Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Farewell Kodak

It recently was announced that Eastman Kodak is filing for bankruptcy.

What that means exactly for the future of the company remains to be seen but I couldn't help but regard the news with some sadness.

In the course of shooting photographs over the last 45 years, I've burned through thousands of rolls of good old Kodak film in the familiar yellow box.

Indeed, during the summer of 1973, while working as a summer intern at the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa, I made of point of just tossing every box, data sheet and film cassette over my shoulder and into the backseat of my full-sized Ford, just to see how many rolls I would end up shooting over the summer. I don't recall the exact number of rolls but when my 10-week internship ended, the backseat was level to the windows with them.

What is so remarkable is that for all of the rolls of Kodak film I have shot over the years, I can recall only two rolls that were defective. Those two rolls had in inexplicable fog along the bottom edge of the three-foot long strip of film. Naturally, the photos on those particular rolls were ruined so I wasn't at all happy at the time about what I still believe was a Kodak goof-up.

But two rolls out of thousands over four decades...that's still a pretty remarkable example of quality control. And I know longtime photographers who have never had a defective roll of Kodak film over their entire careers.

The makers of, say, televisions, computers or automobiles could only wish for such a record.
In the end, for all of its great products and quality control, Kodak was probably too big to make the adjustment to digital quickly, and admittedly, perhaps a bit too complacent about its standing in the photographic community.

By the time it saw the handwriting on the darkroom wall, it was too late. I shot my last rolls of film of any brand in 2001, the time the Free Press took delivery of Nikon digital cameras.

While I sometimes miss the craftsmanship of the old chemical processes, the magic of a print appearing on a blank sheet of paper, I wouldn't trade it for the efficiency of digital imaging. Given the state of newspaper resources where we're all doing much more with less, we couldn't possibly get done what we need to if we had to burn up a portion of our day in the darkroom.

Nevertheless, I hope the American icon that Kodak has been over the last century survives in some fashion.

Especially since I just bought one of their printers!

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