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Remains of an American Dreamworld
Thursday, February 4, 2016

This paper explores the afterlives of analog photography in Rochester, New York, where Eastman-Kodak has been based for over a century. While there is still some film being made in Rochester, Kodak no longer fuels the regional economy or produces the bulk of the nation’s photographs. Business journals often cite digital imaging as the reason for Kodak’s decline, but this paper will consider the obsolescence of chemical photography through the matter of chemistry itself. As historians of science have argued and the case of Kodak suggests, obsolescence is always intertwined with industrial chemistry because the later is premised on the substitution of synthetic materials for natural resources. Just as roll film replaced the glass plates used to make photographs in the 19th century, Kodak scientists continuously devised ever cheaper and more light-sensitive films, obsolescing earlier products in the process. How might thinking with chemistry reframe ideas of obsolescence and the contradictions between linear narratives of progress, repetitive loops of boom and bust, and the long-term, accretive side effects of industrial production? I draw on archival and ethnographic research to explore the ethical worlds and styles of capitalism that emerged around chemical photography and that made film possible. I attend to the durative qualities and physical properties of chemicals and images to theorize how the affective, ecological, and aesthetic traces chemical photography continue to shape Rochester today. In 2005, Ali Feser graduated from Bard College, where she wrote her senior project on digital media and political affect in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago and is halfway through two years of fieldwork on the history and afterlives of chemical photography in Rochester, New York.

Time: 5:00 pm
Location: Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium
Sponsor: Anthropology Program; Photography Program
Contact: Laura Kunreuther.
Phone: 845-758-7667

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