200,000 Photos from the George Eastman Museum, the World’s Oldest Photography Collection, Now Available Online


There was a time when any­one with even the remotest inter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy knew the name East­man, if not the life and work of George East­man him­self. East­man Kodak—the com­pa­ny found­ed in 1888 by that entre­pre­neur, phil­an­thropist, and Great Amer­i­can Suc­cess Story—once held a dom­i­nant share of the cam­era and film mar­ket. Gen­er­al­ly known in lat­er decades just by the name “Kodak,” Eastman’s com­pa­ny seems to have near­ly dis­ap­peared from the mar­ket in the dig­i­tal age (though it may be poised for a come­back).


Yet many of the devices and mate­ri­als East­man’s com­pa­ny invent­ed saw dai­ly use in film and pho­tog­ra­phy through­out all of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry. East­man bought the patents for and man­u­fac­tured the first roll film, indis­pens­able in both indus­tries until recent­ly. (He has two stars on the Hol­ly­wood walk of fame for his tech­ni­cal con­tri­bu­tions.) With the ease of roll film, Eastman’s com­pa­ny also cre­at­ed and sold the first cam­era for con­sumer use in 1888, sim­ply called the Kodak.

“The cam­era was a great suc­cess,” writes a Kodak his­to­ry, “and many peo­ple, among them a lot of women, start­ed tak­ing pho­tographs. When the 100 pic­tures of the film were shot, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er could mail the cam­era to East­man Kodak, where all the tech­ni­cal work would be done by skilled peo­ple.”


Eastman’s lega­cy lives on in anoth­er impor­tant capac­i­ty as well: since the 40s, his Rochester, NY man­sion housed one of the largest, the old­est, and per­haps the most impres­sive col­lec­tions of pho­tog­ra­phy in the world, the East­man Muse­um. “In 1989,” the muse­um tells us, it “com­plet­ed con­struc­tion of a 73,000-square-foot build­ing (more than 70 per­cent of which is below ground lev­el) that includ­ed cli­mate-con­trolled col­lec­tion vaults, exhi­bi­tion gal­leries, libraries, offices, and pho­to­graph­ic con­ser­va­tion and film preser­va­tions labs.” And now, over a quar­ter of a mil­lion of the East­man Museum’s hold­ings are avail­able online in search­able gal­leries of “thou­sands of pho­tographs that date back to the medium’s ear­li­est years,” notes Claire Voon at Hyper­al­ler­gic, “as well as “objects from its mas­sive library of arti­facts that togeth­er chron­i­cle the his­to­ry of image-mak­ing.”


You’ll find the 1921 por­trait of Igor Stravin­sky, at the top, and the front cov­er of an 1888 Kodak man­u­al (“Part First”), below it. You’ll see exper­i­men­tal odd­i­ties like the 1889 “Self-Por­trait ‘Trans­for­ma­tion’” by Louis Docos du Hau­ron, fur­ther up; and strik­ing por­traits like Lewis W. Hine’s “No Soap, Pitts­burgh Steel Work­er Child 1909,” above. “The muse­um holds the col­lec­tions of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre,” writes Voon, “Lewis Hine, Alvin Lang­don Coburn, Nick­o­las Muray, and Edward Ste­ichen, so their works are avail­able here for you to eas­i­ly browse.” You’ll sure­ly rec­og­nize at least one of those names. Before East­man, Daguerre became one of the fathers of pho­tog­ra­phy in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. Just below, see an 1844 por­trait of the artist and inven­tor by a con­tem­po­rary, Jean Bap­tiste Sabati­er-Blot, “among the most famous por­traitists of the Parisian daguerreo­type of the 1840s,” as Mono­skop describes him.


“Objects from the museum’s pho­tog­ra­phy, tech­nol­o­gy and George East­man Lega­cy col­lec­tions are now search­able,” the East­man Muse­um writes in its press release, “and more objects from the museum’s vast hold­ings are being added on an ongo­ing basis.” And, to hon­or Eastman’s con­sid­er­able lega­cy in motion pic­tures, “objects from the mov­ing image col­lec­tion will become acces­si­ble in the com­ing months.” For now, we can see work by pio­neer­ing Eng­lish pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ead­weard Muy­bridge, who began con­duct­ing motion stud­ies in the 1870s, which con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of Eastman’s film and Thomas Edison’s cam­eras. See Muy­bridge’s 1877 “Man in der­by rid­ing horse” below, and enter the online East­man Muse­um col­lec­tion here.


via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ead­weard Muybridge’s Motion Pho­tog­ra­phy Exper­i­ments from the 1870s Pre­sent­ed in 93 Ani­mat­ed Gifs

Behold the Very First Col­or Pho­to­graph (1861): Tak­en by Scot­tish Physi­cist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

See the First Known Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Jim Hankins says:

    East­man was a trav­el­er and want­ed pho­to’s in the excit­ing jun­gle of Africa to last known sight­ing Bor­neo and from there is miss­ing, pre­sumed pre­served in a mud hut his head 1/10 the size it should be. His where­abouts or demise remain a mys­tery to this day but read­ing his bio is tru­ly amaz­ing and pho­tos are great, I’m one lucky fel­low to have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to read it. My boss and friend loan it to me a 20 some­thing with stars in his eyes about trav­el­ing and tak­ing pho­tos. Then of course I got mar­ried and that fanasty van­ished, my boss always said I would make a good first mate aboard a ship because of the math.

  • Steve Anderson says:

    I have a hard time feel­ing excit­ed about pub­lic domain images being locked behind licens­ing fees and restric­tive access agree­ments. I under­stand that archives need to sup­port them­selves, but when what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing is that lim­i­ta­tions are being placed on access to the pub­lic domain, it should at least be acknowl­edged in the con­text of a site devot­ed to “Open Cul­ture” and “free cul­tur­al media on the web.”

  • Jim Hankins says:

    I like horse rac­ing but I don’t get upset when you can’t approach the hors­es and jock­eys unless you pay extra.

  • Henry says:

    I did­n’t know East­man dis­ap­peared in Bor­neo, inter­est­ing.

  • Henry says:

    Good­ness, the post re East­man dying in Bor­neo is mis­lead­ing and false. He died of a self inflect­ed wound due to crit­i­cal health issue. Oh the poster is an idiot and is writ­ing a mys­tery novel..poor taste

  • Anthony Albert Boccaccio says:

    I stud­ied the His­to­ry of Pho­tog­ra­phy at the George East­man House in Rochester NY in 1970. One of the best sto­ries is how George East­man invent­ed Kodachrome film: he put a cel­lo play­er, a math­e­mati­cian, and a chemist in a room for a year and told them he’d pay them a lot of mon­ey if they just sat there every day think­ing about how to make col­or film. They thought he was crazy, but they did it because they got bored. The cel­list brought his cel­lo in every­day to play dur­ing the lunch hour just to pass time. The chemist asked him how he made chords on the cel­lo, that had 4 strings. And Eure­ka! He SAW the 3 lay­ers of yel­low, cyan, magen­ta in his head with a “base” (just like the cel­lo chord) and the rest is his­to­ry. Just goes to prove once again that if you want to invent some­thing, include an artist in the Think Tank.

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