August 2, 2012  |  Behind the Scenes, Library and Archives
MoMA Library Explores Photography Manuals

Kids, animals, and pretty girls: amateur photography publications are full of them.

I recently discovered that it’s been that way since the earliest years of photography, because I trolled through a hundred or so of these publications for the recent MoMA Library show “How to Make Good Pictures:” Manuals and the Popularization of Amateur Photography.

For example, Eastman Kodak, the company that almost single-handedly brought photography to the masses, was successful in large part because of aggressive promotion to amateurs. This took the form of magazine advertising, contests, and the promotional magazine Kodakery, published from 1913 to 1932. The magazine mixed technical advice, product information, and travelogues with many, many kids, animals, and—you guessed it—pretty girls.

“Kodak Records of Summer Scenes” in Kodakery, v. 7, n. 12, August, 1920, p. [17]

This clip from the August 1920 issue hits all the marks: jaunty women on a motorcycle, kids in a wheelbarrow, and a rustic horse-drawn cart. It also throws in a fourth popular subject: the great outdoors. Note also the active role of women, as in the genteel motorcycling gang. Kodak embraced a new idea of womanhood; women could be mobile and adventurous in all things, including parenting. Kodak encouraged them to thoroughly document it all.

Other sections of the show addressed early technical manuals and specialty how-to books (underwater photography, anyone?), tutorials by major modern artists such as Berenice Abbott and Ansel Adams, and vintage instructional films.

These works were on display at the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building from May 16 through July 30, 2012. To see works from the show, contact us at the Library.

For more information about MoMA Library research projects and activities, please visit The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) website. NYARC consists of the research libraries of the Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, and The Museum of Modern Art. Visit Arcade, NYARC’s catalog, for your art research needs.