Friday, January 27, 2012

Forgotten Photo Friday, Death of a Goddess

The news came out a week ago Thursday that Kodak is filing for bankruptcy. My dad shot Ektachrome in his German made camera that was built during the Korean Conflict. It did not have a built-in light meter. He used to eyeball his exposures, which when I think about it was quite a trick since the lens stopped down when he set the aperture meaning that the light level through the pentaprism dimmed in proportion to the aperture.
But in every box of film came a little sheet of paper giving guidelines of how to expose the film in bright, cloudy and shady conditions. It was not the stone age but the beginning of the space age. Okay, we’re talking Sputnik here.
Kodak, what happened? You were the darling of Wall Street. Now you’re an OTC penny stock. Surely you were not a one trick pony but the mighty Kodachrome. (Anyone notice that I slipped two Paul Simon references in one sentence?)
Here in Massachusetts, we had Polaroid. Talk about an instant hit, you could see your pictures instantly. Well, almost instantly. You had to wait two or three minutes. Polaroid was pretty cool. The teenagers loved them. Professional and technical people used Polaroid because of their faithfulness to color and rapid results. High-end large format photographers had Polaroid backs for their cameras because you could take a shot, see the results, tweak it and then put the film back onto the camera. A great help and time saver.
Polaroid had kick ass, high end processes that the normal consumer new not what of. They developed a instant movie system that arrived on the market when video cameras and players became mainstream and never recovered. They were involved in the digital market, but couldn’t capture market share.IMG_0158
Sad. We get Julia Child re-runs from the ‘60s and ‘70s on our local PBS station. It proudly proclaims that the French Chef was sponsored by the Polaroid Corporation. I guess that will keep the brand name alive for new generation.
My first photography course was when I was a junior in high school. It was at a community college. My instructor referred to Kodak as the “Great Yellow Goddess”. Back then I was mucking around in a dark room that I built in the corner of the garage. It was just too cool to expose the photographic paper, dip it into the developer tray and see the image pop out. Magical.
I experimented with Agfa 64 and Kodachrome. I didn’t like the colors of Ectachrome, to blue. In my late 20’s I hopped over to Fujichrome 64 as I got into bird photography. I loved the colors and the tight grain as did a great deal of other wildlife shooters of the day.
Then along came children and I was carrying kids on my back instead of my gear. I took a 15 year hiatus.
In 2001, my mother remarried. At her wedding I was sitting at a table with a family friend who was a professional printer and my brother. They were talking about the new digital cameras. He had one in his hand. I was thinking exactly what our friend was about to say. “Digital would never replace film”, he said as he passed the camera over. Well, in that day consumer grade digital was pretty sad and I didn’t want to fool with it.
In 2004, Becky (bless her heart) gave me a digital point and shoot. A Cannon 3.2 Mpx PowerShot A70. It was pretty cool and I was surprised with the results. If you think I’m kidding, I took this wine bottle photo for our old wine blog and this graveyard picture. Both were shot with that old camera. Click on them to see a larger version. I’m telling you for its day, it did okay.
Click to enlarge. This was shot with an 3.2 Mpx Powershot A70.Click to enlarge. This was shot with an 3.2 Mpx Powershot A70.
But the problem was that it just didn’t perform like an SLR. The time lag after you pushed the shutter release drove me nuts. It scratched its nether regions while it figured out the exposure and then finally tripped the shutter. I was missing too may “moments” and I went DSLR and my love affair with photography was rekindled.
Do I miss the magic moments in the clean room when the image come onto the paper? It’s a tiny price to pay. What I don’t miss is pushing the button on the camera, finishing a roll, sending it off to the lab, getting the slides back only to find that I was off by a stop or three and there was nothing I could do about it. Face IMG_0191it, digital photography is really inexpensive. Not only instant gratification, but instant correction. Besides, my “darkroom” is a lot more comfortable and doesn’t smell up the garage.
But I am sorry that the Big Yellow Goddess has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. George Eastman made photography accessible to the masses. Kodak made the digital innovation but was not able to execute. In my estimation, Kodak Board of Directors must have been asleep at the switch. How could you pioneer digital photography and let it slip through your fingers? And what now? Now they are suing Samsung and Apple for patent infringement. (Can you do that if you’re out of business?) I don’t understand this anymore than I understand IBM screwing up the kazillion dollar PC innovation. It don’t make no sense.
Polaroid is dead. IBM is still blue chip. Kodak? We will have to see. You never know. I understand that you can still buy buggy whips.


Kelly said...

...great post, Steve.

Richard said...

I used to think I shot some pretty good pictures with the old Pentex K1000. Had all the lenses, shot lots of pictures, tried all the different films. Figured if I got 40% of the pictures to turn out the way I wanted I was doing good.

When I went back last year and copied all the old slides to the computer, I was amazed at how bad the pictures were compared to the DSLR pictures of today. While the pictures are great for bringing back memories, I'm guessing that I really won't miss the film version or all the added costs.

Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

Well done Steve. I too have my wife to thank for pushing me into the digital age; a Nikon Coolpix Christmas gift way back when. It was everything you said your first was. Years later I discovered Pentax DSLR's had the same mounting system for their lenses as did their old Spotmatic film cameras. Now I could use all my old Pentax lenses again. A brilliant production idea for Pentax. I've since moved over to Nikon following the footsteps of my wife. As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman.

bunnits said...

I was saddened when I heard this news recently. I remember many happy hours in the darkroom at work. As much as I enjoy the rapid results of digital photography, I haven't yet gotten a nice DSLR and I miss using my old SLR's. Sometimes I think of getting them out, but for the present time, I make most of my photos (snapshots) with a little Nikon point-and-shoot or, mostly, my [cringe] cell phone.

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