George Eastman House in Rochester, NY

As a Cleveland transplant, I’ve learned to really love post-industrial cities.  Except when driving through an unfamiliar part of town, following directions mandating a “slight left at the lights” and the road signs at the lights look something like below:


Thank you, Cleveland, for occasionally being utterly impossible to navigate.  So, Valentine’s Day weekend, I headed east for a wedding and explored a different post-industrial dystopia – enter Rochester, New York in mid-February.  It was everything Rochester is supposed to be – cold, grey, snowwy.  Still, I spent a warm weekend singing, dancing, and eating by the electric fireplace (i.e. an aesthetically pleasing space heater)  with old friends, new friends, and family.  Despite having family in Rochester, this was the first time I actually spent time in the city, and I absolutely fell in love with the George Eastman House.

Confession:  I love large, wealthy peoples’ homes, especially those turned museums.  I was delighted to discover that the Eastman House was also a fantastic photography museum! First stop, Eastman’s Technology collection:

GEast Cameras

Clockwise, from top left: (1) Lewis Style Daguerrotype c. 1848, (2) Lunar Orbiter, (3) Kodak Brownie Starflash 1957-1965, (4) Vitascope c. 1895ish?

Resident photographer-friend Laura, in her geeked-out state, served as our trusty tour guide, explaining the history and technology behind each of the many, many cameras.  How lucky!

Next stop, Camera Obscura! As Laura (and the exhibit signs) explained, a Camera Obscura is basically a giant pinhole camera.  Light from an external scene passes through a small hole and is reflect, upside down, in a dark room with the external scene’s color and perspective preserved.   The scene reflected here was a bouquet of flowers, but you could also see the shadowwy figures of other exhibit goers, upsidedown, surrounding the flowers.  Cool doesn’t even begin to describe it!

After this, we finally went and explored Mr. Eastman’s house itself – and my word, what a gorgeous example of how the “other half” lived.  A Dutch flower exhibition filled the extravagant halls and stairs with flowers – tulips, lillies, hydrangeas, gardenias, irises… And all the rooms were maintained with the Eastman family’s personal effects – the bathroom even contained dressing gowns and grooming items.  Rolls of music stashed under the organs filled the home with music, and Mr. Eastman’s pimped out office/billiards room served as inspiration for my future lawyerly office.  Winter unfortunately made the grounds inaccessible but even from inside, the windows revealed grounds straight out of my childhood imagination of The Secret Garden. 

GEast House

Last stop, a spectacular exhibition: Silver and Water  Giant photographs, taken with a boxcar-sized pinhole camera, traced industry and wealth across the U.S., from the California to New York.  Once again, it was useful to be touring the museum with Photographer Laura and Engineer Jeff, who kindly explained the technology behind the giant prints.

GEast 8

Finally, after this long day of photo-touring, we ended the day on a very Rochester-like note: dinner at Wegman’s in Pittsford.  There’s so much more to the city that I’d love to discover, but since this weekend was reserved mostly for friends, family, and a wedding, our frolic and detours were somewhat limited.  But my, what a weekend! And what a gem of a museum!


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