Kodak and Metadata

Thanks to Edward Snowden, everyone with a television, radio, Internet connection or newspaper subscription has heard of metadata.  Unfortunately, the innocuous metadata has received a bad rap when really the problem has been the questionable collection and storing of metadata.  Metadata or “data about data” has been around long before the term was coined in the late 60’s.  It may surprise readers to learn that Kodak was involved with data preservation 100 years ago.

In 1914 Kodak released their line of autographic film and cameras.  The roll film, invented by Henry Jacques Gaisman, had a thin piece of carbon paper backing that allowed the photographer to write a note directly on the film.  This note would be included between the images on the negative and violà, early metadata.  George Eastman saw the potential with the film and bought the invention for $300,000 (over $7 million today).  Kodak advertised it as “the greatest photographic advance in twenty years”.  The autographic cameras came with a metal stylus and a special camera back that included a small door that would be opened to write the note or date.  One year later, Kodak released upgraded camera backs with little doors for existing cameras that would allow them to use the new film (nearly a century before Apple would do the same).  The line was heavily advertised and many cameras with different price points were introduced.  Unfortunately, the idea never took off and the line was discontinued in 1932.  One of the reasons for this still rings true – users kept loosing the stylus!

Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted one of these cameras for my collection and recently got my hands on one.  It’s a 1a Autographic Kodak Series III, circa 1924 which originally sold for $32 (over $400 today) and it’s beautiful!  The bellows are still intact and the shutter still works.  It’s a lovely example of Art Deco design – most importantly – it has the original stylus!




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