Moments On Repeat: The Ritual of Making Holiday Pictures

Agra/Corrinne Vionnet


The occasions deemed worthy of photographing have only grown over the years, and the range of the images that result from this are as wide (and as wild) as our imaginations. However, when it comes to holiday pictures, we can still detect a forceful aesthetic conservativism. How can we explain this apparent continuation of the ritualistic ‘Kodak moment’, specifically with regard to travel and leisure?

At the end of the twentieth century, following an extensive inquiry on photography as a middle-brow art, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his team arrived at the conclusion that the medium has given an aesthetic satisfaction that spans all levels of society. That is to say, regardless of whether someone is using the camera as a means to preserve the euphoria of celebration or as a way to bestow a scene or subject with the dignity of a work of art, they’re having a great time. Either way, it is by now obvious that this democratization of the medium did not just happen overnight. In fact, the recreational practice of taking pictures evolved from a very successful marketing strategy of one company in particular: Kodak.

Indeed, Kodak’s ‘you press the button, we do the rest’ slogan was a reference to the package deal they offered of experiences and the means of recording them, since they could supply both the functional device (the camera) and the means to get results from it (film), while also promising super easy processing to arrive at the finished products (photographic images). But what’s even more significant in the popularization of amateur photography, is that George Eastman (1854–1932) turned out to be savvy enough to not only attract the masses to the medium, but also to position his start-up (Kodak) in such a way that the users of his products could be trained in when and how to take pictures.

Eastman’s company managed to successfully surf the wave of mass tourism that was fast approaching: in the beginning of the twentieth century, due to economic and technological progress which stimulated individual mobility, there were more people who were in the position to travel. Kodak seized this opportunity two times over, by first opening shops at tourist hotspots such as Niagara Falls, and second by investing in viewing platforms for the sightseeing locations. They even placed prefabricated frames that would help the visitors in the perfection of their compositions. They meanwhile also initiated a Hula Show in Hawaii, a staged performance of local dancers that allowed tourists to construct an idealized picture of that experience. Similar initiatives were soon enough effectively carried out and popularized elsewhere, and those opportunities were successfully advertised as ‘Kodak moments’.

This is a well-documented history, of course, but it is nevertheless good to be reminded of it, if only to articulate the fundamental changes that have occurred in the ways in which amateur photographers have approached the medium ever since.

Full article in: GUP #51, Rituals