British photographic history

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Obituary: Philip L Condax (1934-2014)

BPH has learnt that Philip L Condax, former Curator of Technology at George Eastman House, died on Monday, 21 April 2014. Phil Condax was born on 24 May 1934, the son of Louis M Condax (1897-1961) and Constance W. Condax. Louis invented a dye-transfer colour process which was commercialised by Eastman Kodak Co in 1945. 

Phil joined the then International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House under Director Beaumont Newhall in 1971, where he curated the Technology Collections starting as 'Assistant Curator, Equipment Archive'. When the Philadelphia-based American Museum of Photography became available after the death of its founder, Louis Walton Sipley, Phil was involved with the then Director and other staff members in securing it for GEH where it filled important gaps. 

Two highlights from his career include the 1980-1981 exhibition Selections from the Spira Collection: An Exhibition at George Eastman House - the first time GEH had held such an exhibition from outside of its own collections; and the 1984 joint IMP/GEH and JCII exhibition The Evolution of the Japanese Camera which showed in Rochester, NY, and Tokyo. He was also in post when the new Mees Gallery - it has since been replaced - was opened in 1992. He attended Photokina regularly where he was able to source material for the GEH collections. 

When Czechoslovakia was firmly behind the Iron Curtain, Phil managed to visit regularly. There were suggestions that during his military service and afterwards he was working for the CIA. He came to know Jan Sudek and bought many important prints for the museum and for his own personal collection.

Condax, along with other senior curators, was made redundant in 1994, in his case over a dispute with the Director, a fact over which he continued to remain bitter. After GEH Phil undertook some museum and photo-history consultancy work, in particular he developed and curated the photographic collection of the Museum of Imagery Technology operated by Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. He co-authored The Photographic Flash: A Concise Illustrated History with Pierre Bron (of Bron Elektronik AG) in 1998.

Jonathan Spira commented: 'I am deeply saddened by the death of Phil Condax, a close family friend.  Not only did he help popularize photography's history but he helped lead the George Eastman House during a very tumultuous period.'

I met Condax several times at his Rochester home and despite a difficult relationship with a demanding father he was a great enthusiast for the work that his father had undertaken on colour. He maintained an extensive archive of his father's work. An example showing Louis Condax with an example of the dye transfer process, from Phil's personal archive is shown left.

He had an affection for Britain and he travelled extensively, particularly to South East Asia. 

Dr Michael Pritchard

  • Revisions made 6/5/2014. 

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