Author Archives: Wanyu Zhang

“Kodaking” – The Lense of George Eastman and case study of Kodak Company

By Wanyu Zhang

For my final post of this class I want to have a case study of Kodak Company, from the historical lense to flashback the past, current and the future of Kodak company’s impact to the world. By far the most significant event in the history of amaetur photography was the introduction of the Kodak #1 camera in 1888. Invented and marketed by George Eastman (1854 – 1932) Upon that time, the Kodak was a simple box camera that came loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film, so when the roll was finished, the entire machine was sent back to the factory and reloaded then returned to their customer when the first roll was being processed.George Eastman was successfully made photography accessible to millions of casual amateurs with no particular professional training, technical expertise or aesthetix credentials. The famous advertising campaign with the memorable slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was published in many places. The word after Eastman first camera had a tremendous changed and huge impact on people’s life, there was the first step of a 20-year quest that would lead him to his most iconic camera – the Brownie. Basically it changed many American families themselve to recall their family history and memory. I’m also interesting in the the relationship between the customer who but Kodak camera and how they treated to these magical small boxes, some amateaur photographers reacted to the snapshop craze by forming organizations dedicated to promoting photography as a fine art rather the pop art. However, since the development of  camera has always way beyond than people’s expect , in the mid-1960s, the idea of a “snapshot aesthetic” began to get currency in art photography vase.

Section 1: Who is George Eastman and why he changed the world with “film”

“ He was a high school dropout, judged ‘not especially gifted’ when measured against the academic standards of the day. He was poor, but even as a young man, he took it upon himself to support his widowed mother and two sisters, one of who had polio.”

This is the first paragraph from Kodak homepage that introduced their company’s founder, like many “heroes” in various industries, they never follow the traditional trajectory to lead them to be success, they’re special and usually they used to have a tough life experience. With very fe exceptions, they’re kind from the humanity side. That young man may has no idea based on his invented on 19 century, people from all over the world can “storeage” their memory though the magic box, it’s also from that moment until to current, the definition of camera is significantly beyond the original concept and like Eastman promise from his first goal to make photography “as convenient as the pencil”. History can be changed by any people who persistently intended to change, when Eastman at 24 years old, he got interested to the giant camera and try to make some improvement of the structure of  the photographic emulsion, he learned from others but make the real action by himselves. After 3 years again and again experiment, finally by 1880, he had not only invented a dry plate formula, but had patented a machine for preparing large number of the plate. That is the iconic and symbolic step for the entire photography industry, because only the “tools” become handy and compact, people will have chance to bring that to everywhere and never feel this is a heavy burdens. And this is the power of icon, or we can say is a cultural icon has officially launched to daily life.

Eastman always believes and want to achieve a goal which is to simplify photography, so from the very beginning to found his own company in 1901, he build his business on 4 basic principles: 1. A focus on the customer  2. Mass production at low cost  3. Worldwide distribution  4. Extensive advertising. Apparently, the reason behind the huge success of Kodak make the above 4 reasons being closely related. Mass production could not be justified without wide distribution. Distribution can be successful should has strong bonding with strong advertising skills. And the original desire with to fulfilling customer needs is never change, because Eastman profoundly believed this is the only way to corporate success.

Even people may do not familiar the name and story of George Eastman but I’m pretty sure there is no name has been more closely tied to pictures than Kodak, this yellow and red logo it’s like a tattoo engraving to everyone’s memory. So when the section title I chose for Eastman changed world do not exaggerate at all. And the key of his success is “making photography a popular leisure-time activity for the masses were his development of roll film and the inexpensive box camera” Not surprisingly, there are tons of historical milestones of Kodak was made by Eastman.

photo-of-1888-and-1889-boxes-of-kodak-film“Kodak introduced the first commercial transparent roll film in 1989”


“In 1990, the KODAK BROWNIE camera brought photography within financial reach of consumers. The camera sold for $1 and film was 15 cents a roll.”


Introduced in 1935, KODACHROME Film became the first commercially successful amateur color film. Initially offered in 16 mm format for motion pictures, formats for 35 mm slides and 8 mm home movies followed in 1936.”

“KODAK CAROUSEL projectors – introduced in 1961, the projectors had a round tray that held 80 slides for easy viewing.” 

