The Meaning of the word ‘Kodak’

Towards the end of 1887 photographic entrepreneur George Eastman was preparing to launch his ‘little roll holder breast camera’, which he believed would prove popular with the growing market of amateur photographers. In order to promote global sales he wanted to give the camera a snappy and distinctive name that would be recognizable in any language. After experimenting with various combinations of vowels and consonants – aided, it was said, by an anagram game set or possibly a bowl of alphabet soup – he hit upon the name ‘Kodak.’

It may have been a made-up word but the prominence of the letter ‘K’ was not purely arbitrary – Eastman confessed to a liking for ‘K’, partly because his mother’s maiden name was Kilbourn but also because it seemed to him ‘a strong, incisive sort of letter.’ His first public use of the Kodak name was in a letter to his patent lawyers on 28 January 1888. Four months later, the first ‘original Kodak’ went on sale and proved a runaway success. The tradename was registered in the United States on 4th September 1888 but when Eastman tried to do the same in England, the Comptroller of the British Patent Office requested a letter explaining the derivation of the word. In response, Eastman confirmed that
Kodak is not a foreign name or word; it was constructed by me to serve a definite purpose. It has the following merits as a trade-mark word: First. It is short. Second. It is not capable of mispronunciation.
Third. It does not resemble anything in the art and cannot be associated with anything in the art except the Kodak.‘Some years later he clarified the matter further in a letter to Professor John Manley, of Chicago University: ‘It was a purely arbitrary combination of letters, not derived in whole or part from any existing word, arrived at after considerable search for a word that would answer all requirements for a trade-mark name. The principal of these were that it must be short; incapable of being misspelled so as to destroy its identity; must have a vigorous and distinctive personality; and must meet the requirements of the various foreign trade-mark laws, the English being the one most difficult to satisfy owing to the very narrow interpretation that was being given to their laws at the time.’Now, the English may have been guilty of placing a narrow interpretation upon their patent laws, but this was not the case regarding their views on the etymology of ‘Kodak.’ Despite Eastman’s openness about its mundane origins, alternative theories abounded. The following letters appeared in Amateur Photographer during the latter half of 1896: Odds and Ends (editorial) 7th August 1896, p.112

The Eastman Company can certainly say with truth that they have added a new word to the English language. To many people, “Kodak” is the generic term for any kind of hand-camera, and shopkeepers are often asked for one in this sense. The new papers often use the word as a verb, and speak of people going “to Kodak” places, as readily as the term were to be found in Johnson or Webster.* It was indeed a happy thought to invent outright a new combination of letters; one without any worrying Latin, Greek, or other derivative. That it has been good for its originators goes without saying, and we have no kind of doubt that the actual value of the trademark, “Kodak,” would run into five figures. But the future lexicographer will certainly be puzzled over this word, which has had no forefathers, although he will probably soon find for the orphan a Sanscrit, or possibly a Chinese word which seems to bear sufficient likeness to it to claim relationship.

******************************************************

‘Kodak’ is in fact still found as a verb in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961) and the OED traces the first use as a verb to 1891, but the columnist was correct about the attraction people would feel in finding parallels for the word elsewhere. Over the next couple of months, Amateur Photographer became Amateur Lexicographer, beginning with these two letters on 14 August 1896, p.129:

Sir,
Your remarks in the Amateur Photographer on the origins of the word Kodak made me wonder if it could not be found in Hebrew. Now קָדַח in that language means to burn, whence be bright or brilliant. Kahdak is pretty near Kodak, and Kodaks have had, it seems, a brilliant career. It is quite possible therefore to imagine the Eastman Company, as being true wise men from the East, putting a strange word on the market, and depending on the merits of the camera, turning the word Kodak into a valuable – as you point out – trademark. To others may it not be said “Go thou and do likewise.”

Yours, etc.,
Allan Bayne

Sir,
The writer of Odds and Ends in your journal of 7th Aug., seems puzzled over the origins of the word “Kodak.” This word, common in the Hindostanee language, means a youth or boy. It is derived from the Persian. It is spelt exactly like we do, but the “a” is pronounced like “u” in duck. Thus, here is another instance of there being nothing new under the sun. Other oriental words have been anglicised in the same manner in connection with trade purposes.

Yours, etc.,
W.J.F.

Picture

W.J.F. was quite right about ‘kodak’, as shown in this excerpt from the fourth edition of John Shakespear’s Dictionary of Hindustani and English (London, 1849.) It is fairly likely that ‘W.J.F.’, whatever his interest in photography, had spent time in India under the British Raj: the word for ‘boy’ or ‘lad’ would have been familiar to any colonial administrator or military officer.

