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Colorama! 'The World's Largest Photographs' Are Back

In 1950, the acclaimed fashion photographer Edward Steichen sent Kodak a telegram from Grand Central Terminal in New York: EVERYONE IN GRAND CENTRAL AGOG AND SMILING. ALL JUST FEELING GOOD.

It was probably the first time many of them had seen a Colorama transparency on display — and at a whopping, glowing 18 feet high and 60 feet wide, it was indeed a sight to behold. Kodak introduced these phantasmagoric ads in the 1950s, and over the course of 40 years displayed 565 of them at Grand Central. Backlit with more than a mile of tubing, the colorful panoramas often showed impossibly happy people photographing beautiful scenes — reinforcing the idea that travelers should document the fleeting moments of life (with a Kodak camera, of course).

View of a Colorama on display in Grand Central Terminal Courtesy of George Eastman House hide caption

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Courtesy of George Eastman House

View of a Colorama on display in Grand Central Terminal

Courtesy of George Eastman House

For years the Colorama was a visual mainstay in New York's train station, and although many viewers lamented its discontinuation in 1990, they can now rejoice in its return. Just in time for the Colorama's 60th anniversary, Kodak donated its collection of Colorama materials to George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. And an aptly titled exhibition, Colorama, is on display at the museum through October, at which point it will go on tour.

Harvesting a wheat field, Pendleton, Ore. Displayed 1961 Ansel Adams/Courtesy of George Eastman House hide caption

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Ansel Adams/Courtesy of George Eastman House

Harvesting a wheat field, Pendleton, Ore. Displayed 1961

Ansel Adams/Courtesy of George Eastman House

Touted by Kodak as "the world's largest photographs," the panoramic prints involved a remarkably complex technical process. Each print required a task force of Kodak experts — with an occasional guest director like Ansel Adams (see above) or Norman Rockwell. A variety of large format cameras were used throughout the years and, according to Eastman House's news release, "in early years the wet 20-foot transparencies were dried overnight in the swimming pool at Kodak's employee recreation center."

The exhibition celebrates the Colorama's visual power, and pays homage to a process that required craft as much as technology. In a sense, the exhibition's nostalgic tone is in perfect keeping with Kodak's early advertisements. Are you agog and smiling yet?

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Learn more about the Colorama process on Kodak's website.