Guardians of culture, that's what they are!

Sunrise over the planes

My recent entry about Kodak discontinuing film seems to have drawn a lot of attention.

One concept I hold very dear is the concept of being a guardian of our culture. Most of the time, this is a thankless, underpaid, and generally difficult task. Many excellent artists fill this role, but most of them don't make a good living... or even a living at all.. doing it.

But there's more than the artists who are in this role. Art Museums also find themselves doing this. The most famous and expensive paintings are often uninsured. You cannot just pull another copy of the same painting off the rack and put it up on display and rarely do museums have sufficient money in their budget to afford an insurance plan that would cover the cost of a similarly famous and expensive picture.

Anyway, I got some emails pointing out that any faith in Kodak has been long misplaced. Joe from Boris Photography pointed out about various recent Kodak sins over the past decade or two.

And he's right, except by my account, this has been going on for much longer. In Kodachrome: The American Invention of Our World, the authors mention that Kodak intentionally didn't discuss the fading of the Ektachrome film of the time because Kodak wanted people to move towards the new Ektachrome films instead of Kodachrome.

We find ourselves in a sticky situation because Kodak has been run by bean-counters for quite some time now..... That Polaroid, which was run by genius-scientists for quite a while, is also in trouble is a crowning example of how nothing in life is simple, of course...

Color film is not something you can whip up in your basement. To do it right is something that very few companies have managed to achieve.... I mean, even Agfa, Konica, and 3M/Imation/Ferrania had problems making decent color films, which is why they are out of the market at this point.

Kodak makes a number of films that there's nothing quite like. Kodachrome for example. Each time they discontinue a film, we lose a set of colors and tones from our photographic palette, much like potters have lost many of the colors that old Chinese pottery had from their ceramic palette. Sure, I can mix up a "celadon blue" glaze from a recipe book, but it will never quite have the same properties of the old glazes.

The real problem at stake is that Kodak's finding themselves in the position of being a guardian of our culture, a role which we've already established is not usually fiscally rewarding, with a management edict to become a large, profitable corporation again.

I'm not sure what the end answer is. It's already too late for Kodak to have spun off their film products division, given that most of the potential buyers are going to consider film a waning market. The US government has not shown much interest in interfering with Kodak's business to force it to become an economic issue. Not all of Kodak's products have a direct equivalent in Fuji or Ilford's product lineup. And, like it or not, a lot of people who used to shoot film are now shooting digital and will never go back, no matter how much film improves or how much Kodak advertises.

Still, I can still sleep well at night, as a film based photographer. My last film-related nightmare was about ruining a roll of film because I stupidly took the lid off of it, not that I went to Kamera Korner and was told that they were out of every kind of film. There's still hope left, and no matter what happens, I think there's room for me to continue with my photography.


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