Taking Snapshots, Living the Picture: The Kodak Company’s Making of Photographic Biography

Life Writing

My article on Kodak and photographic biography has been published and you can access a PDF version of the document by following this link:

Pasternak, Gil, “Taking Snapshots, Living the Picture: The Kodak Company’s Making of Photographic Biography,” Life Writing, 2015

In this article I explore how George Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company encouraged early twentieth-century camera users to think of snapshots as pictorial biographies. Analysing a wide selection of articles from the Kodakery, one of Kodak’s most popular magazines in the first half of the twentieth century, I demonstrate that the company endeavoured to secure its prominence in the photographic market by encouraging members of the public to integrate picture-taking into everyday life, and regard photographs as self-contained repositories of biographical details. To this end, Kodak framed the speedy pace of life that characterised the practice of being in the industrial world as a reality that allegedly weakened the human eye and mind’s ability to process the experience of life itself. Introducing the idea of the camera and picture-taking as the ultimate cures for this purported human deficiency, Kodak provided camera users with advice that helped to cement an understanding of photographs as surrogates of both the changing human body and individual subjects’ experiences in time and space. As in popular culture, and sometimes also in academia, photographs are still widely regarded as pictorial biographies, I argue that considering the popular photographic industry’s role in shaping photographic practices and photographs’ perceived meanings can help clarify the relationship between photography and life-writing.

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