The photography giant's filing for bankruptcy evokes nostalgia in an old-timer.

The light has gone out of the darkroom, till yesterday a part of every photographer's life.

Some time ago, the death-knell was sounded on photography's other accessories too - film negatives and transparencies, Bromide papers on which the pictures were printed and, of course, the film-based camera.

So when American photography giant Kodak filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, it was bound to take a piece of everyone's memory. At least, everyone born before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

For, Kodak has played a large part in creating and archiving the collective memory of our times - both amateur and professional.

Personally, I have extensively used Kodak's colour and black-and-white films, film-developing chemicals and, later, the iconic Kodakchrome colour transparencies.

The last time I used a Kodak product was in 2001, with the DSC 520 camera. And as Kodak's photographic avatar fades out, I feel a sense of nostalgia about those non-digital images. When pictures were captured on film negatives, processed in a darkroom with only a red-bulb shining and some odd-smelling chemicals… all coming together magically to create a photograph. The very process makes you fall in love with the art. I did, watching an image on negative translating into a picture on paper. Words like T Max, Tri-X, D76 D163 (names of films and chemicals) will remain an integral part of my memory.

But Kodak was not just for professionals; it was a household name through its cameras and films.

With Kodak's bankruptcy, the romantic may mourn the death of the old. But in business, it is the story of a pioneer unable to build on its huge head-start. Eastman Kodak Co came into being around 1880 and was a major player in both amateur and professional photography till the end of last century, but new-age digital products and companies pushed Kodak off the centre stage. Other Japanese and German companies such as Canon, Nikon and Leica eventually played a larger role in photography.

As digital technology replaced film, young photographers may never understand what Kodak meant in its time.

A youngster learning photography in the last two decades would have hardly used any Kodak products. It is now more about speed and the comfort of knowing what you are photographing, thanks to the digital screen that shows the photographer what he or she is focusing on. Megapixels and sensors have replaced films and prints. And the word ‘darkroom' raises eyebrows among the younger photographers.

It is sad that Kodak was unable to adapt to newer digital technologies despite its iconic status and financial might. Its reluctance to develop digital cameras and invest in high-end digital technology spelt its doom. Kodak may have once been synonymous with photography. But photography is all about capturing the moment, and the pity is that Kodak could not seize its moment.

(The author is a photojournalist and co-founder of Udaan School of Photography.)

(This article was published on January 26, 2012)
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