Kodak’s legacy

Monday 23 Jan 2012

A century of architecture through the lens

In 1889 the Eiffel Tower, that potent symbol of early modernist progression, was constructed in Paris. It was in the very same year that American entrepreneur George Eastman founded what was to become one of the most famous brands of photographic material in the world: the Eastman Kodak Company - or, as it's more affectionately known, Kodak.

From its optimistic beginnings in the age of accelerated industrialism to its eventual collapse last week, Kodak's stronghold over the photographic film industry has quietly echoed the rise and fall of Western modernism. Emerging in the late Victorian period as a state-of-the-art brand and enjoying domination over the market throughout the twentieth century, its sales began to decline in the 1990s due to the introduction of digital imagery.

The tragic paradox is that whilst Kodak in fact pioneered some of the earliest transitioning from analogue to digital film – it invented the digital camera back in 1975 - the dawning of the new age out-paced its progression, and sadly, Kodak found itself ultimately unable to keep up with the intrinsic new demands.

Throughout the twentieth century, architecture has profited greatly from photography. In this rule book-smashing century in which the potential of photographic film seemed to know no bounds, the camera was the most important tool for recording and documenting architectural masterpieces, enabling architects to present their work to clients, inspire their peers and disseminate their achievements in locations far beyond the sites of the buildings themselves.

Those grainy black and white pictures capturing the early construction phases of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Tatlin’s Tower and the Empire State Building are just some of the revolutionary moments that analogue film has enabled us to keep as relics for posterity.

At the same time, great buildings have lent their alluring facades as the subjects for some of the world's most eminent photographers. Yet whilst this symbiotic relationship between architecture and photography continues to develop into the digital age, the end of Kodak at once marks a milestone in the progression of a new epoch of digital imaging and the poignant end of this century-old love story between architecture and analogue photography.

Amy Knight
Arts and Media Correspondent

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