The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

George Eastman House

George Eastman house
CLUI photo
The horse is out of the barn at the George Eastman House. CLUI photo

ANOTHER LEGACY OF KODAK OF course is maintained by the George Eastman House, perhaps the nation’s premier museum and archive of photography, located at George Eastman’s former home, along a street of other fancy homes of the historic captains of Rochester’s commerce.

In the 1980s, the Kodak Company helped the museum raise $30 million for an endowment, and to construct 73,000 square feet of new space in a separate building, connected to the house, for exhibition, research and study space, as well as a climate controlled archive, which is mostly underground. The archives now have over 400,000 images, 23,000 films, 43,000 publications, and 25,000 pieces of photography-related technology. Nitrate films are stored off site, at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in nearby Chili, New York.

George Eastman had some unconventional qualities, some of which are reflected in the restoration of his house, which had been altered in the years after his death in 1932. The restorations, conducted during the late 1980s, returned some features, such as the living room’s exotic, tropical air, rich with the trophies of Eastman’s African safaris. Missing, though, are the thousands of pipes of his organ, which once “played through the whole house” (though he didn’t play it, he had an organist do so, especially during breakfast). Eastman was a bachelor, and left most of his fortune to the University of Rochester, though he gave generously to other charities in town during his life. Approaching the age of 75, he was terminally ill. He decided to end his life, in the house, with a single bullet in his heart. He left a note: “To my friends, My work is done, why wait?”

The connections between photography and guns are many, as suggested by the terminologypictures are shots, you point and shoot. One pulls life out of time, and makes an inanimate thing live on. The other sends animate matterlifeon a journey of decay and disappearance. The Eastman House preserves these lifeless legacies, while Eastman himself disintegrates in his grave at Kodak Park.