Looking back I think it was about September, 1977 when I became addicted. That was the first time I slid a blank sheet of photo paper into a tray full of Dektol, rocked the tray gently for 30 seconds, and watched the image magically appear on the paper. It was magic and unlike any rush I had experienced up to that point in my life. I was hooked for life. And for most of my photographic life Kodak was my pusher…my enabler…my partner.
In those days Kodak was the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The vast majority of all film, photo paper, and chemistry to develop them was made by Kodak. They were one of the largest companies in the world and acknowledged as the best at what they did. And now they’re on the verge of being gone.
I first began to notice a change in the 1980’s when Fuji began to make slide films that were competitive with Kodachrome and Ektachrome (whatever version you prefer) and Ilford began to make inroads in the B&W areas with their films and papers. I was Lab Manager at a commercial photo lab when I first encountered the smugness and arrogance that Kodak began to display. It was almost as if they felt they were too large to fail. “If you don’t buy stuff from me, no big deal…someone else will buy it” was the prevailing attitude.
Things became more competitive in the 90’s. Photographers that cut their teeth shooting Kodachrome started using the competitors’ products. Velvia was born and became a standard. Fujichrome 100 was improved to the point where it could be used in professional applications. Kodak, against their better judgement, began to see an erosion of market share and they didn’t react well initially. We started seeing various permutations of Ektachrome and Kodachrome processing started becoming harder and harder to find. R3 chemistry which was used to make prints directly from slides went away. And the bells began to toll softly.
After the turn of the century Fuji and Ilford began to really turn up the heat on our Great Yellow Father. New and better films, Ilford chemistry and papers…really high quality products. And then the digital monster reared its head.
At first I thought they would make it. Kodak aimed their digital efforts at the amateur market and it appeared they would succeed in securing a decent market share. Their early digital cameras were easy to use and they made it simple to upload and print digital files. They began making printers and eventually created a system that supposedly used less ink than most printers. (I’ll blog on that one sometime…but it will be more of a rant) I really thought they were onto something.
I don’t really know where they went wrong or exactly why it happened but a few days ago Kodak filed for Chapter 11 protection. Their stock was removed from the NYSE and trading was stopped for all intents and purposes. And the photographic world went into shock. Several of my photographer friends have written about it which, in large part, is why I waited till now. That and the fact that I’m more than a little sad. Kodak and their products have been responsible for some of the most enjoyable hours of my life. I began this entry by telling about my first print experience. It was a great rush then and still is. Kodak and the photographic industry in general was responsible for the career path I chose for over half of my working life. And without Kodak films and the desire they kindled in me to get out and create images I would have missed out on thousands of hours of sunsets, sunrises, wonderful locations, amazing animals, and other things I’ve seen while in the field with a camera. And that saddens me tremendously.
It’s been said that our government considers some companies, mostly financial institutions, too big to fail hence the bailouts. In their heyday I like to think Kodak would have been on that list. At one time they were truly the best in the world at what they did. But as Native Americans say, “Only the rocks last forever.” So Bon Chance Kodak. I hope you’ll pull out of the depths to which you’ve plunged. But if that’s not to be, just know that I and thousands of my photographic friends will miss you. Bon Chance old friend.