Kodak in collapse

Friday 20 January 2012

The news that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy in the US prompts me to think about this company, which dominated the com­mer­cial and technical aspects of photography throughout the twen­tieth century. Among the many Kodak products I have used, I fondly remember my first two cameras, the Carousel projector, Kodachrome film, the 100 mm Wide Field Ektar lens on my first 4x5 camera, and countless Austral postcards.

In 1888, with the introduction of the first Kodak camera George Eastman changed photography by allowing ordinary people to take photos without needing their own darkroom. The camera was sold loaded with a roll of film that could take 100 pictures. Owners sent the camera back to the Kodak factory for pro­cess­ing, printing and reloading. Hence Kodak’s slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”

This was a social transformation as great, in its time, as the intro­duction of the mobile phone camera.

The original Kodak camera made circular images, about 64 mm diameter. Each image was contact printed onto an 80 x 103 mm sheet of albumen paper, with the corners nicely rounded.

A print taken with the original Kodak camera, the first of a series sold with the pitch you press the button, we do the rest. For me, this picture sums up the idea of the amateur snapshot. The subjects are not inhibited by the presence of the camera​—​indeed the camera has prompted the action, and the connection with the camera is manifest in the photographer’s shadow in the picture.

filed under Photography + Technology

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