Martha Cooper and Case's Kodak Moment
In July photorealist Andreas von Chrzanowski aka CASE of Germany’s Ma’claim Crew traveled to Rochester, NY to participate in Ian Wilson’s Wall Therapy. After painting a huge, beautiful mural on a wall in back of the central outdoor public market, CASE was ready for more so I suggested he paint something related to Rochester’s Kodak history.
I’ve been an avid collector of Kodak advertising and memorabilia since the 70’s. You can see much of it on my Kodakgirl website. My dad and uncle were Kodak dealers and ran a family camera store, the Camera Mart, in Baltimore for over 50 years. I shot with Kodak (mostly) film for decades. Last year Steidl published Kodak Girl, a book about my collection. The Kodak Girl was Kodak’s early advertising icon from the late 1800’s until around the 1930’s.. She was an adventurous, world-traveling, female photographer who often wore a blue and white striped dress and I strongly identified with her. I suggested to CASE that he paint an image from my collection for his second wall.
CASE chose an advertising poster depicting a woman sitting on a box of Autographic film loading her camera. This special film was made from 1914 to 1932 for the Autographic, a camera manufactured with a slot on its back allowing photographers to write a notation on the film with a stylus.
We drove around Rochester with the help of Wall Therapy’s Erich Lehman and found a wall with a good view of the Kodak building behind. CASE faithfully reproduced the poster but added handles to the film box, turning it into a coffin and painted a halo around the Kodak Girl’s head. Thus the wall became a poignant memorial to a bygone technology and a tribute to a moribund company in bankruptcy.
Negative vibes came back to us from Kodak headquarters. Apparently some Kodak executives felt that the wall was demeaning to the company. Also they mistook the Autographic camera in the hands of the Kodak Girl for a Kindle! They pointed out that Kodak film was still alive and that there was still a film division at Kodak. So it was bittersweet to read the following headline in the New York Times:“ Kodak to Sell Legacy Film Units as Part of Bankruptcy Plan”.
Text and Photo: Martha Cooper