MAN AND GOD
Commissioned by the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota Florida, Man and God debuted as part of the group exhibition “Metadata: Rethinking Photography in the 21st Century” (March 5 – Aug 28, 2022).
Man and God is an ongoing collaboration between Ali Feser (Phd, Anthropology, University of Chicago) and Jason Lazarus (Artist, Assistant Professor of Art, University of South Florida)
Metadata: Rethinking Photography in the 21st Century artists:
Catalog for Metadata: Rethinking Photography in the 21st Century by Christopher Jones, 128 pages, (Published by Scala, April 2022) available HERE
Feser and Lazarus wish to thank Tracy Echeverri and Sam Nulton for whistling, Matt Joynt for sound engineering and production, Warren Cockerham and Colin Brant for Kodachrome filming and production assistance, Alicia Watkinson, Livia Tibuleac, and Heather Smith for protest sign research, production, and planning, the University of Chicago, and the University of South Florida for support, and the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY for the use of the Hy Meisel collection.
Man and God, 2022
Site-specific, mixed-media installation
This new installation, born from an account of the creation of Kodachrome film by musicians Leopold Mannes (1899 – 1964) and Leopold Godowsky Jr. (1900 – 1983), considers the ongoing material, poetic, and ideological aftereffects of twentieth-century photographic practices.
Man and God treats film as the molecular “cell-form” of industrial capital, endlessly reiterated through new modes of extraction and new models of desire. The story of Eastman Kodak reexamined here, is one of industrialization and democratization and foreshadows our own digital age in many revelatory ways. The artists propose that the metadata of this recent photographic past structures our contemporary visual imagination.
The signs (above) comprising 600 or Bust are recreated from photographs of a 1967 demonstration against Kodak’s racialized hiring practices. The protest was organized by Minister Franklin Florence of Rochester, community organizer Saul Alinsky, and members of FIGHT— Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today. A racial and economic justice organization, FIGHT was formed in the wake of a 1964 uprising in Rochester, and it directed its campaign at Rochester’s corporate powers. After winning some concessions from Xerox, FIGHT turned its efforts to Kodak and demanded that the company hire 600 more Black workers and establish a worker-run cooperative in an historically Black neighborhood.
After several rounds of negotiations in late December 1966, Kodak appeared willing to concede to FIGHTS demands. But the next day, Kodak rescinded the agreement; the company claimed that the vice-president who brokered it lacked the authority to do so. Kodak was “scared to death,” Minister Florence countered, “that by recognizing FIGHT they might open the door to recognizing a labor union.” In response, Franklin and Alinsky called for a protest at Kodak’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Flemington, New Jersey the following April.
Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky were professional musicians, amateur chemists, and friends since high school, when they first became fascinated with the prospect of creating a “realistic” looking color film. Throughout the 1920s, they spent their off-hours working to develop the subtractive color process that would become Kodachrome film. After years of experimenting and a serendipitous encounter with the director of Kodak’s Research Labs, they moved to Rochester to finish their work at Kodak Park, where they became known as Man and God.
In order for the new color film to be released to the public, Man and God had to make the developing process simple enough for it to be replicated by Kodak technicians around the world. This meant that they had to speed up the entire developing process, while simultaneously slowing down the individual chemical reactions that bring the image to the surface and fix it in place.
At first, these reactions occurred in intervals as small as a second and a half. The process was so sensitive that the slightest variations in time would spoil the image. A stopwatch wasn’t accurate enough, and besides, even the green dial of a radium wristwatch would excite the molecules in the emulsion and cause them to react. Instead of a watch, Man and God kept time with breath. They whistled while they worked, timing their processes to the final movement of Brahms’s Symphony in C Minor (at the time signature of 2 beats per second). Man and God would have played the parts of flute and oboe abstracted in duet, as they skirted each other in the dark, trays of developer and fix sloshing to a tempo of two beats per second.
We can hear, in the whistling that plays throughout the gallery (The secret is still and always time (Whistling), 2022), what Man and God might have sounded like, their abstracted duet in the dark. As Man and God contrived to whistle at the specific rate of 2 beats per second, we can see and (sometimes) hear in The heart was an organ (Metronome), 2022, this secret rhythm of industrial production, its time signature in every photograph.
