Along the tree-lined East Avenue in Rochester, New York is a 10 acre urban estate that’s been a fixture in Rochester’s business and culture since the early 20th century. The estate I speak of is of course the George Eastman House. It is today the oldest museum dedicated to photography and home to largest archives of photography and motion pictures. For the past several years I’ve been making an annual trip to Rochester over the August long weekend (it’s a Canadian Thing). I never been to the George Eastman House, so this year I took a vacation day on the Friday of the long weekend and headed down to Rochester for an early meeting up with friend and fellow photographer Andrew.
Arriving just as it opened we were told by the woman at the front counter that her favorite tour guide was leading the first tour out. Andrew and I made a point to join that tour but having some time to kill managed us to browse one of the galleries that had many iconic cameras including the Nikon F3, a Taz Polaroid, Kodak Starmites and even a camera that would have gone into Space was on display.
The main tour was worth it and our guide really opened up the house. I learned much more about George Eastman than I had in the past. This was a man who left school at 16 to support his family after the death of his father in 1868 and his sister in 1870. He became so enamored with photography that he wanted to make it easy and accessible to all so much so that he built a business around it, introducing roll film in 1884, the Kodak camera in 1888 and forming the Eastman Kodak Company by 1892. But the thing that struck me most about Mr. Eastman was his need to control every aspect, even his own death, by suicide. He left a note with a single sentence on it – “Dear Friends, My work here is done, why wait?” G.E. The end of his life was one that was wracked with physical pains and aliments; he had done his work and brought photography to the masses.
The house is a beauty itself, built between 1902 and 1905. It featured, like it’s owner, many innovations that were just being introduced – internal plumbing, an elevator, a full 21 station internal telephone system and electricity. Everything in the house was designed around the organ, which located in the center of the house. When played it would resonate through the entire home filling it with music. The house was also the center of the music culture in Rochester until Mr. Eastman’s death in 1932. Unlike many homes of the era, Eastman’s estate was designed around an open floor plan. He even had a winch installed in the main staircase from the oculus at the top that could be used to move furniture up to the third floor should the stairs prove to be too narrow. The grounds around the mansion featured landscaped gardens, farming and orchards. After Mr. Eastman’s death the house was turned over to the University of Rochester and served as a residence for two of the University’s presidents until it was decided that it would serve better as a museum dedicated to Photography. The George Eastman House Museum of Photography was chartered in 1947 and opened to the public in 1949. Today its home to the world’s largest and most extensive collections of photography and motion picture film. In fact during my visit I got to view some photos that had never been seen in public before. Some of Ansel Adams work from his first portfolios, John Thomson’s Street Life in London, Proofs from Edward Steichen, and many more iconic photographers. A real treat for sure.
If you find yourself in Rochester with a couple hours to kill, the Eastman House is a perfect place to spend some time or better yet, make it a point to visit the house. For details on the Museum, visit their website: www.eastmanhouse.org
You can also view some of their collections on flickr.
All photos by Alex Luyckx (On Portra 400). Long-time FPP listener Alex Luyckx works both in Information Technology support and as a freelance photographer. He describes himself as an analog photographer stuck in a digital world. He loves using cameras older than he is and long walks through abandoned buildings. You can follow his photo blog at: www.alexluyckx.com/blog/