Kodak Picture Spots
The year 1888 marked an important turning point for how Americans experienced scenery. With George Eastman’s introduction of the Kodak #1, amateurs without specialized equipment or expertise could take photographs using a box camera preloaded with 100-exposure rolls of film. Equally important, the camera’s small size made it possible to visit picturesque locations and then return home with snapshots of that encounter. Eastman advertisements of the time encouraged photographers to “Take One on Your Vacation Trip” because “All out-doors invites your Kodak.” In 1920, the company began posting signs along the roads surrounding Rochester that read “Picture Ahead! Kodak as You Go.” They resembled traffic advisories but had been produced by the company’s marketing department, eventually appearing on numerous highways across America—some 6,000 signs by 1939. Automotive and photographic mobility had created a complex new relation to the landscape.
Kodak’s Scenic Spots program disappeared during the war years, then re-emerged as a “Picture Spots” campaign beginning in 1956 at Disneyland. It was a fitting partnership, for scenic designers and other professionals from the film industry—dubbed “imagineers” by Disney—had conceived of the theme park as a series of camera shots. Tourists moving through the park were envisioned as motion picture cameras along the rails of tracking shots; Kodak placards identified select locations for pausing to photograph that experience. A 1963 tourist map depicts thirty Picture Spots, the effect of which was to blur embodied sightseeing and imaginative experience “inside” Disney’s filmic worlds. The Eastman Company extended its campaign to selected expositions, tourist destinations, and national parks.
This brochure for Letchworth State Park, created in 1967, borrows aspects both from Kodak’s highway-oriented Scenic Spots and its Disney-influenced Picture Spots. Its twenty locations include 19th-century viewpoints and newer ones more relevant to snapshot photography: a swimming pool, a park sign serving as “title picture” for a family album. Although short strolls are implied, almost all of the locations are next to roads and photographers are invited to “make other picture stops whenever a view appeals and when you can park safely off the highway” (original emphasis). The Kodak brochure also offers more general suggestions when it comes to composing a successful picture: frame a viewpoint using a tree branch or rock; have a friend or family member pose in the foreground, looking at the scene; have friends wear “their brightest clothing to add a dash of color to the scene.” Thus, landscapes unique to the Genesee River gorge are incorporated into what Peter Osborne calls a more pervasive “tourist system”:
The effects of photography’s presence in the tourist system merely completed a process under way before photography’s birth. As tourists, even at the moment of photographing, even if touring cameraless, we are not so much looking as looking at images, or looking for images. Tourism provides us less with experience than with events to see, or rather, events to look at. (82)
As throughout Kodak’s history, “Picture-Taking in Letchworth Park” identified locations of interesting and beautiful scenery, giving visitors a sense of purpose to their travel and leading them on a sort of aesthetic journey through the park that they could later remember via the photos. The markers helped guide visitors through an expansive 14,000-acre park, identifying what was to be seen, admired, photographed, cherished, and remembered.
—Osborne, Peter. Traveling Light: Photography, Travel, and Visual Culture. Manchester: University Press, 2000.
—Vintage Disneyland Tickets. Blogger.com.