Adventurous Kodak Girls Documented Great Moments And Launched Businesses With Early Cameras

Susan B. Anthony said bicycles did more to emancipate women than anything else. Perhaps second to the bicycle was the camera. Women actively participated in the development of professional photography from its inception in the early 1800s. By 1893, the Eastman Kodak Company developed a simple, reliable camera. Kodak Girls were at the center of their ad campaigns for decades. Kodak Girls were on the go. They traveled around the world, launched new businesses and documented special moments for their families.

Eastman Kodak Developed The First “No-Brainer” Camera For Kodak Girls

George Eastman’s first affordable camera sold in 1888 was a simple box with a fixed-focus lens and one shutter speed. It was called the Kodak. This evolved into the Brownie series. The early Kodak was pre-loaded for 100 photographs. When finished, the budding photographer sent the camera back to the factory where the pictures were processed and the camera reloaded. In essence Kodak had created a “no-brainer.”

Yes, there was the possible message that this camera was so easy to use that even a woman could master it. But if you look at the wealth of imagery from this long-running marketing campaign, the message of Kodak Girls was not condescending. Instead, Kodak Girls pushed the boundaries of The New Woman. Kodak Girls were adventurous, independent, and intelligent. And they were in search of the next great photograph. Some travelled the world to find it. Others found the great moments in their own homes.

Not surprisingly, other camera companies also used the idea of Kodak Girls in their campaigns with great success.

There was even a camera built just for carrying on those newfangled bicycles.  Too bad Kodak didn’t equip Annie Londonderry with one of those when she rode her bicycle around the world.

Queen Victoria Helped Promote The New Snapshot Culture

Queen Victoria was just a young woman when photography first made headlines. It started with Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in Paris. Then came the work of William Henry Fox Talbot in London in 1939. Early on, Victoria began collecting photos, photochrom postcards and visiting cards, which she placed in albums. Her hobby soon became a fad among aristocrats.

Together, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert championed the emerging art form through their patronage of the Photographic Society of London. They sat for royal photographs—both public and private. They attended photography shows and they were instrumental in the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London where photography had a profound presence. The Great Exhibition offered many of the visitors their first opportunity to see a photograph in person.

Women Embraced The New Art of Photography

It wasn’t long before photography became a thriving arena for new woman-owned businesses. Women showed a natural flair for observing people and places and capturing their essence in a moment. Because portrait sessions meant there would be physical touch involved in arranging human subjects, women were considered ideal for the job. Many of the early studios in Europe and America were owned and operated by women.

Ladies Home Journal, 1897 article What A Woman Can Do With A Camera, Frances Benjamin Johnston says:

“Photography as a profession should appeal particularly to women, and in it there are great opportunities for a good-paying business…”

“As to your personal attitude, be businesslike in all your methods; cultivate tact, and affable manner, and an unfailing courtesy. It costs nothing but a little self-control and determination to be patient and good-natured under most circumstances. A pleasant, obliging and businesslike bearing will often prove the most important part of a clever woman’s capital.”

“Above everything else be resourceful, doing your best with what you have until you are able to obtain what you would like. Resource, a good sense, a cultivated taste and hard work for a combination that seldom fails to success in a country like ours, where a woman needs only the courage to enter and profession suitable to her talents and within her powers of accomplishment.”

Granted, professional studios utilized professional cameras. But it isn’t hard to imagine that the powerful image presented through the Kodak Girls campaign inspired more than a few budding female photographers.

Kodak Girls Made Better Wages

Although women had a good start in the field of photography, the Kodak Girls lost ground on their paychecks. In October 2017 four veteran journalists working for the Detroit Free Press filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging significant pay differences between men and women performing the same jobs.

Among the claims of the lawsuit, female photographers are paid more than $4 per hour less than their male counterparts. The longer women remain at their job, the wider the gap grows.

What happens when female photographers follow the independent route of the Kodak Girls entering the professional realm? HoneyBook is a business management and networking platform that primarily serves people in creative fields including photography, event planning and graphic design. According to author Ben Paynter, the company analyzed more than 200,000 invoices and discovered the average male creative makes $45,400 per year compared to $30,700 for his female counterpart.

To counteract the gap, HoneyBook tapped several successful female entrepreneurs for tips and tactics. One of the top tips:

“If employers won’t respect the negotiation process, it may be time for talented women to simply charge more and not budge on their own prices.”

Too bad we didn’t pay more attention to the Ladies Home Journal in 1897:

“Good work should command good prices, and the wise woman will place a paying value upon her best efforts. It is a mistaken business policy to try and build up trade by doing something badly cheaper than somebody else.”

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