The background to Mr Bayne’s knowledge of Hebrew can only be guessed at, although his quoting from the Gospel of St Luke indicates he knew his Bible; possibly he had learnt some Hebrew to help his reading of the Old Testament. His argument linking קָדַח to ‘kodak’ is somewhat far-fetched, however. קָדַח would be transliterated as qadach, and pronounced more like ‘kaw-dach’, lacking Eastman’s click-click ‘k’ sound. Not to be outdone, Mr Bayne returned to the discussion on 28th August p.169. It is at this point that both his pen and his train of thought began to run rather too fast:


Sir,
The Hindostanee word “Kodak,” mentioned by W.J.F., is perhaps found in our own language – in English in the word “kiddy,” and in Scotch, “cuddy” (ass). Cuddy ass = once perhaps to boy ass, is prevalent in Scotland. It is quite possible the Hebrew קָדַח to burn = French, chaud i.e. in English, hot. The verb,”kid,” meaning to show, discover, allied to the German kunde (not a bad word for a camera), meaning knowledge, news etc., is just the first part of kodak.
Webster is dissatisfied with the derivation of “God” from “good.” “God” may be derived from the same word as the French chaud, the letters of both being the same etymologically. Both begin with a guttural and end with a dental.
“Goad” would mean the thorn-like flame as well as [the] feeling it produces.
“Guide” would mean light, giving therefore directing power of light.
“Goat” and “Kodak boy” as above, would mean the active, leaping power of fire.
“God” would then mean light in all its powers.
– I am, etc.Allan BaynePerhaps wisely, W.J.F. declined to respond to Mr Bayne’s ever-evolving theories, and further discussion of the matter was absent from columns of the Amateur Photographer for the next fortnight. Then, on 11th September, Mr Bayne returned to make a few final points of a decidedly spiritual nature. (p.209)Sir,

Ere we depart from the word Kodak, as suggested by your editorial note, the chief word has yet to be spoken. If “God, as we found, may mean light in all its powers (Kodak, God act), test the new meaning in one supreme place. Solomon’s conclusion will then be, light (for “God”) will bring every work into judgment, whether it be good or whether it be evil. As the photographer’s work is all brought to judgment and is worthy of gold, silver, copper and writing, when brought to the light of sun and soul, so it is with the works of every man, woman and child – our works, from a photographic exhibition, a one woman or man exhibition, to the spiritual powers that surround us. “There is nothing secret” – see the 139th Psalm. The unseen writing of the seen is not all, there is also the writing of the unseen. In Eccles. X,20 there is the Hadography (unseen writing) of the thoughts also going on.
“The eye cannot be filled with seeing” all the finest photographs, and photography is not an end in itself. Are not all the care, time, knowledge, experience and guidance required to produce a photograph, but a poor thing in their results, unless they be a picture and only a picture of what is necessary to produce a man and woman worthy of their divine original.

Yours, etc.
Allan Bayne

The Scriptural quotations that Bayne cites in support of his ramblings are apt: Psalm 139 begins ‘Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say,’ while Ecclesiastes Chap. 10, vs. 20 warns ‘You perceive my thoughts from afar…Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.’ I remain unsure about what he means by ‘Hadography’, although possibly he is referring to Steganography, a form of unseen writing (from the Greek στεγανός, meaning ‘concealed’ and γραφή. meaning ‘writing.’

I can only imagine how bemused George Eastman would have been.

Tomorrow – Freudian interpretations of ‘You push the button and we do the rest.’

Please follow and like us:
5

Daguerre Anniversary

It was 175 years ago today that the invention of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (left) was officially made public. On 7 January 1839 François Arago told an astonished meeting of the Académie des Sciences in Paris about Daguerre’s success with his new technique for capturing and fixing an image. Details were not revealed in his speech, but members of the Académie were shown examples of the images, which came to bear the name of their inventor.

Daguerreotypes were made by holding a thin plate of silver-coated copper over iodine fumes which coated the surface in light-sensitive silver iodide. When exposed to light in the camera, this produced a latent image which could then be developed with heated mercury. The image was then fixed using common salt – a process later improved by using ‘hypo’ or hyposulphite of soda.


Picture

The highly polished silver surface of the plate gives daguerreotypes their distinctive mirror-like reflective appearance, but it also makes them quite tricky to photograph – my attempt to photograph one of my own daguerreotypes (right) does not do justice to this lovely image of two young girls.The great beauty of Daguerre’s process is that the resulting images are remarkably detailed, clear and precise. This gave them the edge over the rival process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot (below) who was caught off guard by Arago’s announcement.


