ABOUT THE GEORGE EASTMAN MUSEUM
The George Eastman Museum is located in Rochester, New York, on the estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Founded in 1947 as an independent nonprofit institution, it is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives. The museum holds unparalleled collections—encompassing several million objects—in the fields of photography, cinema, and photographic and cinematographic technology, and photographically illustrated books. The Eastman Museum has an active book publishing program and is also a longtime leader in film preservation and photographic conservation and its L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation’s graduate program (a collaboration with the University of Rochester) makes critical contributions to film preservation.
Entrepreneur George Eastman (1854–1932), the pioneer of popular photography, completed his Colonial Revival mansion on East Avenue in Rochester in 1905 and resided there until his death. He bequeathed most of his assets to the University of Rochester, expressing a desire that his mansion serve as the residence for the university president.
In 1947, the Board of Regents of the State of New York chartered George Eastman House Inc. as an independent nonprofit educational institution—specifically, a museum of photography and allied pursuits created as a memorial to George Eastman. The next year, the University of Rochester donated Eastman’s mansion and surrounding property to the museum. The institution altered its name several times over the ensuing decades, but its mission has remained steadfast: to collect, preserve, study, and exhibit photographic and cinematic objects and related technology from the inception of each medium to the present. You can find it online here.
One of the first to recognize the importance of professionalizing the field of film preservation was L. Jeffrey Selznick (1932–1997). In 1996, in collaboration with Paolo Cherchi Usai, Jeffrey Selznick established the first such school in North America at the George Eastman Museum (then George Eastman House). The success of the Selznick School and the contributions of the staff and graduates to the preservation of the world’s film heritage constitute a living testimony to their vision. Today, the excellence of the Selznick School is recognized worldwide, and more than 250 graduates are now employed in leadership positions in public and private audio visual archives in 29 countries. The staff and alumni of the Selznick School lead the way in studying the conservation challenges of the moving image and audio visual formats of the past and present, and in preparing students to meet those of the future. You can learn more about the school and how to apply here.
The Moving Image Department at George Eastman Museum preserves and promotes the art of film in all its forms, from the mainstream to the avant-garde. Founded by the museum’s first curator of film, James Card (1915–2000), the collection now comprises more than 28,000 titles spanning the entire history of international cinema, from the early experiments of Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers to the present.
In addition to one of the world’s finest collections of films from the silent era, the Eastman Museum holds the largest corpus of original nitrate Technicolor negatives, including those of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz; The museum’s collection of rare or unique 35mm prints on nitrate stock—the flammable film stock used from the beginning of motion pictures through the middle of the twentieth century—is preserved in the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center, where films are kept at optimal conditions of temperature and humidity. You can learn more about that here.
The museum holds a Technicolor archive of over 40,000 artifacts which were donated to the George Eastman Museum between 2007 and 2014. George Eastman Museum’s Technicolor Online Research Archive. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with matching funds from Technicolor and the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation, the Technicolor Online Research Archive is a digital-asset database containing high-resolution scans and catalogue records. Each scanned document is presented along with its unique information, such as subject, date of creation, author, and type of object. Selected records are displayed alongside a transcription to facilitate discoverability and reading. The Technicolor Online Research Archive gives students, researchers, and film fans alike unprecedented access to the inner workings of one of the most important companies in the history of cinema. More than 40,000 documents ranging in date from 1914 to 1955—notes, journals, correspondence, film tests, technical drawings, and more—from the museum’s Technicolor collections are available to search and browse. You can find it here.
Who was George Eastman?
George Eastman was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and the pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film.
George Eastman was born in 1854 in Waterville, New York, the same year that his father, George Washington Eastman, established Eastman’s Commercial College in Rochester. In 1860, the family moved to Rochester, but two years later, the elder Eastman died suddenly, leaving his family with few financial resources. George Eastman left school at age 14 to support his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, and two older sisters, Ellen and Kate. He first worked at a local insurance company and then as a junior clerk by the Rochester Savings Bank.
When Eastman was 23, a colleague suggested that he take a camera on an upcoming vacation. Eastman bought a photographic outfit, and although he never made the journey, he became fully engrossed in photography. However, the weight, awkwardness, and cost of the equipment required to take and develop photographs soon led Eastman to seek improvements. He spent three years in his mother’s kitchen experimenting with gelatin emulsions, and by 1880, he had invented and patented a dry-plate coating machine.
In 1881, with the financial backing of Rochester businessman Henry Strong, Eastman formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company (reincorporated as the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1884 and as Eastman Kodak Company in 1892). With a series of innovations, the company created easy-to-use cameras that made photography widely accessible, established the practice of professional photofinishing, and developed a flexible film that was a critical contribution to the launch of the motion picture industry.
In the late 1920s, Eastman was diagnosed with a progressive and irreversible spinal disease, and on March 14, 1932, he ended his own life. In a note to friends, he wrote, “My work is done. Why wait?”
During his life, George Eastman donated more than $100 million to educational and arts institutions, public parks, hospitals, dental clinics, and charitable organizations around the world. To ensure the success of his company in Rochester after his death, Eastman left in his will money that would encourage education, appreciation of the arts, and expansion of medical services in the Rochester community.
How easy is it to visit The George Eastman Museum?
The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 900 East Avenue, Rochester NY 14607. Parking is free and admission is as follows:
Museum Members – FREE
Adults – $20
Seniors (+65) – $18
Students (with ID) – $7
Youth (ages 5-17) – $7
Children (4 & under) – FREE
Free museum admission for SNAP and EBT cardholders and their families, and for active-duty military personnel and their families.
Discover more about The George Eastman Museum on their website, and the legacy and history of Technicolor Creative Studios here.