Over the last six months two new photography books have been released that touch on the theme of Rochester’s long standing reputation as Photography City. Magnum photographer Alex Webb teamed up with his partner and fellow photographer Rebecca Norris-Webb to produce a poetic work titled, Memory City (Radius Books 2014). This beautifully produced volume presents a visual essay created over a two year period that began with one of the Magnum’s famous road trips to Rochester. In 2012 a group of Magnum photographer’s descended on the Rochester lead by Martin Parr – each having committed to creating a portfolio of 100 images about the city over a two week period. It appears that two weeks was just not enough to document the place that was home to Kodak and responsible producing film: that most essential material for the team of Webb & Norris. They returned on many occasions and produced this book as an homage to both the Eastman Kodak Company as well as photography’s material history.
Just released in September is another book titled, Kodak City (Kehrer Verlag), by Swiss photographer Catherine Leutenegger who first started photographing in Rochester in 2007 and made several trips back to city of the Great Yellow Father over the next four years. Like the Webb-Norris book Leutenegger looks at a metropolis that has suffered the great loss of Kodak as the company that not only employed tens of thousands of workers, but also shaped built the city’s reputation as one of the great centres of innovation in the field of imaging science as well as a centre for art and education. Leutenegger uses photography’s descriptive abilities to evoke a sense of melancholy in what appearsto be deadpan images of a city in transition.
Throughout the twentieth century all photographic roads led to Rochester regardless of your relationship to the medium. Today whether you are a photographer, technologist or enthusiast the City of Rochester is a remarkable place that continues to attract artists, historians and researchers engaged with the medium. As we all re-negotiate our relationship to photographic images in the 21st century one can’t help but feel there are still many books to be done about this city and its history. I look forward to more.