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Souvenir of the Eastman Photographic Exhibition 1897
New Gallery, Regent Street, London
This fascinating miniature portfolio book entitled: "Kodak Portfolio: Souvenir of the Eastman Photographic Exhibition 1897, a Collection of Kodak Film Pictures by Eminent Photographers" is a rare survivor from one of the first Kodak-sponsored efforts at marketing to the pictorial art photographic market anywhere in the World.
October 27 - November 12, 1897
Alfred Stieglitz may have been repulsed with the idea of Kodak‘s well-known slogan of "You Press the Button - We do the Rest", but the accompanying London exhibition gave instant credibility to the Kodak company which was in the early stages of dominating the photographic market world-wide. The exhibition was seen as a great opportunity by Kodak head George Eastman in helping his cause of creating "one huge international company out of the separate companies in America, Canada, Great Britain, and its empire, and the British subsidiary companies in France and Germany." (Brayer 1996:169). This is inferred by Eastman‘s reaction when he learned in 1897 that members of the British Royal family had been using his Kodak cameras to take pictures: Queen Alexandra when she was the Princess of Wales photographed a view of the Wellington Barracks which was subsequently published as a photogravure in a 2nd "Royal Edition" of this very portfolio book. From England, 11 days before the opening of this first-ever English Kodak amateur exhibition put on by George Davison, Eastman wrote his mother Maria Kilbourn Eastman:
"Our latest coup is Kodak negatives from the Duchesses of York and Fife...This will help us to get others from the Royal personages... The Princess of Wales lending her pictures will give a big boom to the show... It will be a grand affair and do much to pave the way to the new company." (Brayer 1996:172)
The "show", as mentioned by Eastman, was organized by George Davison, (1856-1930), who, along with Alfred Maskell and others including Henry Peach Robinson, founded the Linked Ringed Brotherhood in 1892 and was the director of the Eastman Photographic Materials Company in England (Liddy 2006:290). Davison was the son of a ship‘s carpenter who joined the London Camera Club in 1885 and became a member of the council of the Royal Photographic Society in 1888. Davison, who became well known in Salon circles for his photograph "The Onion Field" taken in 1890 also lead a double life that many current day photographers can surely appreciate:
"His straight photographs were used by Kodak for publicizing their products, but most of his exhibited photographs, which he clearly regarded as pictorial, were decidedly impressionistic from 1890 onwards..." (Harker 1979)
Of the exhibition on which this portfolio book is based: George Eastman declared that "Davison, ... is working like a slave and deserves all the credit for organizing." (Brayer 1996:172) We also learn from Eastman himself after the exhibit opened on October 27th at the New Gallery in Regent Street in London that "Everybody is astonished at its size and extent as well as its beauty." (Brayer 1996:172) We also learn that over 600 friends and employees of Kodak England attended the exhibit on a special day; that six "prominent" London newspapers and other "provincial" newspapers published "rave reviews" of the exhibit (Brayer 1996:172). The London "Daily Telegraph" review said:
"... some of the competing pictures are gems... but the striking thing is the high average of merit, which means that hand camera photography is far removed from toy-work, and that its influence in training the eye to appreciate points of beauty is greater than those who have never followed it would really appreciate." (cited in Collins 1990:84)
Possibly the clincher however, was Eastman‘s marketing genius when he said: "The exhibit is going to dispose of the idea that Kodaks cannot be used for the highest class of work..." (Brayer 1996:172). After the show closed on November 12th, after being open for 19 days, the attendance was 24,700: or "ten times the number of viewers who had attended the Salon and Royal Photographic Society‘s exhibitions put together in thirty days." (Brayer 1996:172-173).
