The State of Kodak at PhotoPlus Broke My Heart

The State of Kodak at PhotoPlus Broke My Heart

There are a few names in this industry that have always meant something. Nikon. Canon. Hasselblad. Fuji. Kodak. The latter has had a rough go of things in the past couple years, culminating in what can essentially be called a final meltdown in early 2012. Chapter Eleven bankruptcy and a rapidly collapsing stock price have left the company a shell of what it was. This week at PhotoPlus, I saw the realization of that at their booth, and it was one of the saddest things I have experienced in recent memory.

You've probably felt this before. You've put love, time, effort, sweat and tears into something only to have it be ill received by everyone you have been trying to impress. Maybe it was a photo project that just didn't take off. More likely it's an issue in corporate America, where you can see the problem but at every turn, the solution that you see within easy reach is either dismissed or worse, ignored. For many of us, such defeats can be crushing. It leaves you with a sense of worthlessness. You are dejected, crestfallen and beaten down. Shoulders slumped, you are defeated, and it hurts you down to the fiber of who you are. It weighs on you physically, and your shoulders droop, your eyes sag, and you are suddenly a shell of the person you were. It's hard to smile when you have to, and even when you put on that happy face, the hope and light is just gone.

Most of us bounce back. We recover and pull ourselves out of that hole. Some aren't so fortunate.

I was asked to visit the Kodak booth by Kodak's public relations team. Their intent was to reassure me, and therefore eventually reassure you the reader, that things were on their way back up for Kodak. Film and paper are still going strong! "Both businesses continue to perform well," they said. "We continue to be impressed and inspired by the work we see both emerging and established photographers creating using our film and paper." They were fine, chapter eleven was behind them, and things were all sunshine and happiness.

Naturally I was perplexed. I, first of all, was surprised that they had a booth at all. And not a small booth, but a sizable and centrally located one. Everything so far seemed to back up their statement. Things were apparently looking up. I was ready to be a believer.

My meeting with Kodak was first thing in the morning. Coffee in hand, I arrived and was ready to be basked in that glorious light they cast on their company. Hooray! Kodak is back! Kodak, despite slowly discontinuing lines of paper and film, was going to make a turn around. They had a plan. They were going to share that plan with me, and we all could rest easy knowing that we could once again believe in Kodak.



The remaining film varieties still available from Kodak.

 

What followed was one of the most depressing experiences I've had this year. The booth was shiny, the setup was well planned and gorgeous, and the handouts and marketing materials were fresh new and invigorating. All these things were in stark contrast to the folks attending the booth.

First of all, I mean absolutely no disrespect to these fine people from Kodak. They obviously love what they do. The person who had been working for Kodak the shortest amount of time had been there 13 years. But despite the shine and sparkle of their booth, all the life was gone out of their eyes. They were tired. Their shoulders showed the weight and strain of the past year. They looked defeated.

I asked what the plan was, how Kodak would survive, would film's renaissance among hipster college students be enough to revive the dying brand? "We hope. We always hope."

The plan is hope. Hope that sales increase. Hope that whoever purchases the film and paper brand keeps it alive. Hope that someone buys the floundering brand at all.

But it was apparent that the hope they were leaning on was becoming more and more brittle. They offhandedly mentioned the new iPhone app that helps film users. Either they didn't know much about it, or they weren't believers that it was going to help. Maybe they were just out of hope.

I strongly believe that if you plan to pursue photography as a career, you should spend some quality time in a darkroom. Truly knowing photography in the analog format makes a world of difference when you transition to digital. It slows you down, forces you to understand what you are doing in order to make a quality image. It literally gets your hand dirty (I still love that pickle smell on my hands after hours spent developing negatives). We all need film, even if you don't know you need it.

Unfortunately, that's not the way this world is headed. Support for film is just about extinct. A few more years, and just finding a place to buy fixer is going to be a treasure hunt. In five to seven years, it will become like the search for Atlantis.