Section 2: Kodak and American Family – “A focus on the customer”

During my research on Kodak and American family after WWII, is the time when Kodak began marketing their extremely inexpensive snapshot cameras and Kodak’s advertising always urged families to capture the moments in the lives of postwar family at home or on vacations. Many young people themselves often bought these affordable cameras or received them as presents, that’s why we can found so many photographic evidence of their family and daily lives.  (see more photos )

camera-kodak-instamatic-fade-19-57-swscan02188-copy“ The idea gradually dawned on me, “Eastman later said, “that what we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but that we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair.” I think as a Businessman he really knows his customers need and as an inventor he challenged all the “impossible” things. Eastman never stopped to create the newer and better equipment for his customers, so all his experiments were directed to the use of a lighter and more flexible support than glass. This is Eastman American Film was in introduced – the first transparent photographic “film” as we know it today. Meanwhile, the first film advertisements in 1885 also stated that “shortly there will be introduced a new sensitive film which it is believed will prove an economical and convenient substitute for glass dry plates both for outdoor and studio work” which emphasized the new
chapter of the photography world. Because the system of photography using roll holders was immediately successful.images It’s more customized for the users based on their daily based needs. It’s gradually become an American phenomenon and let Americans the tembraced it, it encourages them were leaving home and striking out further and further west that people could have something to think about and reflect that to remember people by this technology. 
According to the Kodak Homepage and George Eastman House information, we can easily found how Eastman put customer at the first place and always based on this idea to develop all kinds of technology. “Eastman’s solution was to coat the paper with a layer of plain, soluble gelatin, and then with a layer of insoluble light-sensitive gelatin. After exposure and development, the gelatin bearing the image was stripped from the paper, transferred to a sheet of clear gelatin, and varnished with collodion – a cellulose solution that forms a tough, flexible film.” It’s hard to imagine all the chemical process happened thought how many times of experiments. Eastman absolutely transparent roll film and the roll holder or we can see he changed the entire direction of his work and established the fundamental on the success of amateur photography. The new era comes to people without any boundary.

    Section 3: Kodak = Affordable – “Mass production at low cost”

Kodak is way much beyond than a camera or film in people’s memory, the other reason was because of the price, it’s perfect fit to any middle class family in America. Eastman believed in order to make a large business they would reach the general public. Therefore, time back to 1888, it was Eastman put down the foundation for making photography available to everyone. Pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures, the camera could be easily carried and handheld during operation.In 1888, Eastman was issued a landmark U.S. patent No. 388,850 for his box camera. On the same date, he registered the trademark name: Kodak. The Eastman Kodak company was formed on April 24, 1888. This design was the first Kodak mass-produced camera, and brought photography to the mass market. As described in its advertising, the operation was simple: “Pull the String, Turn the Key, Press the Button. e83fb63c633b5fccd8cc2a3cc6226844” I have to say that’s one of the best advertisement I’ve ever seen, just make me thinking about the effort that Eastman made for people, he made complicated to simple which is one of the most things in the world. Now anyone could take pictures of family events, indoor and outdoor scenes, and vacations, without needing special skills. Only 22-ounces in weight, it required no tripod or table for support. It used a fixed-focus lens which was fast enough to take practically instantaneous exposures. Its roll film was enough to take 100 pictures, each 2½ inches diameter, that was brilliant and a big step for human’s history, even he was not the first people who invented the first camera or develop the skill and at the first time, but without all the chemical and technical miracle, it’s impossible to let people who do not have any special skills to love that. After 1888, almost every year the Eastman team developed some new kinds of camera or film to support and encourage peoppalmer-cox-cigar-label-19-1crople who love to take photos.  At February of 1900, the very first Kodak Brownie camera was introduced to the public and the price was only cost $1 allowed virtually anyone to afford. That showed this genius businessman mind of Eastman, because he lets the super cheap camera to expand the business term of film, he “push” the market from expensive cameras to the lower price exception can still out of the rewp1431f3fd_05_06ach of most middle and lower class working families. The cost of camera is low but the team also guaranteed the quality was effective and reliable. Exactly like the name of this camera, Eastman intended to marketed with children in mind because the name of Brownie  was taking from the popular Palmer Cox Brownie. At the same time the film was also affordable, even for 1900. 1 dollar can buy a Brownie, 6 exposure roll of transparent film at $0.15, paper negative film at $0.1 and $0.4 for processing which included the printed images and postage. Eastman was devoted to mass production of his cameras, international distribution, and meeting customer needs and he finally making photography truly accessible to the amateur masses.

