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Kodak women: Domestic contexts and the commercial culture of photography, 1800s-1980s

Amy W Loomis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation combines the two methodologies of historical analysis and ethnographic interviews, to expose a dynamic relationship between dominant and marginal ideologies which concurrently shape women's relationships to image making in the domestic sphere. The analysis focuses on the discursive dynamic between stories of domestic photo practice throughout the century and advertising copy of the Eastman Kodak Company for snapshot cameras, home movie cameras and slide projectors. The stories of 18 women who have taken snapshots/home movies are compared to Kodak advertisements from the 1880s to the 1980s. In my analysis of advertisements and interview transcripts I explore the links and gaps between domestic and dominant social conceptions of women and photo-technology. I argue in my analysis that Kodak was particularly successful in establishing filmic and still image making as a domestic practice because it was able to draw upon existing and changing conceptions of women's roles in the modern family context. I also argue that Kodak was able to effectively utilize modernist notions of technology and society in sculpting a dominant mythology of home image making; however, the stories I have gathered also suggest that the day-to-day use and beliefs about home documentation were largely effected by socio-economic realities and the physical impossibility of upholding ideal lifestyles represented in advertising. This comparison of practice and ideology reveals a contradiction between idealized and actual home documentary practices. Most significantly, my analysis points to the ways in which cultural ideologies of femininity, democracy and individualism are maintained despite their inability to function smoothly in actual domestic situations. Because home photography and filmmaking are so closely linked to child rearing, the domestic frame encompasses photo/filmic practices such that the process rather than the product (snapshot/movie) is emphasized. An ideology which dismisses women's technical ability is masked by the larger representation of snapshot photography and home movie making as simple--that is, democratically accessible to people of all mechanical aptitudes.

Subject Area

Mass media|American studies|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Loomis, Amy W, "Kodak women: Domestic contexts and the commercial culture of photography, 1800s-1980s" (1994). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9510500.