This morning I saw this article on the BBC News site where Kodak is set to exit the camera film and photo paper business. As a longtime photographer, I felt a sense of sadness about it.
My love of photography started early for me. I was a member of a local Girl Scout troop when I thumbed through a handbook listing all the badges that a Girl Scout could possibly earn. While we worked on some badges together as a troop, our troop leader encouraged us to obtain some badges on our own. After mulling over the numerous bages, I saw one called My Camera badge. I really liked the badge design and I also liked the required assignments in order to obtain that badge.
Soon afterwards I convinced my parents to buy me a camera so I could work on obtaining the My Camera badge and they got me a Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera. It took 110 film and it was slim enough to fit in your pocket. If you needed to take indoor pictures, you added a flash extender then a Magicube so you can take flash photography. It even came with little stickers so you could customize your camera to your liking. To give you a better idea of what this camera was like, here’s a 1971 commercial featuring Dick Van Dyke.
With my new camera I was able to finish the required assignments and I ultimately earned that badge. I continued to use that camera, as well as other Kodak cameras when my first camera wore out, whenever I went on trips or to family events. I eventually became known as the photographer of the family.
I switched to 35 mm photography when I took a photojournalism class at the University of Maryland and I purchased a Pentax MX camera. I continued to use Kodak film and I also used Kodak papers whenever I had to manually develop my own film as part of that course. After that class ended, I continued to use my Pentax MX camera with Kodak film for many years afterwards.
When my sister-in-law moved to Rochester to live with her then-husband (a Rochester native), I felt like I had the opportunity to visit the Mecca of photography. During the years she lived in Rochester, my husband and I drove by Kodak headquarters and we also toured the onetime home of Kodak’s founder that’s now known as the George Eastman House.
But during her years in Rochester there were signs that Kodak’s prime had passed. For years both Kodak and Xerox were the main providers of jobs for the locals in Rochester. (In fact, the mother of my sister-in-law’s then-husband had worked at Kodak for a number of years and she retired with a generous pension that she enjoyed until her death a few years ago.) Both companies started to slow down their hiring in the 1980’s as they outsourced jobs overseas and, like too many corporations in the United States, they started to focus more on short-term profits for their shareholders on Wall Street instead of providing paying jobs for average folks or making quality products that consumers wanted to purchase. I could easily devote more paragraphs on how much my sister-in-law and her ex-husband struggled to find decent paying jobs and they ultimately ended up moving from Rochester in order to find employment.
Despite all that, I continued to use Kodak film until one day when the shutter broke on my Pentax MX camera. I attempted to have it fixed (like I did previous times when the shutter broke) only to discover that Pentax had long since discontinued its support of the MX and no longer made any parts for it. (I still remember when the person at the camera repair place bluntly told me “You have an old camera.” By that time I had that camera for 15 years.)
By that point digital photography was making inroads so I switched to a digital camera and I haven’t looked back to film photography since. I’ll admit that I haven’t touched a Kodak product in years, except for buying the occasional pack of Kodak printer paper that happened to be on sale. But it’s still pretty sad to see an old and one-time innovative company starting to sell off its assets. Only time will tell whether it will be enough to keep Kodak afloat or not.