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Neil Montanus: The Photographer Who Shot the Most Kodak Coloramas

The Eastman Kodak Firm displayed Coloramas – big backlit photographs 18 ft excessive and 60 ft lengthy – at Grand Central Terminal in New York Metropolis for 40 years beginning within the Fifties. The photographer who made 55 of them was Neil Montanus.

Kodak created the Colorama to market the usage of Kodak cameras and movie to on a regular basis individuals. On weekdays 650,000 commuters handed by means of Grand Central Terminal, and this was the right “artwork gallery” to point out a captive viewers touring to or from work an idealized picture of what post-war household life needs to be and, with that, a delicate trace of how Kodak coloration movies may simply seize on a regular basis reminiscences for the plenty.

In all of the early photographs, a photographer was prominently proven capturing the second with a Kodak digicam.

Coloramas, ‘The World’s Largest Pictures’

The phrase “Colorama” got here from the 1939 New York World’s Honest the place Kodak exhibited a curved display screen in order that you wouldn’t get distortion from the a number of projectors that really made up the picture and “rama” is type of a curved construction. The Grand Central picture was not curved however equally giant, and the identical title was used.

Capitol Constructing, Washington D.C. Though the Capitol rotunda is lit at night time, the decrease facade shouldn’t be. For this picture, the Capitol was illuminated with moveable mills and lights. As well as, Neil needed to carry all of his heavy tools, consisting of his view digicam, tripod, and movie case, up a slim stairway to the highest of the Library of Congress the place the shot was taken. Lots of Neil’s 40-second exposures at f22 had been ruined by the lights of airplanes flying out and in of Washington’s Nationwide Airport or by occasional wind gusts that shook his 8×10 digicam. Conscious of those issues, Neil shot a lot of movies and was lucky to seize no less than one good picture. Displayed in Grand Central Station starting on January 12, 1981

Within the post-WW II Kodak advert campaigns created by the “mad males” at J. Walter Thompson, the emphasis was on displaying newbie photographers that coloration movie was as straightforward to make use of as B&W and the Coloramas had been a continuation of the identical push.

Coloramas, backlit by a mile of chilly cathode tubing, confirmed photographs of American households driving, boating, enjoying with their kids of their dwelling rooms, on the pumpkin patch, dancing, or just having fun with the great life. Kodak paid $93,000 lease per yr in 1950, and this rose to 500,000 {dollars} in 1989.

Within the 4 a long time that the Colorama program ran, Kodak produced 565 photographs, and within the early a part of this system, the photographs had been modified each few weeks to maintain up the freshness and pleasure for the viewers.

In Might 1950, when the primary Colorama was revealed, Edward Steichen, Director of the Division of Images at New York’s Museum of Fashionable Artwork, telegraphed Kodak with these phrases: “EVERYONE IN GRAND CENTRAL AGOG AND SMILING. ALL JUST FEELING GOOD.”

The primary Colorama put in at Grand Central Terminal in 1950.
A crowd in Grand Central Terminal beneath a Kodak Colorama of a boy’s choir in December 1953. Picture by Angelo Rizzuto.
A Kodak Colorama at Grand Central Terminal in 1955.
A Kodak Colorama and Kodak Data heart in 1960. The Colorama exhibits a bowling alley.
Grand Central Terminal in 1961, displaying blackened home windows and Kodak Exhibit Heart, 1961.
The grand concourse of Grand Central Terminal in 1986. A Kodak Colorama is seen within the background. Picture by Metro-North Commuter Railroad.

The Most Prolific Colorama Photographer

Neil Montanus, who handed away in 2019 at age 92, was essentially the most prolific Coloramas photographer, having shot 55 of them.

“My dad was relentless with the digicam, continually taking photos of us children and all the things else,” his son Jim Montanus, a professional photographer in Rochester, New York, tells PetaPixel. “A lot in order that it drove us nuts typically. However that was one of many secrets and techniques of his profession: that his shutter hardly ever stopped clicking.

“And that included continuous digicam, movie and method testing. He by no means stopped studying, and in accordance with his fellow photographers within the Kodak picture studios, he was endlessly curious, typically visiting their studio units desirous to see what they had been as much as and asking many questions.”

Teen Dance in basement recreation room taken on a set inbuilt Kodak studios. Colorama #193 – displayed in Grand Central Station October 1961
Mr. Montanus crouched by a big custom-built view digicam on the set of a teenage dance Colorama. Credit score: Eastman Kodak Firm

The primary Colorama that Montanus captured was a pair boating in Vermont with the autumn foliage behind and the water cascading over the pool’s edge onto rocks under.

