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Colin Harding, on:
the roll holder

Colin Harding Q: In 1885, Eastman and Walker had designed a roll holder. Tell me about the International Inventions Expo, and how the invention was hailed.

The International Exhibitions stem back to, course, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the produce of all the nations. Well, of course, America did have a stand. By the 1870's-1880's, these international expositions were occurring all over the world. In London there was the Inventors' Exhibition, and this is for new products, new inventions of commerce and industry throughout the world. And Eastman took his products along there, and he displayed alongside other such things as adjustable pianoforte chairs, patent dog food made out of beet root, and so on. So it was by no means confined to photographic inventions.

Q: Tell me about the roll holder as a critical success versus a popular success.

Well, at the exhibition the roll holder received a great deal of critical acclaim. In fact, it came away winning several medals. And the photographic press contained several reviews which actually praised its ingenuity as compared to other roll holders that had recently been put onto the market.

Unfortunately, however, this enthusiasm didn't seem to communicate itself to pro-photographers at large, who, whilst they admired the roll holder, didn't actually go out there and buy it. So whilst it was a critical success, it was by no means a commercial success.

Q: What was Eastman's reaction to this popular failure? What did he do with it?

I think the failure of the roll holder as a commercial proposition ultimately caused Eastman to change direction. He soon realized that if amateur photographers weren't interested in the roll holder, then he would have to get a totally different market interested. And so he turned away from the photographic establishment into a wider public. And here you see the start of the revolution that Eastman was to introduce, in terms of taking photography away from the professional and from the serious amateur, through to the general public.

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