In 1950, the Eastman Kodak Company launched a billboard advertisement campaign in Grand Central Terminal that would become a staple cultural component of the famous railway station for four decades. Now, 20 years later and with the centennial celebration of the terminal just months away, some of the images have returned to their original home.
Kodak Coloramas — massive, panoramic photographs depicting idealized scenes of American life — were once championed as “the world’s largest photographs.” A single Colorama ad, measuring 18 feet high and 60 feet wide, dominated the east interior wall of the terminal’s main concourse.
Beginning July 28, visitors will be able to view scaled-down prints of the iconic images on display at the New York Transit Museum, located in the Gallery Annex of Grand Central Terminal. The Kodak Colorama exhibit includes 36 prints, which, at about two feet high and six feet wide each, are a mere fraction the size of the original images.
The advertisements ran continuously from 1950 to 1990, with Kodak boasting 565 different photographs over a 40-year period. Every three weeks, like clockwork, the company would undertake the expensive and laborious process of replacing the ad with a new image.
“The Colorama images were highly stylized ideas of American life that became part of the Grand Central experience for millions of visitors over a 40-year span,” said Gabrielle Shubert, director of the Transit Museum.
The campaign ended in 1990, when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared Grand Central Terminal a landmark.
Many of the images, which portray idealized snapshots of 20th century American culture, are reminiscent of Norman Rockwell paintings; and not without reason. Rockwell — famous for his paintings and illustrations of everyday American life — served as an artistic director on some of the photo shoots for the Colorama campaign, according to Rob Del Bagno, manager of exhibits for the Transit Museum.
Although the ad campaign ran for four decades, the exhibit features only photographs from the 1960s.
“The curator felt that that decade was the heyday of Kodak — and the heyday of advertising,” Del Bagno said.
He added that the exhibit, which will run until November 1, marks one of many upcoming events and activities meant to honor the centennial of of Grand Central Terminal. The iconic New York transportation hub, which opened to railway traffic in 1913, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in February.
“As we prepare for our Centennial, the return of these images serves as a reminder of how Grand Central has been at the center of life and culture in New York and the Northeast for all these decades,” Shubert said.
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