Like many U.S. corporations, during World War II, Kodak turned its factories over to the war effort. Not only did employees made the cameras and films used for aerial photographs like this one; they also helped assemble the proximity fuses on the bombs that Allied troops dropped in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Where aerial photography allowed combatents to better visualize the enemy’s terrain, the proximity fuses enabled bombs to better strike their targets. Both multiplied the violence of war. Here we see the bombs headed towards the steel and locomotive factories of Nazi-occupied Lille, France.
While Eastman Kodak’s U.S. factories were dedicated to military production, the company’s German subsidiaries continued to churn out consumer goods. At Kodak-Aktiengesellscaft’s factories in Stuttgart and Koepenick, over 300 forced laborers made cameras and film for distribution across Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, and Spain. While Eastman-Kodak did not benefit financially from the operation of its German subsidiary, the ongoing presence of Kodak products in European markets was invaluable to its brand. Because Kodak-Aktiengesellscaft kept “the Kodak name…alive,” Eastman Kodak was able to reenter European markets after the war.* After the war—with its newly expanded production capacity, with the elimination of its German rival Agfa, and upon folding into its color processes the secrets of the German chemical trust—Kodak would become the largest photochemical company in the world and an icon of U.S. globalization.
*Source: Friedman, John. “Kodak’s Nazi Connections.” 8 March 2001, The Nation.
Where light strikes the surface of the film, the silver halide crystals dissociate. Electrons shoot off the bromide salts. Loose and cruising through the emulsion, they gather at aberrations in the gelatin and, gathering a positive charge, pull in the silver, now gone ionic. Attraction, repulsion, silver to electron, electron from bromide. The molecules rearrange in the pattern of the impact of light. While the developing process intends to “fix” the molecules in place, photographs don’t really freeze time. Photographs are dynamic, chemical things, forever sensitive to environment. Heat and light speed up the transformation. Fugitives of the structures imposed on them, the molecules continue to wander and react. The images continue to change, even if on time scales that exceed our perception.
In 1924, when George Eastman first became involved with the American Eugenics Society (AES), he requested that its founder send him 600 copies of a pamphlet by Albert Wiggam, a psychiatrist and popular writer on eugenics. Presumably, Eastman intended to distribute the essay about racial purity to friends and business associates. 600 copies of the essay are entombed here in this column, a monument in negative to the imbricated histories of photography and eugenics.
Along with John D. Rockefeller, Eastman was a primary sponsor of AES. The organization’s central mission was to establish a scientific justification for the racial superiority of white people, or, in its own words, to “stand against the forces which work for racial deterioration, and for progressive improvement in vigor, intelligence and moral fiber of the human race.” Officially founded in 1926, AES had a direct effect on U.S. politics, as it funded scientific research and proposed policies regarding involuntary sterilization laws and immigration restrictions. AES published a monthly journal. Through outreach programs, it encouraged families to track their own racial purity through family photo albums. Research supported by AES would become foundational to white supremacy, state violence, and genocide around the world.
These slides are reproductions of photographs made by Hymen Meisel (1898-1985) between the mid-1930s and the early 1980s. Meisel–or Hy, as he called himself–was a lifelong resident of Rochester, New York and an employee of Eastman Kodak, where he worked at the CameraWorks factory, making cameras, projectors, and other photographic hardware. Hy was also a member of the Kodak Camera Club, the largest photography club in the world, and he left behind thousands of Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides.
Hy’s photographs are remarkable for both what they show and what is absent from them. While Kodak’s advertising campaign figured snapshot photography as an essential technology for the reproduction of family life, Hy’s collection contains few images of weddings, babies, and graduations. In contrast to the heteronormative domestic, Hy’s collection details his friendships and daily life in Rochester and his travels through the U.S., Europe, and Latin America—that is, the very possibility of middle-class flourishing afforded by postwar industrial capitalism.
The tubes contain large-scale transparencies that Kodak distributed to sales counters and photography stores around the U.S. Though smaller in size, these images reference the back-lit Colorama advertisements that hung in the Rochester and Denver airports, and, most iconically, in New York City’s Grand Central Station from 1950 to 1990. The transparencies were massive. At sixty feet long, their length was roughly equivalent to the room you are standing in. They began as advertisements for color film and evolved into tableaux for fantasies of the American family and a heuristic for photographic ways of seeing and remembering. There were new images every three weeks, 565 in total. They almost always showed families: at play, on vacation, and commemorating holidays.