Section 4: Kodaking – “Extensive advertising”

Kodak’s high-profile advertising campaigns established the need to preserve ‘significant” moment in family or any moment that people enjoyed. They were all labeled to “Kodak Moment”, just like the concept of everyday life. If we go through back to see tons of Kodak’s retro ads, we can found many similarities, always has famous Kodak girl,_35 young kids, simply slogan or the illustration of Kodak new products. As we seen, women Kodak cast in the leading role because Eastman knew how to market for women, because they know the mom, wife, daughter’s role in a family. They are the major group who enjoy to take the snapshot to record their family moment. However, women just present who took the photos, because the other half of the Kodak moment required a context, like the birthday parties, family holidays, sport games and so on. Kodak also played an important role in converting travel to tourism, the common sense we had now which is if you haven’t took any photos from your trip who will knows you went to that and photos was all about preserving memories for that sentiment, who love doing that? Women. Because by the 1970s, more than 60% of photos in the US was took by women.the-kodak-camera-century-1889The product’s first advertising slogan, “You press the button – we do the rest,” reflected this process.

The name “Kodak” had no meaning; Eastman created the brand name for reasons he summarized in his British patent application: “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.” In 1892 he renamed his firm the Eastman Kodak Company. Kodak cameras were not cheap at $25 apiece – about the equivalent of $400 today – so at first few Americans could purchase them. Yet the novel product, supported by extensive and appealing advertising, grew in popularity especially from the 1890s onward.

Advertising was a major budget item for the company and a cornerstone of Ged56b4dde0f6db3eaa3dc820cf2beab66orge Eastman’s business success, making Kodak a household word while many competing brands failed to gain a permanent market share. Eastman created an advertising department and hired a manager in 1892. A well-known icon, the Kodak Girl, began to appear in magazine and poster advertising in 1893. By the end of the century, the company was spending a phenomenal $750,000 annually on promotion. A famous slogan first used in 1905 proclaimed, “If ik0265t isn’t an Eastman, it isn’t a Kodak;”
in that same year the eminently recognizable yellow box appeared as film packaging. In some advertisements and other texts the word “Kodak” was used as a verb (“Kodak as you go,”
was one advertising headline) but this usage did not a become permanent fixture in the English language.

Kodaking is obviously a fake verb word but after explored the history and all kinds of archives of Kodak Ads, it’s pretty touching from many sides. Even I can tell the history of American life back to 19 and 20 centuries. If compare sharing experience on social media by those snapshots, do we lose something authentic? I hope the answer was YES.

Section 5: Conclusion – My Kodak Memory  

One of the best childhood memory on 90’s was to play with my Olympus film camera, I like the feeling of each click. Every time when I finished one roll of film than send it back to a photo store processed the Kodak films made me so exciting and mix a little bit pressure. When my mom brings the white paper bag and inside full of my photos, it’s really does satisfied an ameturar photograher’s mind to celebrate some my best shots. The texture and color of a film photo has never changed. The family album and old photos seem the only object make me has homesick, thanks to Kodak. And I have to say, Eastman not only changed the American life but also globally impact many families too.    

Reference :

Eastman Kodak Company 

George Eastman Museum

Duke University Digital Collection – Eastman Kodak and Its Early Advertising: More About the Ellis Collection and Kodak

O’Barr, William M. Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1994.

West, Nancy M. Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.

2012, Arthur Molella March 15. “This Kodak Moment.” National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Insitution Mithsonian Insitution, 08 Nov. 2016.

Wanyu Final Post Topic

Kodak and the rise of amateur photography

—How portable camera socialize people’s life

For my final post of this class I want to have a case study of Kodak Company, from the historical lense to flashback the past, current and the future of Kodak impact. By far the most significant event in the history of amaetur photography was the introduction of the Kodak #1 camera in 1888. Invented and marketed by George Eastman (1854 – 1932) Upon that time, the Kodak was a simple box camera that came loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film, so when the roll was finished, the entire machine was sent back to the factory and reloaded then returned to their customer when the first roll was being processed.George Eastman was successfully made photography accessible to millions of casual amateurs with no particular professional training, technical expertise or aesthetix credentials. The famous advertising campaign with the memorable slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was published in many places.the-kodak-camera-century-1889