There is really no way for us to make a difference in this area, no matter how much we might want to. The money isn't there anymore. The consumer would really have to change his and her mindset in order for film to return, and in the age of instant gratification, that just won't happen. With each passing minute, we all become just a little less patient. Dial up to DSL, DSL to cable, cable to fiber, we have all just gotten used to things being in our hands in an instant. That mentality is completely at odds with what film is and what film stands for.

Kodak, there isn't much room left for hope unfortunately. I dearly want you to succeed, but unless we as consumers fundamentally change what we have come to expect, I'm afraid that just won't happen. And when we all lament and cry when you finally do disappear, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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25 Comments

Agreed. The end of an era. I wish there were still more of a market for film. I love it.

I think it would be a shame to see film disappear completely. Normally I'm an all digital kind of guy but my first camera was a Yashica FX-D film camera that I own up to this day. But now it's broken. So 2 month ago I bought a used one. It was like time travel as I put the film into the camera and snapped the first image. The sound of the shutter teleported me back to my childhood.
If I have my next photosession the Yashica will be at my side with a Kodak Portra 160. That way I can take some digital images and 36 film images. I'm really looking forward to that.

RUSS's picture

without something to give film photography the allure and instant satisfaction of digital, film will slowly die out , i fear.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Mind = blown, again. Just as we talked last night, now you came out with another good read for Op Ed!

Film is technically better than digital. It can record much more information than digital.
Unfortunately it requires much more effort and money to create final image.
And we live in "good enough" times.

This hasn't been true for the past several years w/ updated sensors. Technically 35mm film isn't as advantageous as it used to be. At most it's an aesthetic now, unless we're talking 65mm film, that is (which most people are not).

I thought that photography is all about esthetics, unless you are working for CSI :)
I didn't want to get technical in the comment. What you are talking about is resolution only and you will get pretty much the same amount of details from 35mm sensor and 120 film. But from print film you will get much more information than any digital camera can register. You need of course good film scanner and scanning skills.
Check this. Kodak Portra400 overexposed 4EV: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bwrightphoto/5242748622/ 

New Kodak Portra400 vs Fuji Pro 400H

Try do this with digital ;)

you really have no clue....

If you say so... you must be right.

Pixyst's picture

Why on earth must their strategy be built solely around film? They sold their sensor business instead of building their business around it. From a consumer standpoint, their strategy perplexes me!

 Film is the only profitable part of Kodak, their digital business and everything else sinks money like a black hole. The Film division can't prop up the much larger loss-making part of the company.

Stephen's picture

Kodak was dead when their execs decided that digital was a fad and creating new films was the way to go.

Libby Stack's picture

I still have my old Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n. The camera is still great and I'll never give it up.

Unfortunately getting some of the younsters today to try film is like trying to get a young child to eat broccoli. They don't need to they say, they know it all. Yes I have a boatlad of Nikons but I still shoot my Mamiya RB camera and an old Zeiss 35mm. Nothing like it.

 "Unfortunately getting some of the younsters today to try film is like trying to get a young child to eat broccoli"

Except in this case, the broccoli is less and less nutritional, and takes twice the time to cook as (neu-broccoli), and doesn't let you add as many flavors and ingredients to it, aka is much less versatile.

And the less of a desire to try it, isn't as much a haughty sense of disregard for where they came from, but just like you "old timers" who don't use flash bulbs anymore, just because it's where photography lighting came from.

While there is nothing like it, digital is "pretty damn close" these days, as close as we will get, at least for a few years, have you even seen the images from a D800 and D3200 in larger prints?

Tell me that doesn't look gosh damn close to 35mm film, and tell me the truth. 

And sure, it'll be hard for Medium Format digital to rival their film brethren, because let's be honest, the larger the film, generally better results are attained. 

But even with that, it's all up to the photographer, and his or her vision, in the end. 

