The series 'Kodak City', by award-winning Lausanne photographer Catherine Leutenegger, is an unembellished account of the decline of the industrial city of Rochester, New York. There, life appears to have stopped with the death of photographic film, drowning in the digital wave.
It was in Rochester that George Eastman invented and commercialised, between 1887 and 1889, the first flexible photographic film. And it was in New York that Leutenegger stayed in 2007, as part of a resident artist programme. This was a logical continuation of a photographic pilgrimage which started in Switzerland as part of her thesis and developed in this quintessential “company town”, where the loss of just one industry is enough to depopulate the entire area.
It turned out to be very complicated gaining access to Kodak’s headquarters and specifically Kodak Park, one of the largest industrial parks in the world – despite the recommendations she was given from various institutions. Looking back, however, she says these constraints “saved her creative process”. As she wrote: “They forced me to tackle the subject from another angle – an approach perhaps less expected and predictable. Initial frustrations transformed into a desire to tell my story in another manner – by focusing on the repercussions of the decline in sales of argentic film on the city of Rochester and its inhabitants”.
'Kodak City' is now the subject of a book. A record of a remarkable page in the history of photography. A book, according to Leutenegger, which “works very well as a historical track. It’s like pickling moments in formaldehyde. It’s a sensory object, a conveyor of messages and emotions in an environment that is dominated by the virtual”.
(Photos: Catherine Leutenegger, Original French text: Marc-André Miserez. swissinfo.ch)