The word after Eastman first camera had a tremendous changed and huge impact on people’s life, there was the first step of a 20-year quest that would lead him to his most iconic camera – the Brownie. Basically it changed many American families themselve to recall their family history and memory. The great majority of early snapshots were made for personal reasons: to commemorate important events (weddings, graduations, parades); to document travels and seaside holidays,  to record parties, picnics, or simple family get-togethers; to capture the appearance of children, pets, cars, and houses (The earliest Kodak photographs were printed in a circular format but later models produced a rectangular image, usually printed small enough to be held in the palm of the hand. Most snapshots produced between the 1890s and the 1950s were destined for placement in the family album, itself an important form of vernacular expression. The compilers of family albums often arranged the photographs in narrative sequences, providing factual captions along with witty commentary; some albums contain artfully elaborate collages of cut-and-pasted photographs and text, often combining personal snapshots with commercial images clipped from magazines too. I’m also interesting in the the relationship between the customer who but Kodak camera and how they treated to these magical small boxes, some amateur photographers reacted to the snapshot craze by forming organizations dedicated to promoting photography as a fine art rather the pop art. However, since the development of  camera has always way beyond than people’s expect , in the mid-1960s, the idea of a “snapshot aesthetic” began to get currency in art photography vase. (featured Garry Winogard with his black and white photos)

The impact of post-Kodak period is even stronger on current society, as one of the new media forms changes the structure of society. Paradoxically, the power of photography based on today’s technology can be turned into objects that can be symbolically possessed by anyone today.



  • Fineman, Mia. “Kodak and the Rise of Amateur Photography.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)
  • Kivowitz, Scott Wyden. “Kodak’s Importance in the Rise and Development of Photography.” Scott Wyden Kivowitz. N.p., 08 July 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.
  • Kodak: 130 years of history – Telegraph. (n.d.). – Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph – Telegraph.
  • Technological change: The last Kodak moment? | The Economist. (n.d.). The Economist – World News, Politics, Economics, Business & Finance.
  • Kodak Archives
    [Kodak developed small, portable film cameras and enabled amateur photography as middle class consumer hobby. The established socialization of consumer camera users in domestic and personal photography enabled the rapid adoption of digital cameras and smart phone cameras. Ignore the corporate PR and focus on the history.] Heritage and History of Company,  Milestones in camera and photo technologies
  • Szarkowski, John. The Photographer’s Eye. S.l.: S.n., 1970. Print.
  • Bull, Stephen. Photography. London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2010. Print.
  • Camera Heritage Museum at Saunton, VA



The Power in a Photo

        Wanyu Zhang

“Light makes photography. Embrace light, Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”    – George Eastman

There are lots of aspects we can talk today about the Camera era and photography as one kind of art. Even just go through the questions from the syllabus instruction, I’m going to breakup those questions into the photos and photographers that I want to know more and admired for long time to illustrate my answers or personal interpretation for their work.

Felix H Man

Before we start, I want to clarify what it’s photojournalist as an occupation from my point. Photojournalist needs to be qualified several things, the most vital one its they need to understand the context and use their own “weapon” to capture the best moment can related to the news story. When the audience look at the photo even without any verbal or words report, they can almost know what’s going on via photo itself. And this is the most powerful part, the photo can speak, deliver the same or even more strong emotion to the viewer. L.2002.34.66Felix H Man was one of the first photojournalists and he remains one of the great too. His photojournalist career begun from 1920s when this occupation was in its infancy. I was surprised by his work from the Picture Post – the photojournalist magazine published in UK from 1938 (UK’s equivalent LIFE magazine), screen-shot-2017-03-28-at-9-17-41-amalmost all the photographs in the very first 1938 issue were taken by Man. He managed the photos as well as provided the story, to combine an eye for a story with an ear for one. The photograph from Man I want to introduced called “Mussolini Giving orders to Teruzzi, Commandant of the Fascist Militia” Another coincidence or important turning point for a photojournalist is the great occasion or we can understand like the time he lived is part of historical moment. It’s not everyone has the chance to take photo of Mussolini at the height of his power. However, as a world famous political figure, Mussolini gave the chance to Man and that’s become one of the most newsworthy photo, the classic win-win scenario happened. Though this gelatin silver print photo we can find the expression and get message from Mussolini and he acknowledged existing official images of himself it’s political meaningful too. Obviously, this series photos of Mussolini has the unique social and iconic functions, to “humanized by presenting him in a daily routine (see more from “A day in the life of Mussolini”) I think the amazing part of Man which was the reality taken form the flow of actual events, no stages or posed at all.

