Service of Nostalgia II

July 30th, 2012

Categories: Nostalgia, Photography, Tradition


Christopher Bonanos wrote in New York Magazine, “When it was removed in 1990, few tears were shed, except maybe at Kodak.” He may have been right. I was the exception to prove the rule.

He referred to the 18 x 60 foot Kodak Coloramas in Grand Central Station. He noted: “…the big glowing billboard came to be seen not as a great piece of Americana but as kitsch unworthy of the terminal’s Beaux-Arts architecture.”

kodaksurfersIn the day, you couldn’t miss the Colorama if you entered the station’s central hall. My dad would let me know when there was a particularly spectacular image I shouldn’t miss, which may be one of the reasons I was particularly fond of the display. A loyal subscriber to National Geographic, he, too, took spectacular photos and appreciated others’ work. My nephew Edward also has a photographer’s eye.

grandcentraloldThe exhibit of prints at the New York Transit Museum annex at the back of Grand Central [open through October] is part of the great station’s 100th anniversary celebration. The prints didn’t grab me, nor did they make me feel nostalgic and I don’t think that they do the Colorama’s images justice. How could they? They aren’t oversize backlit transparencies.

And there was something else I saw in the images selected for the exhibit that I didn’t notice when looking up at the originals from the marble floor or if I did, the detail made so little impression that I don’t recall. In most, there were people taking photos of others. It makes sense as Kodak sold cameras and film. Amateur photographers weren’t in all the shots in the exhibit-there was one of deer on snow where I couldn’t find a shutterbug anywhere, even peeking out from behind a tree.

Photography has made huge strides since Kodak, now defunct, ruled. For most of the Colorama’s 40 years, you wouldn’t see photography sold at art shows and people didn’t collect it. Photoshop didn’t exist for the amateur in the 1950s and I doubt that digital photography was a beam in anyone’s eye.

I’m grateful to the exhibit for reminding me of something I shared with my dad, of my first camera–a simple Kodak box–and how much I, too, still love taking pictures. Do you remember the Kodak Colorama? What exhibits have strummed nostalgic strings for you?


6 Responses to “Service of Nostalgia II”

  1. David Reich Said:

    I remember the Colorama displays, and I was sorry to see it taken down. I used to look forward to new displays every month or so, and it brightened up what at the time was a dismal Grand Central.

    It turns out that the planners back in 1990 were right to remove it. Taking it down opened up a whole wall of windows facing east, which brightened the space considerably. But at the time, taking down the Colorama and also the giant clock over the south wall seemed a bad idea.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your reason for their tearing down the Colorama to open up the windows and brighten the space makes far more sense to me than the one Christopher Bonanos gave–because it didn’t become the beaux arts architecture. Cynical me read that and it translated to “Kodak no longer had the money to pay the rent on the display or it might well still be there.”

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Looking back at the past is exciting, especially when one finds oneself in various locations centuries away. Such incidents occur spontaneously, and there seem to be no invitations to return, a possible explanation being I neither meditate nor actively seek exotic experiences.

    Realistically speaking, the past is gone, not meant to return and should be treated as such. Man has a history of going forward, though perhaps not always for the best. Had this not been so, we may still be living in caves.

    Nostalgia is a fine tool for writers and historians, not to speak of those on the political scene who use it to promote a return to a “gentler age.” That’s all very fine, but I think I’ll take my chances with the future, and what’s about to happen next.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Had Kodak heeded your advice, the company might still be here!

  5. G. Wilder Said:

    I never was fan of those Kodak photos in Grand Central in the old days, because, although technical marvels for their time, they were too saccharine for my taste. However, as an outsider, I was an admirer of the company, which was a customer of mine during the 1960’s.

    The men I met when I visited the company wore button down shirts, tweed coats and smoked pipes. They seemed more like college professors than businessmen, and seemed to act towards one another with consummate collegial cordiality. Meanwhile, the geniuses in their labs were busy turning out the world’s best film and all sorts of other things as well.

    Speaking of that, one professional photographer we know, assures me that he can do anything with his digital camera that he used to with his optical one. I’m skeptical because another old friend in the business, whose early black and white work is in the collection of the Modern Museum of Art, insists what he was able to do in the 1940’s and 50’s, cannot be duplicated in digital. It is a little like expecting the greatest of the modern masters to be able to turn out Renaissance paintings of the quality their European forbearers achieved 500 years ago. There is no way they can.

    Yes, my nostalgia is for the old Kodak Company. In its glory days, it was the best, and had it adapted and successfully changed to survive, it still would not have been the old Kodak I so admired.

  6. jmbyington Said:

    G. Wilder,

    You get better results with $1,000++ digital cameras. You didn’t need to spend that much when you used film. If you take and print a ton of photos, the latter became expensive between film and developing. A tradeoff I guess.

    Sounds like you like the professorial type of business person and that you might have been a bit that way yourself! Sounds civilized and nostalgic for sure!

Leave a Reply

Clicky Web Analytics