The Witchery of Kodakery


Vintage advertisement for Kodak cameras, depicting a mother and daughter

The Witchery of Kodakery: Photography’s Magic

George Eastman was clearly a marketing genius. He recognized early on that Kodak needed not just to sell cameras, but the very notion of what they were to be used for. As William F. O’Barr points out, “Once people owned a camera, they needed to be told what their pictures ought to look like.”

Part of Eastman’s genius lay in recognizing that the most obvious subject of the new “snapshot” photography would be family life, and that women would play the largest role in documenting it. Thus from virtually the beginning he targeted them in Kodak’s ads. He formed an advertising department in 1892, and the next year unveiled “Kodak Girl,” a figure so iconic that there are websites and books devoted to her. (The Guardian also published a nice series of images of ads featuring the Kodak Girl earlier this year here.)

The company’s facility with advertising was noted even early on; a 1921 issue of Advertising and Selling has an interesting article in which they claim that, “Mention the Kodak advertising in any company of advertising men and all know about it, all have noted the latest example, all unite in its praise. Seldom, indeed, is a word of criticism evoked.”

As the piece explains, the task of Kodak’s advertising was twofold: first, to convey the simplicity with which photography could now be practiced (hence phrases such as – as I discuss in my first post – “You press the button, we do the rest,” “Anybody can use it,” “Photography with the bother left out,” etc.); but second, and more importantly, to “persuade this world…of the delights of photography.”

In other words, beyond touting the practical matter of how simple photography now was, “Something else was needed, it was soon realized, to make the advertising success complete. Comparatively few were interested in photography itself––a few thousand perhaps in every city or state––but not ‘the millions of the earth’ whom it was desired to reach and interest. The early realization of this fact turned the advertising appeal to other Kodak factors and to the real Kodak lure. That lure is the record the Kodak keeps of events of social, sentimental and human interest. Kodak advertising did not seek to establish the Kodak as a fad, but as the charming ally of all the fads and fancies that go to make a playground of the human heart. Holiday outings, travel stories, hunting, fishing, home scenes and recollections, children, and so on, touch responsive chords in all and are the real subjects for Kodak activity and interest.”

As Lewis Bunnell Jones, Eastman’s advertising manager, so elegantly summed it up in the same article, “Kodak inventions created photography for the world. Kodak advertising strove to create a world for photography.”

It was Jones who came up with the “Witchery of Kodakery,” as a way of stressing the “magic” of photography – how remarkable it is to so readily be able to capture and preserve images of everyday life. And when you think about it, it really is, still.

And now that Kodak had arrived, even a child could do it.

1911 advertisement for Kodak cameras touting their simplicity

Children Kodaking (1911)

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