Matt Stuart

When technology of camera developed, the skill of the photographer and people’s attitude also gradually improved to another level and stage. Personally, I’m interested in the street photography this specific kind. It’s a fascination with people and the way they live their lives is always attract me. So, I want to highlight a great street photographer Matt Stuart from UK and he was recently become the member of Magnum too. I like how he illustrates the city he was born and lived, because when I mentioned Felix H Man I said the historical moment can make a great photographer, however in people’s daily life there are not many historical moment happens and the common life is the main melody.screen-shot-2017-03-28-at-10-22-00-am

“ I can’t hide behind lights and technology, I am reliant on a small camera, patience and lots of optimism. But what I get in return is the chance to make an honest picture which people know immediately is a genuine moment and which hopefully burrows deep into their memories.” I think this quote from Stuart described the street photography perfectly. The great photographer always “quite” when he/she captured the moment through their lens. Stuart use Leica MP with a 35mm F1.4 lens at the most time, the classic street photographer lens, as a film street photographer at this era and can keep this high quality it’s rare, from the interview of Stuart we can find out the answer. It’s absolutely from the long term self-training, 21 years experience shooting on the street, at least 3 rolls a day. screen-shot-2017-03-28-at-10-21-24-am

Stuart’s photos do not have much caption, I always feel surprised and impressed when I go though his street photo at London. The moment he found it’s blow my mind, i know it’s the daily life based photo shooting. However, when you see the details from his photo, you will find the “hiliraious” moments all the time and never feel boring. it’s a vivid mirror of London but not in a cliche way. The iconic London red it’s everywhere from his gallery, seems familiar but never repeatable. The details symbol it’s the message he wants to deliver to his audiences, exactly a token he created of his city.

Wanyu Zhang   

I recent works on my personal website to collaborate the photos and other works I have done from lastscreen-shot-2017-03-28-at-11-19-35-am serval years. Basically, I think the power of photo it’s become more and more “solid” and more socialized. When the camera and came function of cell phone becomes super approachable to our life, it seems everything can be “imaginary”. We adapted photos as part of dairy to recored our life and even we do not have to write a lot. It’s almost change the way we used to be. “When considering the genres of personal snapshots, consider how most of our personal everyday photos (especially smartphone photos) are repetitions of clichés and stereotyped performances (like what’s posted in social media): what does it mean to use photos as tokens of social rituals?” to answer this question I do not agree with the stereotyped performance this point, because I think the photo we choose and take it’s very instant emotion expression instead of the regular performance. And the social rituals part it’s very depends, sometime people love to show their life to public or their friends and then they  post, but of course there are lots of people wants to keep their privacy and we should respect too. But I have to say the social rituals now it’s kind of blurred within the boundaries, especially when people used actively  “poster” equal to many things it can be annoying trend too. ( it’s hard to explain by words but I can explain this during the class)

Some of my favorite photographer website links as below:

The Next ?!

Wanyu Zhang

“We must expect great innovations to transform the entire techniques of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art” – Paul Valery

From our previous classes and visits to variety museums, there are lots of evidence which are the great masterpieces helps to improve the concept above from Valery, we saw many transform or remix arts exhibition collaborates the new technology and concepts to gradually develop their own and unique interfaces presentations to the public. The Toulouse-Lautrec was a great example to embrace the lithography technology to reproduce the new format from traditional graphic art and its popular since 1990 from Paris, it’s apparently leads the art from elite to the street, from the untouchable theme to an easy-going condition. “Lithography enable graphic art to provide an illustrated accompaniment to everyday life