Neil’s first Colorama, someplace in Vermont. Colorama #175 – displayed in Grand Central Station September 1960

Montanus drove round for a couple of days, trying to find an acceptable scene. When he discovered a lake that may work, he acquired a rowboat and painted it crimson. He acquired an area couple to mannequin for him, and a picture-perfect composition for a Colorama was born on an 8×20-inch Deardorff digicam utilizing a really sturdy tripod.

The 8×20 Deardorff was a Banquet Digicam designed with a slim facet ratio additionally made in 7×17″ or 12×20″ to make sure that all of the visitors seated at a banquet desk had been recognizable. As wide-angle lenses and smaller codecs turned widespread, their use died out.

Neil taking pictures in Spain within the late ’50s with an 8×10 view digicam.

Banquet cameras had been not used within the Fifties, however Kodak acquired Deardorff to {custom} make them for the Colorama venture as they had been an excellent match for the required facet ratio of about 1:3.

In 1956 – two years after Neil landed his dream job at Kodak – he created this self-portrait.

Different photographs Montanus produced had been Teen Dance within the Basement, Autumn Scene in Lake Placid, Adirondack Mountains of New York, Discotheque, Household Springtime Scene – close to Atlanta, Georgia, Richardson’s Canal Home Inn, Bushnell’s Basin, New York, and lots of extra stateside and likewise in worldwide places.

The First Underwater Colorama

Jim Montanus remembers his father telling him how he developed an underwater digicam for use for taking pictures a Colorama in 1977.

First Underwater Colorama – taken in US Virgin Islands. The growing recognition of underwater pictures prompted this Colorama. A water-tight, plexiglass housing with a wire finder was constructed for a 100-foot lengthy roll movie Ok-19 aerial digicam. When the digicam with housing was connected to a tripod with weights, the whole unit may relaxation on the ocean ground. For the reason that aerial digicam couldn’t be synced to flash for higher illumination, 4 650-watt underwater film lights had been used as an alternative to assist cut back the extreme blue tinge of the seawater. Displayed in Grand Central Station starting on October 6, 1977

The photographer jerry-rigged an aerial digicam with a big movie load, 10″ huge. Sadly, it targeted solely at infinity, and he needed to shim the lens to come back ahead to make it focus at 11 ft. This was an enormous digicam, and a custom-made monstrous underwater housing was created out of three-quarter-inch plexiglass.

The housing had an excessive amount of air in it and stored floating to the floor, so it needed to be weighed down with eight stainless-steel rods.

“It was the story of how he and a buddy pioneered underwater pictures methods to create the world’s first underwater Colorama,” says Jim Montanus. “They custom-built enormous underwater housing for a classic Fairchild Ok-17 WWII aerial reconnaissance digicam after which modified the Ok-17 to shoot roll movie with out the electrical energy [by hand cranking] it might have had in a WWII bomber.”

From a Large Banquet Digicam to a ‘Tiny’ Nikon

The final Colorama Montanus shot was of a Cheetah in Kenya, Africa, in 1989. In these 30 odd intervening years, movie emulsions had turn into a lot thinner and sharper, and it was attainable to enlarge it to 60 ft even from a one-and-half-inch huge 35mm transparency.

The transition from a 25 lb. behemoth of a banquet digicam in 1960 on an equally heavy tripod to a handholdable 35mm was unbelievable. Additionally, Montanus may rapidly leap again within the truck when the cheetah “loped over to research.”

Cheetah, Masai Mara Recreation Reserve, Kenya, Africa, Typically a Colorama photographer needed to be each quick along with his digicam and quick on his ft. Whereas Neil Montanus was on task in Kenya, his driver noticed this cheetah. Nevertheless, the view wanting down from the Land Rover’s window was disappointing. With nice care, Neil slipped out the alternative door, crawled round on the grass and peered by means of his 300mm telephoto lens. The animal’s alert face crammed the viewfinder. Click on, click on, click on . . . with the motor drive advancing. The cheetah growled menacingly. One other click on and Neil was again within the Land Rover nearly earlier than the digicam’s motor drive stopped whirring. And earlier than the cheetah loped over to research — luckily, he hadn’t leaped! Displayed in Grand Central Station starting on January 17, 1989

“300mm f/2.8 Nikkor, and at the moment, it might have been a Nikon F4, I imagine,” says Jim Montanus.”

The Cameras, Movies, Lighting, and Printing of Coloramas

“Additionally, later in this system, Coloramas had been taken with the Linhoff Technorama [panoramic images on 120 film] digicam,” provides Jim Montanus. “Just a few had been shot with a Hasselblad.

