The Home Photography Library

In 1881, George Eastman in partnership with Henry Strong set up the Eastman Dry Plate Company and with his inventive genius went on to create innovations that brought photography within easy reach of the home, making it a craft anyone who cared enough for pictures could practice. The first of the company’s products to take the world by storm was the ‘Kodak’, which appeared in 1888, a simple box giving a hundred pictures in one loading. This was followed by the Brownie at the turn of the century, costing just a dollar, together with several folding cameras aimed at simplifying photography for the amateur.

Fountain Press brought out this
booklet in 1950.
Sometime late in his career, when radio had become as common as the camera, Eastman hit upon a novel idea to promote photography. This was the ‘Kodak Hour,’ a radio broadcast aimed at extolling the wonders of photography and popularize Kodak products. The show was a huge success; families would sit together listening intently, crowding around their radio sets, gleaning as much as they could about this marvelous invention that had taken the world by storm.

I have often wondered what the Kodak Hour was like. Is there anyone who can tell us if an audio copy of the show is procurable from somewhere? Whatever it was, it is sure to have been a delightful program—as delightful as the publications the firm has been issuing right from the start. Literature coming from Kodak is known to be tried and tested stuff. One of the first publications was written by Eastman himself. It was called the ‘Kodak Primer’, an explanatory booklet that accompanied the first box Kodak of 1888. In the years that followed Kodak grew, and a never ending stream of publications poured forth. Kodak publications number in the hundreds, from instruction leaflets to product information, booklets explaining technique and technical data sheets. And there were books and magazines too.

Old issues of Kodakery magazine are a pleasure to read; a few issues dating back to 1919 may be found online here:

But the reader who wishes to put himself in a frame of mind that will let him enjoy snapshotting to the fullest may consider going one step further and hunt up old photobooks and periodicals to build up a collection.

This charming book from Kodak
was titled
'How to Make Good Movies' 
Since time immemorial, Kodak has been bringing out a little book called ‘How to Make Good Pictures.’ If you lay your hands on an early edition, you may find yourself appalled with the old fashioned equipment the book describes. Try getting an edition that dates back to the fifties or thereabouts. You will find that within the covers lies a delightfully written and illustrated treatise. You will find sound advice on how to choose a camera, illustrations showing the box, folding and 35mm cameras of the day, the films available at the time and how best to use them, and loads of advice on how to go about creating meaningful pictures of everything from flowers to night scenes, all illustrated with excellent photographs. With a concluding section devoted to chemical formulas and how to develop and print, this work is a collectors’ find indeed.

Fountain Press catalogue
in 1950
Another Kodak publication that will give pleasure is a book called ‘How to Make Good Movies.’ This is a lively book, full of fun and full of cheer. Won’t you like to own old spools of 8mm silent film and display them on cold winter evenings to a delighted audience using a Kodak projector, maybe even a Bell and Howell? Sadly, the age of making 8mm movies in the home is dead, but if this is what you like, here is the book for you.

Two photographic publishers have left an indelible mark on the literature of the day. These are Focal Press and Fountain Press. Their catalogues run into hundreds of titles. Both specialized in books on photography and the graphic arts, both published monthly magazines devoted to the subject, and Focal Press was even generous enough to offer a service where readers could have their questions on photography answered through the post by their technical editors, all free of cost.

What kind of guidance could one expect from the editors of Focal Press? This may be fairly gauged by taking a look at one of the publications of this firm. Pick up a ‘Focal Camera Guide’ and you will be surprised at the detail and accuracy with which it describes the instrument and its method of use. There were countless such guides—Contax Guide, Edixa Guide, Retina Guide. . . We do not know much about W. D. Emanuel, who he was and where he lived, but of one thing we may be quite certain : Walter was one of the few persons in those days who had tried and meticulously tested nearly every camera before he sat down to write his now legendary guide books for Focal Press.

Old photographic books and magazines are not hard to come by and a search through a second hand bookstore can turn out to be a treasure hunt. These vintage publications are like a window to the past; you can spend many happy hours browsing through pages and pages of old advertisements, read articles and notes by the writers of the time and study the compositions of the masters of the craft. The enthusiast who takes the trouble to hunt around for vintage books and periodicals and goes on to build up a modest library in his home will find that his photography takes on a new outlook; it becomes doubly a pleasurable occupation.

The Retina Guide from Focal Press
explained every Retina camera that was
made by Kodak, Germany.