It began to keep pace with movable-type printing. But only a few decades after the invention of lithography, graphic art was surpassed by photography” (Benjamin, 252) Obviously, it’s shows the development of the art in general, people does not satisfy by the current model of art and continually developed the new format to present their ideas, as a big fun of photography, I always appreciated the people who develop this magical technology can help people to instant catch the moment which they want. When we have begun use the eye to looking into the lens, the whole world going to change, no more brush or sketch to let you record and save the scene, this “black box” as part of the most valuable innovation from last century will being unforgettable for as long as they can.However, keeping the authenticity is a major concern when the new technology begins to reproduce the original art or way of thinking. Since when the changes in the medium of the present perception can be understood as a decay of the aura, it is possible to demonstrate the social determinant of that decay (Benjamin, 255). That part never has the same opinions on it, people has different concept of the aura, usually people define “the aura of the latter as the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be.” It’s not profound or solid formula can be insert to any art, personally the aura is like an intuition from the viewer to appreciate a specific art or artist, it indicates another fact that is always has the social basis of the aura’s present decay. I always think the whole social function of art is revolutionized, the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility will never nailed down to a single and plain definition. Photographic itself has many details can be evaluated even judged according to the traditional concept. From the historical perspective, the art of photography do not meet the long history like traditional art, so it’s still under the cultivation of art for the public because they do not develop a complete appreciation function to support.” Pictorial language has not matured, because our eyes are not yet adapted to it. There is not yet enough respect, not enough cult, for what it express.”  (Benjamin, 259) img_5632In addition, many people appreciate the photography it’s often because the photo portrait themselves in a better way or there is some special character from the photography attracted the viewer, and no one can say their empathy is from the camera itself, you only can see its approach of the new testing, in a relatively independent way, the photography got the attention from the group of certain people. Because of the camera provide an object of simultaneous collective reception, it’s easier rapidly catch people’s eyes and focus to the representation. “photographic reproduction can only provide decontextualized, disassociated views of artefacts isolated from complex and widely differing cultural functions; photographic reproduction technologies need to mobilized for democratic principles, and used with an awareness of the dangers and misrepresentations when artefacts are reduced to reproductions.” (Irvin, 3) That condition it’s as same as the lithography going to the street, the “fatal nature of technologies means that art is going to the masses.” (Benjamin, 292) We have to admitted the art or production of photography indeed open a window to the pubic which is vital to the masses to understand multiple version of art expressions and even “easier” for them to produce the art by themselves. Up to now, the artworks continued to be received the further technologies and employed by cultural institutions. (Irvine, 11) The digitization technology and online digital platforms support a new scale of the art, the context of the art and “art history” is no longer like before and they all translate to the digital language. Even museum, library still exists and embrace all over the world visitors to see the authentic works. But there are tons of people can directly go to see these art pieces online and zoom in and out to see every detail of the art works. Can you say no to this new method to approach your favorite art? I don’t think so.

“Photography, which started in a humble way as a means of making known acknowledged masterpieces to those who could not buy engravings, seems destined merely to perpetuate established values. But actually, an even greater number of works is being reproduced, in ever greater numbers, while the technical conditions of reproduction are influencing the choice of the works selected.” (Irvine, 12) I love this quote from Professor Irvine’s paper, when camera just like service or tool to help the art work be promote, perhaps no one recognized this tool can changed the world in future and almost in every industry, whether professional or unprofessional fields, it’s no longer just belong to the “tool” category, it’s updated and improved to the art and unnecessary part of the people’s life. This is more fascinating and the artistic value beyond the imagination, who knows what’s the next, but the future worth to wait.


Benjamin, Walter, Michael William Jennings, Brigid Doherty, Thomas Y. Levin, and Edmund Jephcott. 2008. The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art“.



An Analysis of Paik’s Electronic Superhighway

By Jordan Levy, Yinying Chen & Wanyu Zhang

“In the years around 1960, U.S. Pop artists made art that held up a mirror to their image-saturated society, reflecting immediately recognizable images of itself, as fast as it could produce them.” (Terry Smith, p. 24)

Entering the Lincoln Gallery was an experience of its own. The monumental gallery has a different aesthetic from its classical main-museum counterpart. Where the main Smithsonian American Art Museum incorporates natural light, classical architecture, and gilded furnishings, the Lincoln Gallery is almost exactly opposite. The Lincoln Gallery has grand vaulted ceilings, columns, and walls painted in a stark white paint to allow the contemporary works it houses to be the focal points for viewers. The gallery acts as a blank interface to avoid setting the mood for viewers. In addition, the Lincoln Gallery has all of its blinds drawn, allowing no natural light to permeate the gallery space. The white blinds blend with the white walls, allowing no interruption of nature or distraction of movement from outside.


Walking through the gallery, we were immediately drawn to the immense multimedia work Electronic Superhighway, by South Korean artist, Nam June Paik. “Constructed of 336 televisions, 50 DVD players, 3,750 feet of cable, and 575 feet of multicolored neon tubing” (SAAM website), we were taken aback at the overwhelming wave of audio and visual information. The flashing neon lights outlining each states and the video dialogues playing over each other made it hard to focus on any single portion of the immense multimedia work.


