Neil Montanus Portfolio - Coloramas
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Coloramas photographed by Neil Montanus

From 1950 until 1990, Kodak’s Coloramas were familiar to millions of commuters in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The panoramic photographs—18 feet by 60 feet—presented an idealized view of life in 20th-century America and promoted photography as an essential leisure activity.

Coloramas were promoted by Kodak as “the world’s largest photographs” and called “technically remarkable” by Ansel Adams, who photographed several. The towering backlit transparencies were 18-feet high and 60-feet wide, each illuminated by more than a mile of tubing.

A total of 565 Coloramas were publicly displayed, changing out every three weeks. When each new Colorama was unveiled, it often received an ovation from New York City residents and travelers. Photographer Edward Steichen telegraphed Kodak upon viewing a Colorama in 1950, stating, “EVERYONE IN GRAND CENTRAL AGOG AND SMILING. ALL JUST FEELING GOOD.”

Neil's crowning achievement might have been his work on the famed Kodak Colorama project. Once forgotten and now considered a key piece of Americana and photographic history, Neil shot 55 of the 565 Coloramas. More fascinating history on the Kodak Colorama...
 
 


Cheetah, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya, Africa 
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on January 17, 1989 


Sometimes a Colorama photographer had to be both fast with his camera and fast on his feet. While Neil Montanus was on assignment in Kenya, his driver spotted this cheetah. However, the view looking down from the Land Rover's window was disappointing. With great care, Neil slipped out the opposite door, crawled around on the grass and peered through his 300mm telephoto lens. The animal's alert face filled the viewfinder. Click, click, click . . . with the motor drive advancing. The cheetah growled menacingly. Another click, and Neil was back in the Land Rover almost before the camera's motor drive stopped whirring. And before the cheetah loped over to investigate --- fortunately, he hadn't leaped! View larger image
 


Snnrise Over Rio, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on October 6, 1977


Moonrise over Rio De Janiero, Brazil. The smaller format Linhof Technorama camera permitted a 30 sec exposure at f 5.6 at dusk. Because the Linhof's lens is 8 times faster than that found on an 8x10 view camera, Neil Montanus was able to capture this event on 100 speed Vericolor II, type L film. View larger image
 


Christmas Carolers 
Colorama #195 - displayed in Grand Central Station December 1961


The Christmas set was built in the Kodak Studios and Neil utilized local Rochester modeling talent. The biggest problem was how to make frost on the windows. Kodak scientists recommended a combination of urea and alcohol. It worked!  View larger image
 


First Underwater Colorama - taken in US Virgin Islands
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on October 6, 1977


The increasing popularity of underwater photography prompted this Colorama. A water-tight, plexiglass housing with a wire finder was built for a 9 inch wide x 100 foot long roll film K-19 aerial camera. When the camera with housing was attached to a tripod with lead weights, the entire unit could rest on the ocean floor. Since the aerial camera couldn't be synched to flash for better illumination, four 650-watt underwater movie lights were used instead to help reduce the excessive blue tinge of the sea water. View larger image
 


Teen Dance in basement recreation room 
Colorama #193  - displayed in Grand Central Station October 1961


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Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on January 12, 1981 
Grand Central Station beginning on January 12,

Although the Capitol rotunda is lit a night, the lower facade is not. For this photo the Capitol was illuminated with portable generators and lights. In addition, Neil had to carry all of his heavy equipment, consisting of his view camera, tripod, and film case, up a narrow stairway to the top of the Library of Congress where the shot was taken. Many of Neil's 40 second exposures at f22 were ruined by lights of airplanes flying in and out of Washington's National Airport or by occasional wind gusts that shook his 8x10 camera. Aware of these problems, Neil shot lots of film and was fortunate to capture at least one perfect image. View larger image
 


Jackson Hole Wyoming at Dusk, with backdrop of Grand Tetons
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on December 1, 1975


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Presidential State of the Union Address, Capitol Building, Washington D.C. 
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on January 26, 1976


To celebrate America's Bicentennial, the Capitol's House of Representatives was completely refurbished. A pair of Coloramas documented the results as Congress listened to President Ford's 2nd State of the Union message. Both sides of the aisle were shown in consecutive Grand Central displays to assure full representation of all members of Congress and Federal officials.
 


Lost City of Machu Picchu, Andes Mountains of Peru 
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on January 17, 1977



 


Richardson's Canal House Inn, Bushnell's Basin, New York 
Displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on May 3, 1983


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Autumn Scene in Lake Placid, Adirondack Mountains of New York 
Colorama #279 - displayed in Grand Central Station beginning on October 10, 1966


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Skier and plane on a glacier high in the Swiss Alps, with Matterhorn in background.
Displayed in Grand Central Station January 27--February 17, 1964.