Eight photographers are represented in this Kodak portfolio book: 14 photogravures were printed from the original negatives by Linked Ring member James Craig Annan (1864-1946) at his family‘s Glasgow firm. Annan himself is represented by three gravures in this portfolio. Two American‘s are represented in the portfolio: The first is Adolphus H. Stoiber (1853-1916)- a member of the New York Camera Club who later had this Kodak portfolio image reproduced as a silver print photograph in the last issue of Camera Notes (December 1903) after Alfred Stieglitz had left. The second is Frances "Fanny" Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952). Johnston was later made a member by Stieglitz of the Photo-Secession. Johnston was a long-time friend of George Eastman and a pioneering woman photographer who personally received in 1888 a Kodak camera from George Eastman when he visited her and Cornelia J. Hagan in Washington D.C. (Brayer 1996:65). Because Johnston was a professional photographer in 1897, she was unable to show her work at the Kodak exhibit. Instead, Eastman arranged for her to have her work included in a traveling "loan show" of this very exhibit (at the Academy of Design in New York City) : "where the Royalties (sic) are," and used one of her negatives for a reproduction in a "swell souvenir book...". (Brayer 1996:172). The title of Johnston‘s photograph is simple enough: A Portrait: by Miss Frances B. Johnson: portfolio letterpress states: "This profile portrait has been specially taken by Miss Johnston for the Kodak portfolio. It furnishes another example of the successful use of the lighting of ordinary rooms for portraiture. The textures of the different surfaces represented are effectively rendered in the picture. The photograph was taken with a No. 2 Bull‘s-Eye Kodak."
The remaining photographers in the portfolio were all associated with Davison and most were members of the Linked Ring. Andrew Pringle was not a member of the Linked Ring but he was a friend of George Eastman. He was one of the directors and major stockholders of the Eastman Photographic Materials Company and a globe-trotting photographer who went on to become director of Kodak Limited in England. According to the web site, www.edinphoto.org, Pringle was born in 1850, educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge and was a well-known amateur who wrote "many articles to the British Journal of Photography". He also co-authored along with W.K. Burton: "The Processes of Pure Photography" (Scovill & Adams: New York: 1889) and wrote a lengthy profile of Henry Peach Robinson for the January, 1890 issue of Sun Artists.
An unidentified number of the portfolio books were printed: In addition to the "Royal Edition" housed in the Royal Collection in England, other known copies of this regular edition are held by the Library of Congress, The George Eastman House Library and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
These 14 small photogravures were finely printed by Annan‘s firm in Glasgow and interleaved by laid-paper sheets containing caption information relating to the photograph and doing double duty as marketing copy for the different Kodak cameras used by each photographer. Each photographic plate is stamped beneath the lower left corner: Kodaked by .... followed by the name of the photographer.
The dimensions of the portfolio book are 23.4 cm by 15.5 cm. Titles and dimensions of plates are as follows: (height/width)
1. Rusthall Quarry, by Mr. H. P. Robinson: 12.3 cm by 9.2cm
2. Sunset, by Mr. W. Stoiber (sic): 4.4 cm by 5.5cm
3. A Home Portrait, by Mr. J. Craig Annan: 12.8 cm by 9.1 cm
4. The Fountain, Market Place, Aix-les-Bains, by Mr. George Davison: 12.3 cm by 9.1 cm
5. Lotefos Waterfall, by Mr. Andrew Pringle: 12.3 cm by 9 cm
6. Child Portrait, by Mr. J. Craig Annan: 8.5 cm by 7 cm
7. Loch Voil, by Mr. H. P. Robinson: 8.9 cm by 11 cm
8. St. Martin‘s Church, by Mr. Eustace Calland: 12.2 cm by 6.6 cm
9. Night on a Norwegian Fjord, by Mr. Andrew Pringle: 4.1 cm by 11.4 cm
10. Portrait, by Mr. J. Craig Annan: 12.3 cm by 7.5 cm
11. Fire in Oxford Street, by Mr. George Davison: 5.7 cm by 8 cm
12. Portrait, by Miss Frances B. Johnston: 9.2 cm by 5.3 cm
13. A Wet Day in Oxford Street, by Mr. George Davison: 10.5 cm by 7 cm
14. On the Banks of the Wey, by Mr. A. Horsley Hinton: 12.3 cm by 9.2 cm
Brayer, Elizabeth (1996) George Eastman: A Biography (The Johns Hopkins University Press)
Collins, Douglas (1990) The Story of Kodak (Harry N. Abrams)
Harker, Margaret (1979) The Linked Ring: The Secession in Photography, 1892-1910 (A Royal Photographic Society Publication)
Liddy, Brian IN: Prodger, Phillip (Ed.); Patrick Daum (Ed.) & Francis Ribemont (Ed) (2006) Impressionist Camera-Pictorial Photography in Europe, 1888-1918 (English edition published by Merrell Publishers Limited in association with the Saint Louis Art Museum)
© 2006 - D. Spencer (Photoseed) - Used with permission