Rochester, New York, is the city where George Eastman founded the company responsible for making photography an everyday part of American life. Although Kodak is still a household name, the digital age has gutted what was once a thriving industry. Traces of the film giant can be seen echoing throughout Rochester in the photography of Catherine Leutenegger.
Leutenegger’s book, Kodak City, is a tour through the sleepy upstate New York city that Eastman set up shop in circa 1880. The images provide a sober look at the Kodak facilities and the surrounding people and places that live in their shadows. Throughout the series are melancholic collisions of a dilapidated corporate culture and the grandeur of industry. Even when Leutenegger takes her camera away from the Kodak buildings, you can feel its ghost lingering.
Anyone familiar with the recent history of photography is aware of the tragic fall of Kodak — how despite being at the forefront of early digital technology, they failed to capitalise and were eventually swallowed by more forward-thinking competitors. Just as tragic is the loss that photographers who still shoot film feel as the precious materials necessary for the craft are in danger of disappearing altogether.
The problems of cities like Rochester go deeper than the plight of a single company, of course. It is not alone among neighbours like Buffalo and Syracuse whose manufacturing-dominated economies have taken hard hits in recent decades. Through the example of a giant like Kodak, a company universally recognised and even beloved, the consequences of technological shifts are brought sharply into focus.