Film review: Photo City
by Allan LEONARD
13 April 2018
Photo City is a documentary film by John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú, about the story of Rochester, New York, becoming the Silicon Valley of photography, with the clustering of image-based companies such as Xerox, Bausch and Lomb, and Kodak. And how this industry has defined this city and its people, even after the demise of the film producing great, Kodak.
It is a story of photography and society.
The documentarians do a fine job covering the breath of photography. The community photographer. The Facebook posterer. The musician/writer/photographer artist. The advertising man. The photojournalist. The teacher. The student. The inventor. The shop floor worker. The museum archivist.
The act of photography permeates the social fabric of the city’s neighbourhoods, across economic status, vocations, and generations.
We learn about the rise and fall of Kodak in particular, who was a dominant employer. Indeed, its annual bonus cheques would generate even more consumption and wealth for local businesses. So as is the case anywhere where a lead company shrinks, so did the prosperity of Rochester with the demise of Kodak.
But the film strikes a chord of optimism. As one participant said, “The fall of Kodak has unleashed talent to do other things.” And we are presented with how the city still attracts and retains those intrigued about photography and image making.
Photo City is a humanist film. It tells the stories of the people behind the camera.
As the photojournalist explained, “The camera is just a tool. What needs to be perfect is the subject matter to evoke an emotional response.”
This is followed by two further deeply impacting stories.
The final scene brings the wider community together, which I found to be both celebratory but also tinged with nostalgia — can the unleashed talent sustain what must be one of the most image conversant populations in America?