Kodak Moments are fading fast

If it’s not a sign of the times, it certainly is a snapshot of it. As Bob Dylan prophetically proclaimed, “the times they are a changing’.” And he said that in 1964!

If it’s not a sign of the times, it certainly is a snapshot of it. As Bob Dylan prophetically proclaimed, “the times they are a changing’.” And he said that in 1964!

Flash forward nearly five decades or so — a few flips of the old photo album pages in the grand scheme of things — and just last week the granddaddy of film and photography, Kodak, announces that it is filing for bankruptcy.

How many of us felt oddly sad when we heard that? After all, Kodak made it possible for us to freeze-frame our world, to record everything important in our lives and put them in slide carousels and scrapbooks and frames and in keepsake boxes. I can hear younger readers exclaiming aloud: “Why would I want to put pictures in boxes, I have them all right here on my cellphone.” Also: “What the heck is a slide carousel?” And: “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

It’s hard to impress upon the younger set just how much Kodak meant to families and especially to stores that sold film. Yes, believe it or not, it used to actually cost money to make a picture! Just a few years ago, it would cost me around $18 for a roll of 24 exposure film, including the 24 nice four-by-six prints that I then put into scrapbooks or boxes instead of computer files.

That’s assuming all 24 pictures turned out well enough to keep, because, believe it or not young non-baby boomer people, you couldn’t actually see the picture instantaneously when you took it. This is a foreign concept to those who only know the amazing world of digital photography, where people take 24 pictures of their cat on a daily basis before heading out to take dozens more of nothing in particular. Yes, taking photographs was a bit of a crap shoot back then, and unfortunately that was often the best way to describe how the pictures turned out.

So 18 bucks for 24 photos, or 75 cents every time I pressed the shutter. And if that doesn’t make you shudder, last week, over four days, I took over 1,200 pictures with my two cameras, using five digital memory cards. And it didn’t cost me one red cent or any other colour cent other than buying the cards in the first place — which I can erase and re-use once the pictures are downloaded.

No wonder Kodak has gone the way of Blockbuster video, electric typewriters and Polaroid instant film. Yes, it’s gone the way of the dodo bird, which ironically is a saying that has, itself, gone the way of the dodo bird. (The younger set may have to look that one up.)

And speaking of irony, guess who invented the first digital camera? That’s right, Blockbuster video. I’m kidding of course; it really was, ironically, Kodak.

Yep. In the 1990s, Kodak spent billions developing the instant photo technology that is inside most of today’s digital cameras and cellphones. In a move that would be comparable to selling your thousand shares in Apple because you didn’t like the beige colour of the new MacIntosh computers in 1984, Kodak decided to keep its focus (haha) on its lucrative film business rather than gamble on the new-fangled pixels, megabytes and digital digits.

In 10 years, film was all but wiped out by the filmless photography it invented. You could say that film failed to develop, but you would be making a very bad pun.

And speaking of developing, I can’t tell you how many happy hours I spent in the dark.

Hold it. I’m speaking of the dark room, developing and printing my own black and white film. It started with a photography course at the college many dark rooms ago that involved learning the magical secrets of making pictures appear on paper right before your very eyes and coming out of a small, stuffy pitch-black room smelling like toxic chemicals with impressive names like ‘stop bath’ and ‘fixer.’

My buddy and I (who shall remain nameless for legal reasons) used to make sure we had several beverages in the form of stubby bottles during these darkroom sessions, plus a portable cassette player (another thing for young readers to look up) and many loud cassette tapes to help us with the creative process.

Later, my house always had a darkroom in the basement — not just a typical two-word dark room, but a one-word photographic darkroom. My rotten kids used to sit in the darkroom with me and watch the pictures come to life and dip their curious little fingers into the stop bath and fixer, which may partially explain their subsequent instances of occasional erratic behaviour.

I miss those many hours in the dark. Creating photographs that way never gets old. Apparently it just becomes obsolete.

Robert Burley, a photography professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, puts it this way: “Kodak played a role in pretty much everyone’s life in the 20th century because it was the company we entrusted our most treasured possession to — our memories.”

The advertising gurus created a term for capturing those life-mapping memories. A term that became as much a part of our lives as “Where’s the beef?”, “It’s the Real Thing” or “You’re soaking in it!” (Some may have to look that one up too.)

They called it a “Kodak Moment.”

Billions of those Kodak Moments have been created in the 132 years since the company invented flexible roll film and the Brownie, Hawkeye and Instamatic cameras, and virtually made the movie business possible with its magical combination of silver and plastic.

That’s all that film is really. Silver and plastic. As miraculous and intangible as pixels and digits on a screen.

See, I think digital photography is magical, too — perhaps even more so. But there’s something about those yellow boxes, and those pieces of plastic, and the Brownie/Hawkeye/Instamatic snaps we created — even the really bad ones — that keep the Kodak Moments alive for us digital draftees.

Meantime, I’ve been busy converting my old Kodak pictures into digital files, all the while, listening to Bob Dylan on ITunes.

A sign of the times.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

Alberta reported an additional 1,980 cases of COVID-19 Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer adds 37th death from COVID-19, active cases drop

Alberta Health identified an additional 1,980 cases of the virus province-wide

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)
FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

A man on a skateboard and a young woman pass large letters spelling out UBC at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on November 22, 2015. The federal government is writing off more than $200 million in outstanding student loan payments that officials will never be able to collect. Recently released spending documents show the government won't collect $203.5 million in debts from 34,240 students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan

VANCOUVER — A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing is set to start… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday’s $25 million Lotto max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $25 million jackpot… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

MADISON, Wis. — States asked the federal government this week to withhold… Continue reading

Toronto FC coach Chris Armas talks with his players during a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match against Mexico's Cruz Azul at Azteca stadium in Mexico City, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Fernando Llano
Toronto FC coach Chris Armas returns to Red Bull Arena to face former team

Toronto FC coach Chris Armas returns to Red Bull Arena to face former team

Most Read