These pics were taken of pics at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY today as part of an on-going exhibit about the 1960s.
But I don’t really want to talk about that. Something else struck me while walking through the abode of one of the Greatest Rochesterians of All Time (Though still behind Abby Wambach, Frederick Douglass, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, obviously).
I don’t find myself in too many mansions that often. Rochester isn’t really the richest burg around, and I’ve never been anywhere close to high society. I had been to George’s crib as a kid during a school field trip but all I really remembered of it was the big Elephant Room. That room is still there, and it’s still got a massive Pachyderm Head in it, but a lot more stuck with me this time around.
First, like I said, Rochester isn’t a town filled with the 1%. It’s thoroughly northeastern and blue collar, though that is changing (ironically enough mostly due to the downfall of Kodak - more on that later). Eastman’s house is downtown on East Avenue and surprising large for its location as its hallways extend back deep from the road. There’s lush gardens, gorgeous sun rooms, libraries, the aforementioned animal head trophies on the wall, and an air of grandiose opulence that would be rendered cliché in any slobs vs. snobs 80s movie.
I’m not here to hate. I’m here to talk about a turn. George built his fortune on Kodak, the company that he self-started and then changed the world with. Rochester in the 19th-Century was at first a town of Flour Mills, then Social Revolution, and then a town of images. The development and diffusion of Kodak film kick-started the motion picture industry, and then when handheld cameras were developed, the ability to capture images of everyday life was given to anyone who could afford a disposable camera.
In the past twenty years though, Kodak stopped innovating. They clung to an antiquated business model as Digital Rivals cornered the image market, and they then tried too late to jump on to the party. Stocks plummeted and the company faced massive lay offs and finally, bankruptcy. The company that had built Rochester and made it a center of industry while providing thousands of blue collar manufacturing jobs, in essence shaping the socioeconomic and cultural focus of the city, was in the toilet. This caused two major results:
1) The city naturally shifted away from imaging and more towards health care and education as its bastions of work. Education rose as colleges became more prominent and the city has less a blue collar and more an educated liberal spirit to the town.
2) The memory of George has shifted. As Kodak fades the memorial to this great man on East Avenue becomes more anachronistic. The opulence and grandiosity is misplaced. Walking around the galleries and museum today, older generations would sit and listen, knowing how much Kodak affected them and their city in their lifetimes. Younger rabblerousers played around and truly do not understand a time when Kodak was relevant, or when they had a camera that was merely a secondary feature to their phone.
So there’s this weird feeling walking around Eastman’s mansion today. He changed the city and put Rochester on the map for sure, but as history progresses it seems that more and more he won’t be ranked with the Carnegies or Rockefellers or other Gilded Age Champions, simply because his company is no longer relevant. I don’t think his mansion should be touched - people need to know what he did for this town, but it’s still in stark and tragic contrast to what Kodak is today.