The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.
The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for photographs, and especially snapshots, extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. Traveling to Rochester, New York, home of the George Eastman House, West spent a week digging through boxes of advertisements (both published and unpublished) and documents ranging in date from 1888 to 1932. Her research eventually resulted in Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000), an interdisciplinary study that examines the advertising campaigns of the Eastman Kodak Company and reveals certain key fascinations in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century American culture.
With her first book, West’s motivation came from a personal source: “What could be more personal than a photograph, especially when my childhood contained so few of them?” “To be totally honest,” she says, “my second book was very hard for me, and I think one reason was because crime books are discussed so much. How to make an original intervention really worried me.” West reflects on her motivation for working on her third book: “I think it’s about the anticipation of watching all those Masterpiece Theatre episodes with my mom. I know that sounds corny, but it’s really true!”