Kodak and the Future of Artistic Photography
Seeing that Eastman Kodak reported last week that it is likely to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection between now and February, I had to do some thinking out loud about the history and future of fine art photography.
Firstly, let me get off my chest that I was born at a time when only the world’s elite had digital cameras, and this was the norm for the first couple decades or so of my life. The first camera I ever got to use in fine art photography was a Pentax K-1000; a 35mm F-I-L-M camera, and a beauty of a beginner SLR. I LOVE THAT THING! LOVE IT! With that instrument, I learned how to pop and develop b/w Kodak film cassettes in changing bags, shoot with film, develop and print my pictures in darkrooms on Kodak paper, sleeve negs in negative files and everything else that most fine-art photographers had to experience when access to digi-cams were extremely rare. Today that’s nostalgia for many but for me, its fond memories of a sacred rite of passage. This is more so over the fact that the fine art photography industry has forced me to shoot almost exclusively in digital.
I’m not complaining about that exactly. I thoroughly enjoy digital photography. What I’ve done, was adapted to exploit a technology that inevitably would reshape the world of photography. So, WHAT’S UP WITH KODAK?
The writing was on the wall. Kodak invented the world’s first digital still camera in 1975 but refrained for many years from pursuing the market out of fear of crushing its film development and print sales. It allowed its competitors to take the lead. In the 80’s and 90’s, those competitors did two things that undermined Kodak. 1) They smartly under cut Kodak’s prices for film, development and printing. I must say, I took a big liking to Fuji brand colour films that were made to not be as sensitive to red light wavelengths as Kodak’s which made images a little too yellow for my taste. I was very partial to Fuji Velvia 100F. 2) As the digital technology improved, the competitors flooded the market with digital cameras and memory cards of all formats and prices. Canon digital technology with its “affordable range” of Rebel’s and higher end DSLR’s is a force to be reckoned with. For a long time now, Canon has been ranked a close second to Nikon. Many pro shooters buy Nikon and/or Canon camera bodies, and salivate mostly for Canon L-Series lenses that are compatible with either body type.
By 2005, Kodak regained strength by reminding the world, or at least the US, that it is a leader in digital photography technology from cameras to printers and scanners. Digital equipment sales, however, were reportedly much leaner that those for Kodak film; the product that Kodak spent decades promoting the most until that’s largely what Kodak was known for. Attempting to acquire recognition in the digital photo sharing and printing avenues, Kodak announced it was finally getting out of the film market in 2006 but it appears that the company’s efforts haven’t been fruitful. Now, company stock is worth just over a buck and is in danger of being delisted from the NYSE.
This is not the end of Kodak. The company can still do business while it campaigns to sell off its patents through a court-supervised bankruptcy auction. This will be an effort to prevent filing bankruptcy.
So, I had to ponder how this business development stands to impact fine art photography. Last December, the LA Times reported that the NPD Group, Inc. declared that the sales of single-purpose cameras fell 17 per cent in 2011. Smartphones, with their micro cameras, cornered that niche market indicating that a lot of people relying on digital imaging technology these days are the snap shooters.
Does this mean that fine art futawgrufee is finally waning? Wait for it . . . NO, actually. NPD Group, Inc. also reports that sales in upper-level point-and-shoots; with at least 10x zoom capability, to higher end DSLR’s increased by 16 and 12 per cent respectively last year. This is the current range of beginner to pro artistic photographers. People who want to pack creative expression into their photography. So, in case anyone is asking, there you go. Artistic photography is alive and kicking!