The demise of Kodak has prompted a flood of reminisces about the great old camera company based in Rochester, N.Y., and what it has meant to Americans.
It meant a lot: shoe boxes full of memories and family histories; 35-mm color photos and slides so gorgeous they inspired a pop song (“They give us those nice bright colors, they give us the greens of summers”); stark, haunting black and white photos conveying the events of the day or the harsh realities of the world.
The end of Kodak and the central role the iconic company played in post-World War II consumerist America prompted me to pull out the Old Man’s Kodak. The “Senior Six-16,” according to the manufacturer, hit the market in 1937 and sold for $33.50. That was a lot of money in those days. I’m guessing my father bought it after the price dropped since it was replaced by a newer model in 1939.
Perhaps the ol’ Shutter Bug used some of his Army Air Corps back pay accumulated overseas during World War II?
As I hope the slideshow that follows attests, the fold-up Senior Six-16 must’ve been the iCamera of its day – except, of course, it didn’t represent a lifestyle, merely a signal to the Joneses that you were keeping up.
Sleek, easy to use, portable and reliable. Just sling the case over your shoulder and scout for a nice back drop for picture taking. Shoot a “vertical” picture to capture majestic Red Woods; “horizontal,” or what we now call “landscape” format, to squeeze all the kiddies into the shot. Kodak’s optical view finder worked great in either mode.
The ability to take a portable camera on a family vacation must have been the mid-20th century equivalent to asking Siri for directions to the nearest gas station.
In the end, Kodak couldn’t keep up with the pace of change in digital photography. But the company was a trail blazer in designing easy-to-use consumer products for the masses. Companies like Apple owe a great debt to the design gurus at Kodak.
And who knows? Perhaps Kodachrome will have a comeback akin to vinyl records.
By the late 1930s, Kodak was introducing a new camera model after two years. The "Senior Six-16" was considered a high-end camera in its day, featuring an "Anistigmat Lens".
I don't think it's just a switch from film to digital. It seems the whole concept of what a photographs is and how to capture and use them is evolving.
With film and paper, hard costs and time to print relegated most photography to recording history. Because of the time delay, you could almost say that film cameras were used for recording snippets of past history. Digital cameras still have that use, but the photograph has become a real-time instrument. With essentially no cost to shooting ten images in place of one, the ratio of chaff goes way up as well.
Photography has also lost its implied truth. Photo editing has always been possible, but it was difficult to the point that it was rare. Photo editing tools are accessible to just about anyone now.
Third, the permanence has changed as well. Photos in a box may not be an effective filing system and is susceptible to fire and other damage, but by and large, they will stay there. You don't need anything other than your eyes to see them. With your photo library all in one place, you are much more vulnerable to loss of your entire history if you aren't disciplined in backup. And when file formats evolve, how many people will spend the time necessary to convert their libraries?
Taking a photograph is not the same thing as it used to be.
Well seems to me that the cell-phones are going that route too. The continuous hardware upgrades are making the pitch to buy into phone plans/contracts with the hardware cost prorated in the arrangement.
Regarding the unmatched video quality of the slide projects, it made sharing vacations with the whole family a community event. ;-)
Eastman legacy has been great.
Thanks for the memories.
I have quite a few slide carousels and a Kodak projector. I enjoyed taking the slides, showing them, and then taking a few select ones to the late local imaging shop here, Ivey Seright, and getting some printed. They did such a nice job on their prints that they always looked better than the original! And then you can take the enjoyment one step further by picking the matting and framing.
Come to think of it, since I've owned my digital camera, I rarely make prints and haven't enlarged or framed a single picture. Hmmm...maybe I need a digital SLR.
I have to wonder if the "younger" generation will even care. They have never known the joy and excitement that we have experienced when looking at Kodak pictures of our hairdo's and clothing. Perhaps the past just won't carry the same weight with them.
As a native Rochestarian this news hits hard. But, having heard of all this companies follies first hand over the years this news doesn't surprise me. You all have listed some of those mistakes here but honestly the discussion could take up volumes. Indeed, George Eastman rolled over in his grave long ago and this fall has been a long time coming.
For the record other Rochester area stalwarts such as Haloid (you know them as Xerox) and Bousch and Lomb are also shells of their former selves. It's sad.
Yet, Rochester survives. Some say it's a full blown recovery. (See the short right-up in Forbes a few issues back.) The emergence of many small businesses is the reason. Some of them were Kodak and Xerox spin-offs, or started by ex-ers.
So perhaps Rochester should become the case study for an American recovery? And if you can stand the prolonged winters, constant dull, grey skies, mundane life-style and NY State governmental lunacy it's not a bad place to live. The summers are beautiful, I promise.
I remember the excitement of calling an artist, waiting for him to arrive. Standing still for hours whilst he sketched our yearly family picture (in front of the fire place). Then he would go away for weeks whilst he turned that sketch into a painting. The excitement of the whole family could be felt for weeks before he delivered the final product (my mother inevitably sent it back for some "touch up" - something that was unknown to the Kodak generation).
Then Kodac came along and the family came together fore barely five minutes and the next day the family picture was hanging above afore mentioned fire place. I miss the good old days (-:
They tried halfheartedly. The decision makers in the company did not fully embrace digital for fear of cannibalizing their lucrative old-line business. Instead the market did it for them.
As you point out the smart-phone and its ever improving picture quality will prove to be the death knell not only for Kodak but many other camera makers as more and more consumers find the picture quality of their phone to be perfectly adequate for their picture taking needs. In the consumer space their is a technological convergence taking place that Kodak could do little about even if had totally embraced digital earlier.
Kodak owned the low-end consumer camera market for a very long time. They also put a lot of effort into really high-end imaging. The high-end is a limited market and low-end consumer products manufacturing is a very different business than it was back in the heyday of the Brownie and Instamatic. Add the crash in film demand and their bankruptcy seems pretty inevitable.
I got a 126 film Kodak Instamatic for my 8th birthday. A few years later, I purchased a Brownie 620 for $2.00 at a garage sale. Developing my own film was a pretty decent hobby back then.
The biggest problem that I have with digital comes from one of its best features. Without a hard cost per image, I take considerably more shots. I never had a great filing and retrieval system for my negatives and when I end up with five or ten digital images of the same subject, I not only have challenges with my filing system, but there's just so much to sort through and nowhere near enough time to do so.