Kodak Coloramas and the Landmark that Almost Wasn’t

Published July 31, 2012

“Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once announced in her campaign to save Grand Central Terminal.

On Feb. 1, Grand Central Terminal will celebrate its 100-year anniversary. It is the New York landmark that almost wasn’t; constructed at the end of the steam-engine era, the building declined during the postwar years and was threatened with demolition throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

In celebration of the centennial, the New York Transit museum, MTA, and Metro North Railroad are organizing five exhibits, the first of which is of Kodak Colorama photos, which dominated the space during it’s most precarious years. It’s an ode to the past and it’s place in the present; “with the digital turn almost complete and Kodak in bankruptcy, Colorama offers a tool for considering the past,” Alison Nordström, the curator of the Colorama exhibition tells us. From 1950–1990, Kodak displayed 565 different photos as 60-by-18-foot backlit transparencies, but only 36 will appear in the exhibition. “Many of them were so deteriorated that they could not be used, so we were limited to the ones in better shape. Beyond that we chose images that promised popular appeal or were well-remembered,” Nordström continues. Indeed, among the images on display are the first photograph of the Earth from the Moon, an unknown Diane Sawyer receiving her crown for the Junior Miss Pageant in 1964, and work by Ansel Adams and Normal Rockwell.

They are, as you would expect from Coloramas, overwhelmed with lurid colors—hyperreal greens and pinks, pumpkin oranges, and butternut squash yellows—and smiling families in full recreation; the apex of American leisure and emblem of post-war consumerism.

“KODAK COLORAMAS” IS ON SHOW AT THE NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM GALLERY ANNEX IN GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL UNTIL NOVEMBER 1ST.