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What Ever Happened to Kodak?Posted by Michael Grecco
When was the last time you heard the phrase “kodak moment”? It’s probably been a while. Though once an untouchable giant in the world of photography, the Eastman Kodak Company is now but a shadow of its former self. So what happened?
Let’s start at the very beginning. It was the 1870s, and a man named George Eastman was on a mission to “make photography as convenient as the pencil.” At the time, the very idea seemed almost absurd. Producing one photograph involved slathering a glass plate with chemicals, sticking the resulting “wet-plate” in a light-tight box, sticking the box in a camera, removing the slide covering the wet-plate, exposing the wet-plate, replacing the slide, and making a mad dash to the darkroom to develop the image before the chemicals dried and lost their photosensitivity. In short, it was not convenient at all.
Eastman was undeterred, however, and fortunately for him, dry plates had just been invented. Dry plates were pre-coated with chemicals that were photosensitive without being time sensitive, which made the whole process a lot less urgent. Eastman experimented with dry plates until he found a way to put the emulsions on paper and plastic instead of glass. Once he figured that out, he was only a hop, skip and jump away from creating the first commercially viable camera.
In 1888, Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak company, and sent the first Kodak camera to market. The camera came preloaded with a 100 shot roll of film. Now, with just the press of a button, anyone could take a photo. Once the film was used up, the camera owner would send the whole thing back to the company where the film would be processed, printed, and replaced for the very reasonable fee of one dollar.
It was a smash hit! People everywhere became amateur photographers, capturing bits of their lives on film for posterity. The company flourished, and spent the next several decades at the forefront of the industry. They introduced Kodachrome in 1935, making color photography available to the masses. The Kodak Instamatic—with its user-friendly cartridge-loading film—hit shelves in 1963, and amateur photography became more popular than ever. The phrase “Kodak moment” came to mean anything worthy of remembering. In 1975, Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the world’s first digital camera…and that’s when trouble started brewing.
You see, the Kodak Company’s money didn’t come from selling cameras; it came from selling film and printing pictures. The rise of digital photography threatened one of their major revenue streams by making film obsolete. But, you can’t just wish away progress, and plenty of companies were already racing to meet the demand for digital cameras. To avoid being left in the past completely, Kodak poured billions into digital imaging research and development. At the same time, they shifted their focus to the printing industry in an attempt to maintain a grip on the photo development market.
Alas, this two pronged approach to staying relevant was a slow but sure failure. Though Kodak managed to create some very good digital cameras, they couldn’t keep up with competitors like Nikon, Fuji, Canon, and Sony. More alarmingly, their printing gamble turned out to be a bad bet. When camera phones burst onto the scene, many people stopped printing their photos all together, opting instead to store them on devices or upload them to photo sharing sites—and yet another revenue stream ran dry.
In a few short years, Kodak’s century-old photography empire was reduced to rubble. The company declared bankruptcy in 2012. And so the story ends—though there is a brief epilogue. In 2013, a new—albeit much smaller—iteration of the Eastman Kodak Company emerged from the ruins and is still operating (at a fraction of its former capacity) today.
Kodak is no longer the juggernaut of old, but we can’t discount their legacy. They put cameras in the hands of the public, and by doing so, completely revolutionized the entire field of photography. We salute you, Kodak, and wish you godspeed!
Kodak made amateur photographers of us all, but some things are still best left to a professional. If you’re looking to acquire images of the highest caliber, contact Michael Grecco today. A commercial photographer working out of Los Angeles and New York, Grecco has the skills to bring your vision to life. For more information, call (310) 452-4461 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.