“The Coloramas had been shot on codecs beginning with 8×20” to 35mm movie. They had been all [except for one] shot on coloration detrimental movie. VPS 120, Vericolor sort S. No less than one was shot on 35mm Ektar movie. One was shot on 35mm Kodachrome. Additionally, some used the middle cropped part of an 8×10 VPS Detrimental.

Christmas Carolers. The Christmas set was constructed within the Kodak Studios and Neil utilized native Rochester modeling expertise. The most important downside was the way to make frost on the home windows. Kodak scientists advisable a mix of urea and alcohol. It labored! Colorama #195 – displayed in Grand Central Station December 1961

“My Dad used early digital strobes to do the shot [Christmas Carolers],” Jim says. “Ascor 800 flash items however used photofloods for focusing.

“The Coloramas had been first printed on Ektacolor print movie, then afterward Duratrans print materials. Relying on what yr it was made, there have been both 20 or 15 vertical strips [printed in sections and then glued/taped together] in every Colorama.”

Koalas, Sydney, Australia. Koalas are nocturnal animals that play at night time and eat eucalyptus leaves in the course of the day. Scientists assume the leaves convey on a type of drug-induced stupor that introduced one problem in getting this picture. One other problem was attempting to get the koalas to go away the shade in the course of the warmth of the day. For 3 days Neil Montanus labored with the animals with little success. Lastly, a mannequin was introduced in to speak to the koalas, preserve them awake, and assist get this shot. Displayed in Grand Central Station. February, 1981
Skier and aircraft on a glacier excessive within the Swiss Alps, with Matterhorn in background. Displayed in Grand Central Station January 27–February 17, 1964.
Autumn Scene in Lake Placid, Adirondack Mountains of New York. Colorama #279 – displayed in Grand Central Station starting on October 10, 1966

On the sixth ground of a Kodak constructing (B28) was a swimming pool that was by no means full of water, and right here the Colorama transparencies had been dried in a single day. The pool backside was additionally used to show and test the complete transparency earlier than being trucked out to Grand Central Terminal for the set up in the midst of the night time. A small mild panel was moved beneath the transparency to “proof” and see how the picture would look when it was lastly backlit.

“The print itself price $30,000 to make,” Jim Montanus says. “The prices to shoot it assorted wildly. One photographer shot one on his desk. Whereas others traveled to far-flung locations all over the world.”

One in every of Neil’s very early assignments, photographing the meeting of 35 mm Kodak rangefinder cameras at what was then an infinite industrial complicated referred to as Kodak Park in Rochester.

Neil Montanus’s Journey to Kodak

Montanus (1927- 2019) grew up within the tiny Midwestern city of Ashton, Illinois, in the course of the melancholy. At age 10, he gained a Chicago Tribune picture contest of a kitten contained in the bell of a tuba. That picture sealed his destiny and profession.

World Conflict II was underway when Montanus turned 18, and he joined as a photographer and sharpshooter. He later attended the Rochester Institute of Expertise on the G.I. Invoice.

Kodak Promoting shot. 1959.

Montanus graduated from RIT in 1953 in portraiture and picture promoting illustrations. After commencement, he was employed because the supervisor of a giant portrait studio close to Chicago. A yr later, Kodak employed him as a portrait specialist in 1954. A secondary job got here from RIT, which requested Montanus to show portraiture in a night division.

Traditional Kodak promoting shot, 1963.

Montanus ended up working at Kodak for 35 years. Quickly after becoming a member of, he started to kind his personal distinctive fashion versus the formulaic promoting pictures of Kodak. He excelled and perfected photographing dance, nudes, tremendous artwork, portraiture, landscapes, and underwater pictures, however his crowning glory was the Colorama venture. His departmental boss knew that when Montanus proposed a shoot, he would at all times return with the photographs.

Neil and Cybil Shephard taking a lunch break on the seashore on Lengthy Island, NY throughout a photograph shoot early in her profession.

The Colorama photographer was additionally a nude pictures specialist and taught it for 30 years.

“He taught nude pictures on the Kodak Digicam Membership in Rochester,” says his son. “Kodak was tremendous with that, with the caveat that he couldn’t do the photoshoots within the Kodak studios, so that they needed to be on location.”

In getting ready publicity for the New York World’s Honest in 1964, Kodak introduced in Emmett Kelly Jr. for a portrait and a number of other different picture shoots whereas he was on the town. This preliminary assembly led to an incredible collaboration between Neil and Emmett which lasted for a few years.