Picture

Henry Talbot had been working on his own ‘photogenic drawing’ process for several years but, unaware of Daguerre’s research on the other side of the Channel, he felt no sense of urgency about publishing his findings. When news of Arago’s announcement reached England he bitterly regretted his tardiness, and – until he knew more about Daguerre’s process – Talbot feared that his efforts might all have been for nothing. He hastily wrote up his notes and presented a paper to the Royal Society at the end of the month. It still took a while to catch up with the Frenchman, and Talbot’s early images were no competition for the jewel-like precision of the daguerreotype. By 1841, however, he had made significant advances and his ‘calotype’ process possessed aesthetic qualities that the daguerreotype lacked.

Picture

Although this image looks similar to the daguerreotype above, it is in fact an ambrotype, made using the wet collodion process. A closer look will reveal that the image is on a glass plate that has a horizontal crack. Ambrotypes have a darker, duller appearance than daguerreotypes.I bought this in an antique shop and they are relatively inexpensive.

The wet collodion process was invented in 1851 and involved pouring a solution of collodion over a glass plate which was then immersed in silver nitrate solution and exposed while still wet: hence the name. The resulting negative image could be used to produce any number of positive prints; these were usually made on albumen paper.The ambrotype is a slight variation on this process: instead of using the glass plate as a negative, the back of the plate was painted with black varnish and it was then placed inside a sealed case similar to those used to protect daguerreotypes. When viewed against the dark background, the negative image actually looks like a positive one – an illusion often further enhanced through the use of hand tinting.Archer published details of his process in The Chemist magazine in March 1851. Daguerre died four months later, on 10 July 1851. Despite its reliance on dangerous chemicals, the wet collodion process soon supplanted the daguerreotype.

Picture

Daguerre may have given his name to the process, but there were others who contributed to the invention of the daguerreotype. He had been seeking ways to capture images since the mid-1820s, while earning his living with hugely popular diorama shows in Paris and London. These comprised two or more large paintings that were displayed in darkened auditoriums with an ingenious arrangement of theatrical effects such as moving stages and alternating light effects. This oil painting of Holyrood Chapel (left) was painted by Daguerre in 1824 and was used as the basis for a diorama show in Paris, London and Liverpool. In 1829 he went into partnership with Nicéphore Niépce, whose View from the Window at Le Gras (1826) is the world’s oldest surviving photograph. Niépce died in 1833 and his contribution to Daguerre’s achievements was ignored until relatively recently.

Please follow and like us:
5

The Curse of Frankenstein

 

Today I seized the opportunity to see The Curse of Frankenstein on the big screen, courtesy of Exeter Picturehouse as they show a number of films tying-in with the BFI’s current Gothic season. Before the film started there were only two of us in the cinema and I wondered if this was going to be like a previous experience many moons ago at the Grosvenor in Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, when I watched The Silence of the Lambs in the company of one other lone stranger sitting a few rows back in the dark. Given the nature of the film, the two of us kept exchanging suspicious glances every now and then…just in case. The Silence of the Lambs contains far more graphic horror than The Curse of Frankenstein but in 1957 several critics were appalled at Hammer’s ‘depressing, degrading’ movie. How does it stand up today?

This was the first horror film in which Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared together, and the pair would co-star in around twenty others, many of them Hammer productions. For copyright reasons Hammer needed to distinguish their imagery from James Whale’s 1931 classic, and make-up artist Phil Leakey made Christopher Lee look very different from Boris Karloff’s creature. The contrast is more than skin deep, however – Lee plays the creature as a brain-damaged monster, with little apparent capacity for thought or emotion; it is hard for modern audiences to feel much sympathy for him, especially given the creature’s lack of screen time. The physicality of Lee’s performance is astonishing nonetheless; jerking, flailing and lurching, he captures the tragedy of a being unable to controls its own limbs.

The real monster of the film is Victor Frankenstein, who is prepared to sacrifice everything – ethics, friendship, his fiancee, mistress and unborn child – for science. Peter Cushing’s performance is impeccable; the subtlety of his facial expressions seemed much more impressive on the big screen. He returned in this role for another four films, all directed by Terence Fisher: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein must be Destroyed (1969) and Frankenstein and The Monster from Hell (1974.) In 1958 he played Von Helsing opposite Lee’s Count Dracula, and the two of them would continue to reprise these roles – with constant variations – over the next two decades. Hammer Film Production’s reputation as purveyors of luridly-coloured Gothic gore began with The Curse of Frankenstein and the film contains motifs that would recur again and again in the studio’s output.


