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The Junk at the End of the World: Intoxicating landscapes and laboring bodies in the aftermath of Eastman-Kodak

Authors: Ali Feser*, University of Chicago
Topics: Urban Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability, United States
Keywords: visual culture, toxicity, industrial capitalism, embodiment
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Once the second largest chemical company in America, Kodak was headquartered in Rochester, NY since 1880, and though it might be corporate lore, eighty percent of all the film stock in the world is said to have come from its factories there on the Genesee River, six miles upstream of Lake Ontario. For years, Kodak discharged its waste—containing silver, solvents, dyes, and other chemicals—into the river, said to be so polluted that you could dip your film in and it would come out developed. While factory runoff has declined along with manufacturing, industrial pollution remains an intractable part of the local landscape. This paper draws from industrial histories of the river, archival and ethnographic research, and my own case of Genesee Fever—a disease said to afflict early white settlers of the region—to explore capitalism’s reterritorialization along patterns of settler colonialism and the techno-chemical entanglements that have remade the late industrial body. Working through analytics of pleasure, sovereignty, and chemical time, it asks: what does it mean to embody, and even enjoy, toxicity? What can photography, as a chemical technology of time, reveal about the temporalities of late industrialism? What does it mean, and what does it take, to make a life worth living in the world we have inherited from industrial capitalism, a world made triply toxic by the conditions of precarious labor and the withdrawal of the welfare state in a place laid waste by chemical manufacturing? 

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