A Portrait of Walt Disney

“Walt Disney was my favourite,” stated Montanus to the Democrat and Chronicle on March 31, 2017. “He was in Rochester as a result of he got here to Kodak to speak about sponsoring a present on TV. He and I acquired alongside fantastically.”

He got here away with an expert portrait of Disney sitting in a chair whereas sporting a navy-blue swimsuit and holding a pencil and a notepad.

By 1961 coloration TV was starting to interchange black and white and Kodak started to sponsor the “Walt Disney’s Great World of Colour” present on Sunday evenings. This led to one among Neil’s first massive assignments as a Kodak staffer, to take a portrait of Walt Disney.

Disney executives subsequently referred to as Montanus’ portrait “the perfect portrait ever taken of Walt Disney,” and it’s nonetheless in use at Disney services immediately.

Going Digital at Age 75

“Although he was round 75 years outdated when digital started to turn into extra mainstream, he beloved the immediacy of digital — the flexibility to proof the work immediately and likewise the management it gave him over the enhancing course of,” says Jim Montanus. “Particularly coming from a world the place he and different professional photographers used polaroid backs to proof their photographs again within the day – an costly and tedious course of.

“And enhancing large-format coloration photographs had been executed by another person at Kodak. Digital gave him extra inventive management. And though he constructed a darkroom in his house after retiring from Kodak, he most well-liked the ‘digital darkroom.’

The Misplaced Coloramas

The archive continues to be bodily positioned within the household house’s basement, which Jim’s son bought from the property. Jim Montanus is engaged on discovering a everlasting house for the archive however not till he has had an opportunity to undergo and digitize most of the photographs.

Speaking with kids within the Peruvian Andes alongside what was then an arduous hike as much as the misplaced metropolis of Machu Pichu.

“One explicit vibrant spot: I discovered a field containing dozens of unique Colorama negatives that had been by no means utilized in Grand Central however are nonetheless wonderful in their very own proper,” says Jim Montanus. “I referred to as these the ‘Misplaced Coloramas’ and had a gallery present on the new Kodak Heart in Rochester a few years in the past. It’s an unbelievable expertise as I am going by means of the archive discovering imagery from all over the world beginning within the 50s.”

There are over 100 panoramic pictures that had been by no means chosen by Kodak to be displayed as Coloramas.

Rio Road Photographers, 1978. Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal

“One such picture – a gritty portrait of ten Rio Road Photographers taken within the Seventies is an prompt basic, full with do-it-yourself view cameras normal from cardboard and different supplies,” writes the Rochester Institute of Expertise College Gallery.

A lot of the Coloramas had been shot by Kodak employees photographers like Neil Montanus, Ralph Amdursky, Steve Kelly, Sam Campanaro, and others. Kodak did fee massive names in American pictures like Ansel Adams, Ernest Haas, Eliot Porter, Phoebe Dunn, Ozzie Candy and Ira Spring.

Australia, 1979

Though Montanus was a employees photographer at Kodak, he operated extra like {a magazine} photographer. Throughout his three and a half a long time with the movie big, he traveled and photographed in 32 international locations and among the most unique locations on earth at a time when Kodak journey budgets had been limitless. He shot in Europe many occasions, Africa, Australia, South America, India, Taiwan, and the South Pacific. He even spent a number of nights with a former headhunting tribe within the jungles of Borneo.

Traditional picture of Kodak’s photographic studio on the third ground of Kodak Workplace in Rochester, NY. Every photographer had their very own studio house as proven. With 22 employees photographers on the time, this quantity was ultimately whittled down to 2 individuals.

“I couldn’t have requested for a greater job,” stated Montanus at age 87 to WROC-TV (channel 8) in Rochester, New York.

In response to Jim Montanus, Grand Central Station was about to endure a significant renovation [in 1990] to return it to its unique structure. And this marked the top of an period of Kodak Coloramas. The ultimate picture was an apple [referencing Big Apple for New York City] tucked right into a glittering skyline as Kodak bid farewell after 40 lengthy years.

You possibly can see extra of Neil Montanus’ work on his web site.

In regards to the writer: Phil Mistry is a photographer and trainer primarily based in Atlanta, GA. He began one of many first digital digicam courses in New York Metropolis at The Worldwide Heart of Images within the 90s. He was the director and trainer for Sony/Common Images journal’s Digital Days Workshops. You possibly can attain him right here.

Picture credit: All photographs courtesy of Jim Montanus, Neil Montanus Property and Eastman Kodak Firm

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