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Neil's first Colorama, somewhere in Vermont
Colorama #175 - displayed in Grand Central Station September, 1960


 


Portuguese Fishing Village, Nazare, Portugal
Displayed in Grand Central Station August 9--August 30, 1965


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Discotheque
Displayed in Grand Central Station February 13--March 3, 1967


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Vermont Fall Foliage Scene
Colorama #328 - displayed in Grand Central Station September, 1969


 


Family Springtime Scene - near Atlanta, Georgia
Colorama #406 - displayed in Grand Central Station March, 1975


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Koalas, Sydney, Australia
Displayed in Grand Central Station February, 1981


Koalas are nocturnal animals that play at night and eat eucalyptus leaves during the day. Scientists think the leaves bring on a kind of drug-induced stupor that presented one challenge in getting this photo. Another challenge was trying to get the koalas to leave the shade during the heat of the day. For three days Neil Montanus worked with the animals with little success. Finally, a model was brought in to talk to the koalas, keep them awake, and help get this shot.
 


The Lost Coloramas

Some of the best Coloramas never saw the light of day. Recently discovered in Neil's archives were more than a hundred Coloramas which were never chosen by Kodak to be displayed in Grand Central Station. Many of these Coloramas have not been seen in more than 40 years. This collection is quite remarkable and is viewable upon request.

Rio Street Photographers, 1978
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Acropolis Dancers for Worlds Fair, taken in Athens, Greece. 1964
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal

 


 "The Girl from Ipanema", Brazilian Model on Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Spanish Mission Town, Brazil, 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Brazialian Fisherman tending to their nets, Brazil. 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Model in Bahia, Brazil, 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Tasmanian Cave. 1978
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Sydney, Australia Opera House. 1978
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


 

 


Bahia Brazil, 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Amazon River Fishing Village. 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Carnival, Rio De Janeiro, 1978
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Sunset, Rio de Janeiro. 1976
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Waterfalls, Guam, South Pacific. 1981
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


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Australian Cliffs. 1978
Not displayed in Grand Central Terminal


 



Neil shooting the 'Teen Dance' Colorama at Kodak studios on State Street in Rochester, NY.


More Colorama history  (con't from top of page)

From 1950 until 1990, Kodak’s Coloramas were familiar to millions of commuters in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The panoramic photographs—18 feet by 60 feet—presented an idealized view of life in 20th-century America and promoted photography as an essential leisure activity. The George Eastman House recent major exhibition celebrated the 60th anniversary of Colorama. Coloramas were promoted by Kodak as “the world’s largest photographs” and called “technically remarkable” by Ansel Adams, who photographed several. The towering backlit transparencies were 18-feet high and 60-feet wide, each illuminated by more than a mile of tubing. A total of 565 Coloramas were publicly displayed, changing out every three weeks. Neil Montanus shot 55 of the 565 Coloramas that were displayed in Grand Central Station. When each new Colorama was unveiled, it often received ovation from New York City residents and travelers. Photographer Edward Steichen telegraphed Kodak upon viewing a Colorama in 1950, stating, “EVERYONE IN GRAND CENTRAL AGOG AND SMILING. ALL JUST FEELING GOOD.”

“These illuminated images reflected and reinforced American values and aspirations while encouraging picture-taking as an essential aspect of leisure, travel, and family,” said Dr. Alison Nordström, Eastman House curator of photographs, “The Coloramas taught us not only what to photograph, but how to see the world as though it were a photograph. They served to manifest and visualize values that even then were seen as nostalgic and in jeopardy, salvageable only through the time-defying alchemy of Kodak cameras and film.” A constant in the first two decades of Colorama was a model using a Kodak camera, photographing family, an activity, or beautiful scene. “Coloramas resonate with nostalgia, a staple in Kodak advertising since at least 1900, reminding us to pause, via photography, in the midst of present enjoyment to record it for later remembrance,” Nordström said.

In addition to Adams, well-known names associated with Colorama include photographer Elliot Porter, artist Norman Rockwell who art-directed a Colorama, and TV’s Ozzie and Harriett who appeared in several. Colorama was a technical feat undertaken by Kodak’s advertising and photography teams. Making the exposures for each display was a full day’s work in almost total darkness. In early years the wet 20-foot transparencies were dried overnight in the swimming pool at Kodak’s employee recreation center — the only building large enough to accommodate Coloramas-in-the-making.

 The 1990 renovation of Grand Central Terminal to landmark condition marked the end of the Colorama. The final display was a glittering nighttime view of the New York City skyline, with an oversized red apple nestled among the buildings — the only digital enhancement ever created for the Colorama program. The accompanying copy read, “Kodak thanks the Big Apple for 40 years of friendship in Grand Central.”  

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