One day there will be people shooting mainly smaller rangefinder-esque cameras, and smaller 2x and 2.7x sensors, and there will be someone of your age, but from the newer generations complaining how people don't use the digital broccoli of their day, ie the 1.5x and fx digital cameras.  And life will go on.

I'm only 19 but I actually started on B&W with a Minolta X700 and shot it for nearly 2 years before switching to digital.. I am one of the few people of my generation (i think) who wants to know the true root form of well basically anything before i move up to todays most modern tech stuff.. I miss film every day actually and wish i had the money to shoot it more often! and i really wish people in general but particularly my generation would understand the importance of knowing how their every generation before ours took a photograph.. it really puts everything into perspective and its just plain fun to be under the red lights and watch images magically appear on white sheets of paper! 

Kodak may be dead, but that doesn't mean film is dead.  Ilford is still going strong as well as several smaller European and Chinese film makers.  You may have to order your film from places like Freestyle or B&H, but it is still available.  Articles like this equating Kodak to films death don't help.

People should check The Divine Matrix on you tube by Gregg Braden, then they will understand hope. It will be ok for Kodak. 

Patrick Valade's picture

Sad, but for now if you love it go out and shoot some film!

Check out this little blog I have on the go for my film shooting I have been doing

www.patalog.tumblr.com

The quality is still there, just harder to get.

I just bought a D800 to replace my D300 last June. But my most recent purchase was the Lomo Belair X 612. Missed the Globetrotter got the Jetsetter. IMHO KODAK needs to focus boutique-at-home developing. Give me that E6 kit that I used in '91 to develop slides in a church bathroom. I'd buy one a month and keep my medium format Minolta Autocord TLR. I'd even settle for the recipes and the ability to buy the raw developr chemicals to mix at home if I could get the film for the camera.

The analogue bubble has far to fall but people didn't stop painting when the Brownie was invented. I hope that analogue remains a respected art form.

David Arthur's picture

I wish I knew more film... I took a photography class in college and we developed maybe one image that the instructor took. I would love to find someone's old dark room they don't want anymore, but I just don't have the money or the room. I'd rather spend the money on some more reliable equipment that I would bring on a job, and it would take a lot of money and practice for me to feel comfortable taking a film camera on the job.

as far as Kodak goes, businesses need to progress. The longest lasting companies and the most successful businesses are always changing and always innovative. New things need to come, and if Kodak's only chance is hope, then we just aren't going to see Kodak last long. And considering the impact the company had on the industry....it is sad. You're right.

Derek Vonk's picture

thanx for the great post, though a hard read it is!

kodak is a company who has polluted the environment for decades.. there is nothing to be sorry about.

you all should have a look behind the obvious....

Hello, I have for years taken photos of the trick-or-treaters with my Poloroid Instant camera.I was called the "Picture Lady".Imagine my distress when I could no longer find the the film and discovered the film was no longer being produced.I was so sad as I had kids that had been coming for years and now were bringing their kids and I had to tell them I could not take any more pictures because I couldn't find the film.This year I discovered the Polaroid 300 Instant camera and I was so excited!! I had a great Halloween, taking  pics of the kids again. They were thrilled and I am again the "picture Lady". 

Thank you for your great products.      Becky Maxwell brace13@mail,com

"Support for film is just about extinct. A few more years, and just
finding a place to buy fixer is going to be a treasure hunt. In five to
seven years, it will become like the search for Atlantis." 

Calling bs. This line has been going around for a while, well it's been a decade now, the doomsday prophets have consistently been wrong, as it's still around long after it's was predicted and then called dead, yet still here. Their Film division is the only profitable part. But only enough to sustain it as a small company, or small section, it needs to be sold off to someone else, and away from Perez' sinking ship.

http://www.harmantechnology.com/Blog/tabid/60/Default.aspx?tabid=60&...

BelieveInFilm Gordon's picture

I feel for you. My experience in a room with Kodak flacs would have been both awkward and depressing. The saddest part of the story is that they don't have the cash necessary to last long enough for a sale of the film division.