Kodak: From “Remember The Day In Pictures” to “Remember using a Kodak camera?”
For nearly 125 years Kodak’s reason for existence has been to provide the tools for people to create memories.
“Remember the day in pictures.”
“Keep ‘Family History’ in snapshots.”
“Remember the visit with snapshots.”
“For over 100 years people have trusted their memories to Kodak film.”
Kodak, the company that started in 1880 and popularized the film camera and invented the digital camera, recently announced that they’re no longer going to manufacture digital cameras and photo frames. How does one think of a dying behemoth? And not just any corporate behemoth, but a company that has been integral to capturing and storing our memories? Their 1970s ad said, “We’re America’s storyteller celebrating life with you –picturing the stories of everything you do.” Now Kodak is transforming into a memory.
There are three ways to consider this transformation.
The “Wow. Just wow.” factor
Most of the stories I’ve seen fit in this category . Wow. Kodak is no longer making digital cameras. Wow. Kodak is the company that invented the digital camera. The company has been around, like, forever. Look at that. Such a change. Wow. It just takes your breath away.
Over my lifetime, I’ve shot pictures with an Instamatic camera, and a Pocket Instamatic (using Kodak film, of course.) When I got a 35mm Single Lens Reflex, I kept using Kodak film—lots of Kodak film. When I took a photography class, I bought Kodak chemicals and photo paper. I got a Kodak slide carousel projector to view my travel snapshots and together with my mother’s carousel projector, I built a huge multimedia slide show of family pictures (one day I gotta write about that!)
Later, I got some of my slides scanned and converted to digital using Kodak Photo CD technology. These days I upload some select digital photos to KodakGallery.com and then go pick up photo-style prints at local neighborhood
An offshoot of the Wow. Just Wow. reaction to Kodak is the business story. How could the “Google of its day” grow so weak that it bleeds money and had to declare bankruptcy? And why did the Japanese counterpart, Fuji, end up thriving where Kodak did not? See The Economist for the biz analysis.
Don’t let a company’s demise spell the demise of your personal data
When Wow. Just Wow. meets the business story, how does that affect the family historian (Oral Historian, Personal Historian)?
There’s a saying, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” (The library of memories, experiences, wisdom—that’s the reason for this site, to preserve those memories and wisdom. To preserve the sound of his voice, the image of her as she talks.)
What happens when a company dies? If the company is the only one who holds the technology key to your data, then when the company dies, your library burns to the ground.
This exposed roll of kodachrome film is the analog chemical example of my library burning to the ground. I don’t know how long ago I shot this roll, but I will never get it developed. You can’t get Kodachrome slide film processed anymore—processing of Kodachrome ended in December, 2010. So this film roll is only good as an offering on my shrine to obsolete technology.
It’s too late to remember that day (or those days) in pictures.
This is why I strongly urge you to use commonly accepted and non-proprietary file standards with your digital memorabilia. Future generations will be able to access your data if the file format is in wide use. File format owned by a single company? Your data is tied to the fate of that company. I call that “Proprietary Jail”—it’s locked away, and you don’t have control over the key. A data standard shared by many companies and organizations? It will survive. Otherwise, when a single company goes away, it takes your data with it. Just like my roll of exposed Kodachrome.
“Did you use Kodak products?” is now a good interview question
It’s time to add “Remember Kodak?” to my list of interview questions.
I’ve been compiling a set of interview questions under the heading of “Inventions” or “Stuff in Everyday use.” The questions are, more or less, like this—What was your reaction when this new item became available? Did you use this? How did it work in your life? Or, if it was new, how did it change or affect your life?
Here’s my partial list of inventions:
Telephone, radio, television, record player, cassette, 8-track tape, CD, VCR (beta or VHS? my brother got us a beta system) Cable TV, TiVo and DVRs, cordless telephones, phone answering machine. The kind with the tape for the outgoing message, later replaced by the internal sound chip. And voicemail. You get the idea. Some of them are still in use, others have come and gone.
I didn’t even think about adding film cameras to that list. My bad, I overlooked it.
I think I had a blind spot. Sure, I rattled off my list of Kodak-based memories above. But I thought of the target generation—the people whose stories need preserving—as being older than me.
I thought that this image (below) represents my target generation…
… whereas, in reality, the target generation includes people like this (below):
When it comes to the use of the everyday technology of our lives, we are all elders. To drive the point home, here’s a movie about how different generations view records and the record player.
Author and blogger John Scalzi surprises his daughter Athena with a vinyl LP. It’s a hilarious and enlightening less-than-two minute documentary.
If you think Athena is faking her reaction, read John Scalzi’s blog post—and the comments.
Here are the questions I’m adding to my list of questions about everyday inventions.
- Did you have a camera to take photos?
- What kind was it? What kind of film did you shoot?
- How did you view the photographs?
- Did you shoot home movies? Describe what you did.
- Did you—or anyone close to you—get into photography as a hobby?
Enjoy the history
The Kodak web site has a History of Kodak section. Check out the multimedia timeline of Kodak’s history. I got the 1970s advertising jingle “We’re America’s storyteller” from that movie.
Please enjoy the rest of the Kodakery images I hunted down for you.
About the images:
- Duke University’s Advertising Ephemera Collection, Emergence of Advertising On-Line Project, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- eBay listings: Kodak suggests a “give and take” Christmas
- Vintage Ads, Livejournal: His first Kodak camera, Commencement Gift
- Advertisements in LIFE magazine: You press the button, Snapshots ad series
Questions for you
In the comments, tell about your own Kodak camera and film experience.
Or, tell about an experience when you realized that (gulp!) OMG, I am and elder!
The beleaguered middle class seems to be fading away like a once cherished Kodak snapshot. The red white and blue American Dream once sparkled in Kodacolor and now both seems to be vanishing. The wholesome images of all American family fun portrayed in Kodak’s long running ads created a template fro the middle class. It’s interesting to take a look at the homogenous tableau’s created by Kodak in their vintage ads.