That being said, when our senses recovered and we were able to comprehend what we were viewing, we noticed several key dialogues all occurring simultaneously. First, and perhaps most obvious, was the literal dialogue between the states. Many of the states had videos with audio scripts that played over each other. Not only does each state contradictorily communicate with another, but these communications rely heavily on the principle of semiotics to understand what is truly being conveyed. For instance, In Kansas, clips from The Wizard of Oz play. Idaho’s video consists only of images of different brands of potatoes. Texas is alternating images of cowboys and horses. This ‘territorial’ iconography is an example of the principle of semiotics in that each image relies on the viewer’s cultural knowledge to make sense of its meaning. Because each video is indicative of the state’s cultural identity, viewers need prescribed knowledge of each state’s clichéd identity to fully comprehend Paik’s message about American culture. In Paik’s case, his message is “the social imaginary, the shared symbols and values belonging to a [state’s individual] culture” (Smith, p. 23). The cultural iconography found throughout Electronic Superhighway “forms a dense network of symbolic relations” that serves to educate viewers on perceived American ideals (Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture, p. 20).

Next, we noticed the dialogue between art and technology. Most of the other works in the Lincoln Gallery are composed of various forms of non-digital, physical medium. Paik is innovative in his “hybridization” of art and technology (Remix & the Dialogic Engine of Culture) in both the physical art space (the TV monitors that comprise the individual states) and the digital art space (the programming of the televisions to play his clips and audio on a loop).

The next form of dialogue we encountered was between Paik and the viewer’s of his work. Paik utilized jarring neon light tubes and moving images to reflect his impression of American interests. The auditory and visual overload serve to question American societal interest and reliance on digital media. Paik is conversing in the sense that his creation forces viewers to question their own cultural ideals.

Finally, we noticed a theoretical dialogue between curators and the artworks in the Lincoln Gallery. The gallery curators have meticulously arranged the works and effectively set the stage for viewers to enjoy and question the gallery’s pieces. By creating themed alcoves (alcoves focusing on color field works, alcoves with works incorporating text, etc.), curators have created a method for grouping the gallery’s contemporary works into manageable portions. Simultaneously, the curators have suggested a form of hierarchical importance among the works. Due to its large size and abundance of electrical equipment, Electronic Superhighway is housed in its own alcove. Perhaps this is indicative of its importance as a piece of work to be enjoyed on its own?

The dialogic principle that works across these various dialogues within the Lincoln Gallery and Electronic Superhighway “extends beyond local situations of expression, to the continuum of reinterpretation in cultural forms through historical time.” (Remix…). Paik has expressed his viewpoint in his interpretation of America’s heavy reliance on digital media. In this work especially, Paik’s differing viewpoint from many Americans in the 1990’s (when the work was created) on American cultural norms is essential to the idea of a conversational piece, or the work’s ‘dialogism’ (Remix…).

Nam June Paik was not only the creator of Electronic Superhighway, but also the father of contemporary video art (SAAM website). Paik’s jarring artistic expression of the allegory of ‘normative’ American media culture exemplifies aspects of dialogism and semiotics, but most importantly serves as a ‘prototype work’. Electronic Superhighway is a prototype for ‘conceptual art,’ meaning that the concept that the piece represents is more important than the physical manifestation (Irvine). Furthering the idea of ‘conceptual art,’ Paik’s piece relies on “conceptual frames [that] depend on cultural and subcultural encyclopedia of collective knowledges, values, and codes that provide collective ground for interpretable meanings. (Remix…)”. The dual conceptual nature of Electronic Superhighway (representing both a prototype of ‘concept art’ and the conceptual principle of semiotics) in its message of America’s outrageous reliance on television, expressed through various video monitors, effectively intertwines culture, media, technology, and art, making Paik a truly interdisciplinary artist.



Nam June Paik, Electronic Superhighway (1995). Multimedia

Smith, Terry. “Becoming Contemporary in Euroamerica.” Contemporary Art: World Currents. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2011. N. pp.16-43. Print.

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for GenerativeCombinatoriality.”In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Museum, Smithsonian American Art. “Smithsonian American Art Museum.” Smithsonian American Art Museum. Smithsonian Institution, n.d. Web.

