A tribute to Kodak, who preserved our world in pictures but has now filed for bankruptcy.
People of a certain age will remember long evenings sitting in front of a white screen or white wall on which slides were projected showing mum and dad’s holiday snaps, grandma and granddad cuddling new arrivals as babies, then toddlers, teenagers and so on. When they hear the name Kodak, they remember dads or mums saying “Smile, watch the dickybird!” They still hear the loud click of the camera, the whir of winding on the film and the wait for a new film to be loaded.

Now in 2012, as Kodak struggles to stay in business, thousands of young people have never even seen a roll of film, don’t know what a slide or transparency is, and have never seen the inside of a camera to load a film. Perhaps they’ve never even heard the name Kodak – the company founded by American George Eastman (1854-1932). The company that for many years was the undisputed leader in its field. Kodak brought photography to the masses with its inexpensive, easy-to-use Instamatic and Brownie range of cameras and its slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”.

Most people used negative film, which had to be developed and printed. There was no checking on a display. No computer to upload images on to – perhaps never to be seen again. Not until you received the yellow envelope with your prints about a week later was it possible to know if the pictures were a success. But if they were, then the joy was that much greater. You held the photos in your hand, passed them round and finally stuck them in a photo album adding names and dates. Albums for reminiscing over from time to time.

But Kodak film was not just used for family snapshots. It was also used by professional photographers throughout the world, including photojournalist legends, such as Robert Capa and other Magnum Photos members, to record historic events. Kodak film captured the moon landing, the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and countless other significant historic moments. The Second World War was documented by the Nazis and Allies on Kodak film with Kodak cameras. The economic miracle and boom of the post-war period was captured on Kodak film and the company flourished.

Kodak reached its zenith in 1991 but also began to dig its own grave. The company presented its first digital camera – the DC 100 – about the size of a toaster. But the revolution failed. Other manufacturers, such as Nikon, Canon and Fuji, were much quicker in taking the leap from analogue to digital. Kodak tried new printing methods, produced printers, developed digital images and manufactured cameras. All without success. The 60,000 employees in Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, USA dwindled to around 7,000. The black and white and Kodachrome films that had made history were withdrawn from the market. The company filed for bankruptcy. The sad and simple truth is that the film pioneer was simply too slow and missed the boat. However, a glimmer of hope remains. Kodak owns around 1000 various patents. Whether or not the company will survive is at present unknown. And if it does, can it possibly again reach the status that it once undoubtedly merited?

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