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Since Kodak’s bankruptcy, the George Eastman House has steadfastly refused all local media interviews “out of respect for Kodak.”

Reporters were told the two entities are very separate and Kodak’s support – $200,000 annually – is a small fraction of the museum budget.

But we haven’t been allowed to ask how the museum will cope in the likely absence of Kodak’s donation. We haven’t been allowed to ask the director whether Kodak’s trouble will have a broader impact on the institution. We haven’t been allowed to talk to visitors, who undoubtedly had the future of the iconic brand on their minds. We weren’t allowed to talk to the curator of the museum’s large camera collection on the day Kodak announced it will no longer make cameras.

The museum named after the founder of Kodak and dedicated to the history of photography, repeatedly and curiously said no to any interviews.

Except to the Wall Street Journal.

In a story called “The Kodak Fallout,” writer Richard B. Woodward makes it clear the museum and Kodak are inextricably linked:

For the first time since being chartered in 1947, the George Eastman House will have to get along without financial support from the company that has been its foundation.

Anthony Bannon, the museum’s director over the last 15 years, tried to be both upbeat and realistic. “It’s not grave but it’s still serious.”

For all concerned the new dispensation will take some getting used to. Throughout much of the museum’s history, it and Kodak have seemed to be one and the same.

(Bannon’s) successor, not yet named, will now have a vast and unique collection to oversee along with a new and permanent hole in the budget. The institution that invented film and photography conservation may be in need of some conservation of its own.

It doesn’t matter how Woodward got the interview. It’s very possible he bypassed the public relations office and called Bannon directly. Bannon is leaving the museum, so perhaps the reporter got him on the phone to talk about his new gig and threw in some Kodak questions. Good for Woodward.

What matters is Woodward’s article exposed the spin of the George Eastman House. The museum is a treasured institution and it’s in the public’s interest to discuss its welfare and talk to its experts. Furthermore, what’s happening to Kodak is part of history, the kind of history this museum is obligated to tell the community and the world.

2 Responses to In the Darkroom

  1. This is spot on — especially your third paragraph, which points out just how silly their policy is.

    The WSJ author, Richard B. Woodward, may well have direct links to Bannon as you suggest. See link below to the article Woodward wrote about Buffalo architectural & cultural heritage — that’s the world Bannon was in immediately before going to Rochester, and the world to which he’s soon returning. And Bannon has recently been on one of the key committees of Buffalo’s Richardson Center Corporation, looking at establishing an architecture history center in the historic Richardson Complex.

    Bannon’s earlier career was as an arts writer — which is how Woodward currently identifies himself. So they may well have encountered each other from running in the same circles. And Woodward might even be related to the Buffalo Woodward descendents — heirs to the Jello fortune. They’re very supportive of the arts, culture, and historic preservation — all things Bannon has been involved in, in Buffalo.

    Here’s Woodward’s WSJ article on Buffalo:

  2. February 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm Jim Webster responds:

    It sounds like Bannon made the appropriate comments to a colleague.
    I suggest you give this a rest Rachel.
    I’d be more concerned that they make a correct response than a mistaken one, which is the one the media would run with.
    Kodak’s monetary contribution isn’t much. Is their intellectual contribution more valuable?

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