Photo credit to Wanyu Zhang

Hello, Mucha …

” The term ‘sign’ includes every picture, diagram, natural cry, pointing finger, wink, knot in one’s handkerchief, memory, dream, fancy, concept, indication, token, symptom, letter, numeral, word, sentence, chapter, book, library, and in short whatever, be it in the physical universe, be it in the world of thought, that, whether embodying an idea of any kind (and permit  us throughout to use this term to cover purpose and feelings), or being connected with some existing object, or referring to future events through a general rule, causes something else, its interpreting sign, to be determined to a corresponding relation to the same idea, existing thing, or law” — C.S. Peirce


Time flies and lead me back to last year Thanksgiving holiday, upon that time I had the opportunity to spent half a day to go through Mucha’s art pieces and appreciate Mucha’s extraordianry talent “in person”. Alphonse Mucha, the famous Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist who produced many paintings, illustrations, advertisements, interior design, from the giant piece to the tiny stamps, everywhere in Prague I can found the unique Mucha style and taste.  “Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” (Eco 1976, 7) Through our reading from this week, semiotics appear closer to me and not only just as an academic discipline, each sign can speak, deliver the messages and to evoke the memory even euphotic value (Barches) Today, I want to pick one of my favorite one from Mucha’s Museum in Prague, called ” Zodiac”


When we thinking about the meaning of sign, it’s maybe comes out many different interpretation. Because the sign is what we produce and individual understanding, the sign is concrete and stable, even it’s international language without any barriers. Looking at the Zodiac lithography from Mucha, the stand out in the picture is the woman with her sophisticated jewelry and the dramatic hair style. Female figure like that is the sign of Mucha and they are very common themes of his artworks. Then we continue to read this painting, there are another identifiable object which is behind the woman’s head is an almost halo-like effect that displays the twelve signs of Zodiac. The linguistic message from this painting is Zodiac? or more in depth? Chandler mentioned from his book “A linguistic sign is not link between a thing and a name, but between a concept (signified) and a sound pattern (signifier)” it’s absolutely not real sound, in here we can explaining by the way we feel or sentimental sense through art piece, it’s  evoking the psycological  sympathy. Looking at the painting, when I recognized they have each zodiac symbol with the detailed paint, the first thing I start is looking for my zodiac which is Libera is in a very middle part. That moment  is what I find the connection between me and Mucha’s painting, and the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (Chandler, 36) Establishing a bridge to make each icon or sign to empower connect with any individual.

Since Zodiac is also symbolized the astrological calendar, the chemical in here is
the history and mystery indicate the variety layers from this painting. The rest of the work is a typical Art Nouveau (new art) design that is a mixture of elegant lines, flowers, and prague_praha_2014_holmstad_st-_vitus_cathedral_katedral_alfsons_alphonse_mucha_jugend_art_nouveau_window_glass_glas_jugend_flottplants a
well as a highly decorative borders. This is another sign and language from Mucha’s work which is fancy
frame or borders, it is a unique Mucham’style exemplifying a cluster of concepts, cultural meaning, and symbolic association. ( Irvine, 9) Art Nouveau means the total art style including the architecture, interior design, furniture, jewelry. That’s why at the beginning I mentioned I can see Mucha’s art everywhere in Prague, because he was participated many cathedral building decoration and government building interior design projects to dedicated his art experience back to his beloved hometown.

Style Mucha is a notable sign in Czech, and established himself as the pre-eminent exponent French Art Nouveau. Mocha’s work is not just labeled as “high art” because he worked in a variety of media and easy accessible to wide audience. He believes everything could be a work of art, from stamp, wallpaper to furniture to wardrobe to the iconic promotional posters around the entire country. This a “prototype” work, the welmunicipal_house_praguel-known forms of expression or representation as embodying to appear and atrract the real audiences. Therefore mentioned Mucha-art is like the nationalist character,because Mucha spent the half of his career focused on the Art Nouveau posters to celebrate the history and mores of Czech culture, he stirred by a pride in his country and dedication with his own belief. “I was happy to be involved in an art for the people and not for private drawing rooms. It was inexpensive, accessible to the general public, and it found a home in poor families as well as in more affluent circles.  By  Alphonse Mucha “


  1. Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.
  2. Irvine, Martin,  Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and Visual Media, Communication, Culture & Technology ProgramGeorgetown University, 2017.
  3. Mucha Foundation,
  4. Roland Barthes, “Rhetoric of the Image.” In Image, Music, Text, translated by Stephen Heath, 32–51. New York: Hill and Wang, 1988.
  5. All images locate from Mucha Foundation and Wikipedia