Talking of lurid colour, the brilliant palette of Jack Asher’s lush cinematography is particularly impressive on the big screen. Although Hammer had already used colour in Men of Sherwood Forest (1954) this was the first colour horror film that they made. There has been criticism of the anaemic quality of the colour on the recently restored Blu-Ray dvd version, but such shortcomings were not apparent in today’s screening. The film was made using Eastmancolor, a single-strip technique invented by Kodak in 1950 that was far more cost-effective than the cumbersome three-strip Technicolor process; it is, however, more prone to fading over time. The unprecedented combination of horror and colour was something new, and I was struck during today’s screening by a number of scenes that seemed to celebrate the power of colour:

Picture

Symphony in Red

Picture

Symphony in Green

Picture

Symphony in Blue

PictureThe Lady with the Lamp

Another highlight of the film was the lovely – if rather underused – Hazel Court, playing the part of Frankenstein’s fiancee Elizabeth. She gets to wear a series of ravishing costumes in the film, of which the gown below is probably the finest. Not ideal for grubbing around a dungeon full of chemicals, but certainly a feast for the eyes. Hazel was a classically trained actress and had done several films before The Curse of Frankenstein – hence my regret that her character is so under-developed. Elizabeth is a typical heroine-victim in the Gothic tradition, entering a house of horror (both building and family lineage, as in the House of Usher) through marriage, and thereby trespassing upon dark secrets that threaten to engulf her. A comment by Paul Krempe indicates that Frankenstein had forbidden Elizabeth to look behind his laboratory door – a prohibition that recalls the legend of Bluebeard’s Castle – but of course she does…

Certain elements of the plot are reminiscent of other Gothic narratives, and there is a parallel with Gaslight in the baron’s flirting with the maid behind his fiancee’s back. He is ultimately punished for his immoral behaviour and the innocent Elizabeth finds refuge with Frankenstein’s friend and former tutor Paul Krempe, who is often regarded as the film’s moral compass. Despite his sanctimonious pontificating, however, his conduct seems to me as murky as the baron’s. He knows that Frankenstein’s experiments are unethical and repeatedly warns that their work ‘can only end in evil’, yet he keeps returning to help and evidently cannot resist his fascination with Frankenstein’s project. As his mind has not been corrupted to the extent that Victor’s has, Krempe arguably has more capacity to end the wickedness, and so his failure to act makes him even more culpable. His final silence not only conceals his part in the baron’s work, but also offers a neat way to remove Elizabeth’s fiance from the scene when it is obvious that he wanted her for himself all along. Just as Frankenstein got rid of his former lover when she began to get in the way, so too does Krempe callously dispose of his friend, using the executioner in much the same way that Frankenstein used the creature. (Although if the 1958 sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein is to be believed, the baron evades the guillotine and returns to his work.)

There is always the temptation, of course, to read more into these old films than their makers ever intended. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster has been frank about the extent to which his work was driven by purely commercial concerns, admitting his bewilderment when Hammer fans ask him about Freudian symbolism, literary echoes and other esoteric nuances that they detect. That is not to say that such motifs are actually absent. Fisher may have wished to create a definite distance between The Curse of Frankenstein and Universal’s 1931 movie, but his film – consciously or unconsciously – contains clear homages to classic horror tradition, e.g.

Nods to Nosferatu


Picture

Watching the film on the big screen today has helped me appreciate the visual impact that The Curse of Frankenstein would have had on cinema audiences back in 1957. It seems a shame that this experience was shared by such a small audience – but for the record, our numbers had doubled by the time the lights dimmed.

Please follow and like us:
5

Pugilist Parson: the strange tale of Radford of Lapford

 

To celebrate the publication this week of my article ‘Pugilist Parson: the strange tale of Radford of Lapford’ in the autumn 2013 issue of Vintage Script magazine, I thought I would post a few photographs showing scenes relating to the story. In what is surely one of the strangest manifestations of ‘muscular Christianity’, the Rev. John Arundel Radford (1799-1861) – rector of the church of St Thomas a Becket, Lapford – earned himself a fearsome reputation as a bare-knuckle fighter and all-round ruffian. His violent character presents a stark contrast with the beautiful old parish church, which I have visited on several occasions.

This is the church on a bright spring day, surrounded by yew trees. Judging by their size, these were around when John Radford was rector here.


Picture

This is his grave, at the side of the church. The inscription reads:

In memory of
John Arundel Radford
Rector of this Parish
Who died 18th May 1861
Aged 63 Years
And also of
Thomasina Elisabeth
(His Wife)
Who died 12th March 1870
Aged 63 Years


Picture

This is the village as it used to be, looking up towards the church.


PictureSome of the magnificent wood carvings inside the church


Picture

Ill met by moonlight…..It was on this road that Radford confronted the Hon. Newton Fellowes.


Picture

Radford’s rectory, Lapford
Please follow and like us:
5