious JPEG artifacting. Some were really not bad at all; especially the black and white images printed on nice rag papers with a good tooth and having some solid contrast and depth. In my gut though I sill wanted to see at least one gelatin silver print so I would connect the artist behind it to the actual print by knowing that it was manually produced and cared for, caressed in the chemistry and cared for afterward by him/her... I still like the overall feel of the place as it was well laid-out and cozy.
Then I was off to Kodak Headquarters. Wow - I could not believe I was this close to the heart of the beast and while turning the corner onto State street I was astounded to see the size of the building they were occupying - I mean it's a big company, but for some reason I still imagined them in a smaller space... Here is it - world famous Kodak as seen through The Photo Palace Bus window.
Gilli pulled up right into the front onto the loop that goes by the lobby and took these two pictures to commemorate our arrival.
I had time to shoot a few more images with my film cameras before Jenny appeared in the front door followed by Matthew (who works at Web-development and Entertainment Imaging). They both were extremely nice and seemed genuinely excited to meet The Bus. Matthew even brought out a little gift-bag 'from Kodak to Gilli' - There was some much-needed 120 Tri-X and other black and white films that I am sure to use up within the next week. The yellow Kodak bag though will stay with me as long as it lasts and the cool posters (from their latest movie-film ad campaign), which you see rolled up by the bag, are going up in my darkroom in San Diego and at home.
After showing off the darkroom and part of the collection of cameras and prints I asked to go inside the lobby (because I really wanted to pretend to myself that I was a Kodak Exec. and walk through the front doors). The lobby was great and I got to see my first real-life Oscar and Emmy awards.
It was getting close to 5pm by then and I really wanted to go by the Kodak coating plant and take some pictures of that building (I knew I couldn't get into it without much prior arrangements). The light was beautiful and I easily found the big red building just a few miles north of the headquarters. There is no mistaking this building for a lumber mill or a coal plant - something about it spoke to me as being uniquely FILM. By the way, this is the place where they coal movie film, I am still trying to figure out whether or not Kodak is actively coating still films like Tri-X or even T-max and where those plants are.... This is the only image I snapped with my iPhone, but I went pretty wild on Stereo Realist, Leica, Rolleiflex, Robot and Polaroid images and can't wait to see what comes out - I think this is a very picturesque compound and I hope to return either Sunday or Monday to shoot it from more angles - as you see it's a rather massive conglomerate of structures and it would take a few hours to document it properly (actually you don't even see the tenth of all the buildings in the photo below). I like this image though - the sun actually hid from view soon after I parked and I found myself waiting for a break in the clouds in between the film shots.
Tomorrow - sales! Let's see if Gilli and I can make some traveling money. Above-average luck is needed to pull in the amount needed for the Ambrotype workshop from GEH, so wish us luck. I am going to park somewhere next to the Public Market as I understand that it's a very popular place during Saturdays here - let's see if people are going to be as hungry for art as they will be for fresh produce.