I’m guessing the term “Kodak moment” doesn’t have much meaning to the younger crowd these days. As a matter fact, I'm thinking that within the next 10 years or so the term will fade into oblivion. However, for those of us who have been around the block a few times the term a “Kodak moment” probably holds a special place in our hearts.

I can still recall some of the commercials that depicted smiling faces of strangers as Kodak pitched their film to the masses. It was usually those of smiling faces of families as they snapped away at their kids coming of age moments or grandmas 80th birthday party. If you're over the age of 40, I’m willing to bet you might have a couple of pictures of your own that you consider Kodak moments stashed away in an album or old suitcase tucked away in a closet or gathering dust somewhere down in the basement.

This might seem hard to believe but as recently as 1976 Kodak controlled 90% of the US film market and were making money hand over fist for their investors. Today, they are looking at filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. So, what happened?

And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure. You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let's have the intelligence, let's have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future. " – Danny Devito excerpt from the 1991 movie Other People’s Money.

I guess you could say that Kodak got caught with its pants down with the arrival of the “digital age” but that wouldn’t be entirely true. You see, Kodak was among one of the first companies to get digital patents over 40 years ago. Then, for some reason they decided to do absolutely nothing with them. They decided to stick with the horse they rode in on and relied on film sales and developing and their brand name to carry them into the future.

What a monumental mistake. Today, digital cameras are relatively cheap. There is no such thing a “wasted shot” since the images they produce can be erased with the click of button and even most cell phones come with some type of camera built into them and are carried as a matter of routine. Take a look around, at any notable event with a sizable crowd you can see tons of people pointing their phones at the goings on and clicking away

Today, I don’t think Kodak even makes film anymore. I don’t know what they’re doing in terms of sales but I do know that the company, in its 131st year of existence is probably going to be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of Kodak have plummeted and have traded below $1.00 for the last 30 days.

For now, it looks like Kodak’s moment in the sun has been pitched into darkness.

Personal commentary

I dunno, to me there’s something special about holding a picture in my hands rather than looking at an image on a screen. Somehow it feels more tangible and real to me. I can’t alter a picture the way I can an image and I’m okay with that. I know what I’m holding hasn’t been photo shopped or altered and what you see is what you get, warts and all.

As of the middle of last year I decided to take a quantum leap into the year 2000 and now have a cell phone replete with a camera in it.

I’ve yet to use it to take a picture.



As Kodak prepares to file for bankruptcy, it has become routine for commentators to state that Kodak crashed and burned because it failed to foresee or take advantage of the transition from film to digital photography. However, this is simply not true.

Kodak was always ahead of the curve on digital imaging, pioneering the science and being the first to market with digital cameras. One of the first digital cameras ever mass marketed, the Apple QuickTake 100 released in 1994, was designed and manufactured by Kodak and sold under the Apple brand in the US and Kodak's own brand elsewhere. Kodak also actually released the first-ever digital SLR camera, the Kodak DCS, way back in 1990, long before Nikon and Canon.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kodak was highly successful in the US digital camera market with its "EasyShare" line of cameras. These cameras consistently rated highly for low price, ease-of-use, and customer satisfaction. For several years, Kodak was the number one seller of digital cameras in the United States.

What really killed Kodak was the arrival of camera-equipped cellphones, which drastically undermined both its film and digital camera businesses. Even if Kodak had totally foreseen this development, it is hard to see what they could have done differently, as making a transition to manufacturing cellphones would have been difficult for a film company, and thanks to intense competition, cellphones have become a heavily commoditized, extremely low-margin product that you wouldn't exactly want to be transitioning to anyway (witness what is currently happening to venerable North American phone manufacturers like RIM and Motorola).

It's tempting to blame the victim when a company fails, and usually there is plenty of blame to go around, but sometimes, times just change and some perfectly good companies fail, and I think that's what happened in this case.

The year was 1978. My daughter was five and she flew on a plane for the first time. It was Easter and we were visiting my sister in Rochester who worked for Kodak. My parents decided to drive instead of fly, meeting us there. My sister had a degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon and was one of the few females allowed to participate in the building of a machine which we had to sign our lives away to see.

My father complained she was making more money fresh out of college than he'd made as a full professor but I could tell he was proud. My mother brought one of her instamatic cameras which was promptly confiscated prior to "the tour". To weed out the faint-of-heart, part of the tour included a walk-through of the conditions some employees experienced. Total darkness, a few tiny red lights to guide your feet. I held my daughter's hand and tried not to think about how claustrophobic I felt. "Isn't this fun, honey?"

My sister was not allowed to explain anything, in fact, she wasn't even on the tour with us. We took several staircases and walked through large rooms of men smoking cigarettes. At some point, we were shown into a room where we all had to don safety goggles and I only recognized my sister by her hair and her shape. Most of the machine was covered; I can't remember now with what except it was black. We were told it was a work in progress. From what I could see it looked like something that ate people and carefully removed the bones, cataloging them for who knows what purpose. It was sinister and all I could think was my sister had helped design this. My sister, who I once protected from raging sibling rivalry. My sister, whose curly red hair and freckles I envied and loved.

My mother was given back her camera; she took a few photos outside the building, but it was blustery and cold, and we weren't dressed warm enough. In those days, my mother's photos always had either her blurry thumb on one side or our heads chopped off. This time was no different.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.