Eastman Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection today. As someone who grew up in western New York state, I can't begin to convey how this is a major event in a region which has been struggling with the de-industrialization of America for decades. For an upstater, the fall of Kodak is like Mount Rushmore crumbling to dust, or the Grand Canyon getting filled in. It was always there, a presence on the landscape.
George Eastman left an indelible mark on the city of Rochester; the Eastman Theater, the Eastman School of Music, Eastman House and so many other things. For years the businesses of the city would wait to see how big annual Kodak employee bonuses would be - car sales would jump, Sibley's would see a rush of business, and other merchants would reap their share from the Big Yellow Father. (more)
Sure, there have been plenty of other big companies that have gone under in America, but Kodak was... Kodak! Those yellow film boxes around the world, National Geographic depending on Kodak to make sure their photographers got the best film batches... Kids getting Brownie cameras for their birthdays, attics filled with dusty photo albums, analog memories fading and discoloring over time.
A huge industrial complex still sprawls across Rochester. I toured it in the 60's - it was a city within a city, with its own fire department and other services. (I remember having to walk through a foot bath that was there to make sure visitors didn't track in fallout from the open air atom bomb tests of those days. The radiation would have ruined the film.) Huge machines turned out miles of film; one whole section of the factory was completely dark and employed a staff of blind employees to tend it. The visitor brochure had a picture of the vault of silver bars that would be turned into light sensitive emulsions.
Incredible photo displays and shows sponsored by Kodak, to show the power of freezing a moment in time. The world captured and put on big screens by Hollywood or small screens at home by amateurs working in Super 8. The commercials on TV showing Kodak Moments, songs like this one or this one....
It's hard to appreciate now, but Kodak was the company that made photography something anyone could do. Over a hundred years of history captured on film by ordinary people; lives, places, events captured one click at a time. And how much of it disappears into silence when there is no one left who remembers the names of the people in the photos? The places or the times? You can scribble notes on the back of a photo, label a slide or an envelope full of negatives. When was the last time you annotated a jpeg? And will anyone be able to read it a hundred years from today?
Look on ebay, and you can put together a photographic arsenal for a pittance today as people abandon their old film cameras. Good luck finding batteries for those old SLRs. Try to figure out f stops, ISOs, focal lengths... These days you push the button, and a computer does the rest. If not in the camera, then afterwards in Photoshop.
Got slides? Better get them scanned before they fade. Can you find a working slide projector, or a bulb for it? Slide trays? Those used to be staples of American life - home, schools, business; anyplace you wanted to share images with people in a group. As pictures flash by on a computer display, how many people today know that a slide show used to mean sitting in the dark while somebody made sure the little pieces of film in cardboard holders went through the projector right way round and didn't jam?
Movie projectors? If you haven't converted your old home movies yet, at least you can now put them on DVDs and skip VHS tape altogether.
It's not over yet. Something may come out of Chapter 11; film may still be made and slipped into yellow boxes....(I hope?) Kodak is never going to be the giant it once was, but there's a chance the name will still go on some amazing things. It's not all about pictures; Kodak was once a science powerhouse, chemicals, and other things. Something may remain...
What does Kodak mean to you? What are your Kodak moments? Discuss.... And you can watch some Kodachrome memories here.