MoMA Library Explores Photography Manuals

  • Posted on Jul 27, 2012 by

Kids, animals, and pretty girls: amateur photography publications are full of them.

I recently discovered that it's been that way since the earliest years of photography. Because I trolled through a hundred or so of these publications for the current MoMA Library show "How to Make Good Pictures:" Manuals and the Popularization of Amateur Photography.

For example, Eastman Kodak, the company that almost singlehandedly brought photography to the masses, was successful in large part because of aggressive promotion to amateurs. This took the form of magazine advertising, contests, and the promotional magazine Kodakery, published from 1913-1932. The magazine mixed technical advice, product information, and travelogues with many, many kids, animals, and--you guessed it--pretty girls.


Kodak records of summer scenes

“Kodak Records of Summer Scenes” in Kodakery, v. 7, n. 12, August, 1920, p. [17].

This clip from the August, 1920 issue hits all the marks: jaunty women on a motorcycle, kids in a wheelbarrow, and a rustic horse-drawn cart. It also throws in a fourth popular subject: the great outdoors. Note also the active role of women, as in the genteel motorcycling gang. Kodak embraced a new idea of womanhood: women could be mobile and adventurous in all things, including parenting. Kodak encouraged them to thoroughly document it all.

Other sections of the show address early technical manuals and specialty how-to books (underwater photography, anyone?) tutorials by major modern artists such as Berenice Abbott and Ansel Adams, and vintage instructional films.

Come see the show through Monday, July 30. It's on the mezzanine of the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building at 4 West 54 St, part of the Museum complex in midtown Manhattan.

Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services, Museum of Modern Art Library

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