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January 18, 2004

It's The End of Photography As We Know It

Via CityCynic: Kodak has announced that it will stop making film cameras, which raises important questions about how this decision will change photography:

Eastman Kodak Co. (EK) on Tuesday said it will stop selling traditional film cameras in the United States, Canada and Western Europe, another move by the troubled photography company to cut lines with declining appeal in favor of fast-growing digital products.

But the Rochester-based company will continue to sell one-time use cameras in the West and expand its sales of these and other film-based cameras and supplies in markets such as China, India, and Latin America, where demand is on the rise.

The article goes on to suggest that declining demand for film cameras in the US led to this decision. I imagine that once the buzz over digital cameras subsides a little, occasional bouts of nostalgia may lead to renewed interest in film cameras, but that's just a guess. The more significant questions, I think, will be how the increasing turn toward digital photography and digital video will change the way we record and remember the past, how we store it, and who will have access to these technologies.

Posted by chuck at January 18, 2004 12:10 PM

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I think you're right about nostalgia. This move will only intensify the "aura" associated with the film and chemical mode of photography.

Posted by: George at January 18, 2004 11:49 PM

I'm also curious about the fact that Kodak will continue to sell film-based cameras in Latin America, China, and India; specifically, is the market for these cameras based on an already existing nostalgia for film or is it based on the (lack of) availability of home computers?

I'm still very curious about storage, and I think this is implied in your comment. I don't own a digital camera yet, and I rarely take pictures anyway, but aren't people much less likely to "print" digital photographs than they are film-based photographs? Obviously, "storage" can take place on disks as well as on paper (or photographic negatives), but I continue to find this distinction interesting.

Posted by: chuck at January 19, 2004 12:14 AM

My experience has been that, yes, people are not very likely to print their digital photographs. However, a variety of software tools exists for organizing and accessing your digitial photos, including for publishing them online.

My experience has also been that people will be more likely to discard the digital photographs that didn't turn out than they are to discard the more traditional kind.

As for cost, the camera, as you suggest, is not the most expensive thing: it's the computer. Developing film is not cheap, and after awhile, the relative costs of the two kinds of photography kind of even out ... but it takes longer for that evening out to take place if you put the price of the computer into the equation.

Very interesting that Kodak continues to sell film-based cameras in other markets.

Posted by: George at January 19, 2004 10:17 AM

I guess my question is what happens when people stop printing photos or print them a lot less often. I know that my parents have several volumes of photo albums with pictures of me as a kid. Will the tendency to store photos online somehow have an effect on, say, this method of organizing one's past? What might that mean for our concepts of visually narrating experiences (childhood, etc)?

Do these questions make sense?

Posted by: chuck at January 20, 2004 8:33 PM

Wait, does anyone know anyone who uses a Kodak film camera? I am not talking about those disposable things either - I mean a real camera with real lenses.

Posted by: Randy at January 23, 2004 5:02 PM

Oh yeah, and other than 16mm movie film, all the film I buy is Fuji or Ilford. Other than Kodachrome 64, Kodak film stinks in my book.

Posted by: Randy at January 23, 2004 5:05 PM

I don't think I know anyone with a Kodak film camera. I think I see their gesture as more symbolic than anything else, and I'm not really nostalgic about film per se, but curious how using a digital camera rather than a film camera changes the way we store images.

Posted by: chuck at January 23, 2004 5:08 PM

Could be marketing...Hey KODAK is stopping its sale of film cams...This means you paint chip eaters ought to run out and buy a digi-cam...

...Though I doubt this paranoella possibility...It seems more likely Kodak is making a business decision solely based on its own trepedation at spending its fortunes on the digital bet...Gee, let's stop making cameras and make a digital that uses NIKON lenses for our Grand Prix....which is a copy cam anyway...Sounds all so detroit-esque...lense from Japan...chip from chinoise...Shutter from Shanghai and a film-back from Florida...only thing left out is the Oldsmobile name on the hood!.... But then, I do ramble!

Posted by: Bob Past at March 8, 2004 2:14 AM

Conventional (until till tomorrow) photography is clearly being overrun by digital - Just visit the top camera stores in New York - maybe one person on the film camera line and hundreds on the digital line. News photography, all digital now. Art? Well, everything from pinhole cameras to straight-through digital - just a series of media to an artist. Documentary photography, including evidence/legal? Over. As one writing put it, the little Photoshop of Horrors can ends the trustworthy nature of photography.

Can you imagine a criminal defense lawyer trying to raise the photoshop defense to a videotape or photograph? Certainly the evidence has NO TRUSTWORTHY MEANING, yet, it will linger like the lie-detector in these dark ages to convince juries and hang men (and women). Ah, if only Martha Stewart....hey, how about communicating with your broker only in images? I'm onto something here.

Posted by: Dave at March 8, 2004 2:25 AM

Bob: In another entry on Kodak, I comment on their recnt layoffs, which I know have devastated many families in Rochester, NY. I don't think there are any simple answers here, unfortunately.

Dave: these concerns about the reliability of photography have been around since the earliest photos, but digital certainly ups the ante. Now we can get photos of John Kerry and Jane Fonda attending peace rallies together. Or debates about photographs of the toppling of Saddam's statue. Haven't had any coffee this morning, so I'll hold off further comment for now.

Posted by: chuck at March 8, 2004 10:40 AM

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