Kodak has entered its last chapter. Chapter 11. It filed for bankruptcy this week. Over the next months or years we will see Kodak selling off any valuables that they own. Intellectual property, inefficient or non profitable business units, properties, etc. It will lay off workers and will tell investors that glory times will be ahead. What most likely will happen is that Kodak will survive for a short period of time and then will drop dead. I could tell you how sad that would be, that Kodak was photography and that they could have lead the digital revolution. Kodak engineers invented the digital photo sensor in 1975 and in 1976 created the Bayer array that is so common in today’s digital capture devices. Yes, they dropped that lead because they feared its influence on their profitable film business. What a short sighted perspective. If a new invention can jeopardize your business than wouldn’t you try to get a lead on it and make it a new pillar of your company versus putting it back into a drawer and wait until somebody else picks it up and runs with it. Mhhhhhh, maybe. For Kodak this thought never came up and it sounds all so familiar. Polaroid had a lead on digital photography in the early 90s and gave it up because it jeopardized their instant film business. GM had a lead on electric cars and gave it up to see Toyota make a run with it. Sometimes ideas appear too early for a market but having them them ready when the time is right doesn’t sound like a bad strategy. Only if you have to pay it with money that short-sighted shareholders would like to see on their annual cheques. So here it goes. Like a ship that hit a rock it has turned on its side and is steering for shallower waters in hope to slow down what is inevitable. I grew up with Kodak, loved films like Tri-X and Portra. My Kodak moments were not the decisive moments that people captured on film. My Kodak moment was to look with a magnifying glass at a 8×10 inch Portra slide on a light table. I spent hours just looking at the detail and the hidden stories within an image that the format and the magnifier would reveal. These times are gone. I just sold my last 8×10 camera. My support structure on labs doesn’t exist anymore. I moved to medium format digital and looking at a 80 megapixel file from a Leaf back provides some of that excitement that I felt when I looked at 8×10 film.
Honestly I don’t miss Kodak. To me it has lost its relevance years ago. A week ago I went to the CES and I walked through the Kodak space. There was nothing there that excited me as a photographer. In the past Kodak has been about film and printing. Today Kodak is about printing. But the world of photography is not about an image on paper anymore. It is about sharing an image on a screen and Kodak has no answer for that. Mr Perez, Kodak’s CEO, lead the HP inject business before he joined the company. He knows printing but does he understand photography in today’s society? Can a company that produced film even survive in today’s market? The answer is right in front of their eyes but on the other side of the globe. Fuji has been a long time rival in the film business. Fuji Velvia makes every landscape photographer’s heart beat faster. Fuji shifted their business early on and started exploring fields that would relate to their core competency. They applied their chemical expertise to the cosmetic market and are now being successful with their own product lines. Fuji developed their own sensor technology and has recently launched a set of cameras that are selling like freshly baked bread. While still producing film, they did’t try to stay focused on it. They saw the change coming and they explored what they are good at and created new business units. Kodak lacked that flexibility. They felt comfortable in the 20th century and never stepped into the 21st. The market has moved on and while I could see the brand staying around like Polaroid is staying around, the company itself will most likely disappear. I left them behind years ago and I won’t miss them. But I will remember that I had good times with them. My Kodak moments.