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Grant Romer, on:
Eastman's interest in photogaphy

Grant Romer Q: Let's talk about why George Eastman first became interested in photography, and the significance of that.

Eastman's interest in photography begins with the documentary aspect of photography, that one is able to show something at a great distance to somebody else, and them understand visually the reality of somewhere else. He was interested in an investment opportunity in the Dominican Republic, and he was going to go to look and see what the land looked like, and what opportunity. And someone suggested to him: Well, why don't you take photographs while you're there, and bring it back to the investors and show them what you see? And he understood the advantage of that. And he took lessons here from a professional photographer in Rochester, and got a set of equipment together, so that when he did go to Santo Domingo (which was what it was called at that time), he made documents of the land site that he was considering investing in. And that's what led him to photography. And I think it influenced him throughout his life, as a professional in the photographic industry, that the value of the document, the photographic document, in many different modes (not only in artistic modes or private context, but in business in particular), was greatly under-estimated or under-achieved for what it could be as a business opportunity.

Q: He never pursued the business opportunity in Santo Domingo? He persisted in his interest in photography. Why?

That period in photography is a transitional period when there was a great deal of experimentation with the development of the gelatin dry plate. The wet plate collodion process, of course, was encumbered by the fact that you had to sensitize the plate just before exposure. The idea that: Gee, wouldn't it be wonderful if you could prepare the plates well in advance, and go and do your photography without having to sensitize or develop immediately after exposure in the field. And in his education about photography, I'm sure he encountered this experimental discussion in the journals of the day, and he began experimenting with this idea that you could make a dry plate. And that's indeed what led him eventually to go into the photographic business. So it's first being engaged with the act of photography, understanding its limitations and understanding the potential for the simplification, and what the simplification of photography would do to expand it as a business, that I'm sure was very clearly grasped by him in the very beginning of his experiments with photography. The professional photographer he worked with probably talked with him about that, about this investigation that was going on, that was largely coming out of England in that period in the late 1870's.

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