Feb 24
GOODBYE, KODAK by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Feb 24, 2012

In 1889, a guy named George Eastmann founded Eastmann Kodak Company which instantly dominated the market of photographic film. During its heyday in the 1970s, Kodak had a 90% market share.

But with the emergence of digital technology before the new millennium, photographic film companies suffered heavily with their dwindling sales. Kodak, Fuji Films and the others were forced to take a paradigm shift.

After the Second World War, my father Antonio Socorro worked with Manila Times, the top-circulating newspaper owned by the Roces family. He had the opportunity to undergo extensive studies in photography and rotogravure printing.

Renowned international photographer Preston Foote in a souvenir shot in Malacanang Palace

Together with Preston Foote, a known international photographer, they roamed the world for seminars and short courses. After each and every trip of my father, my young eyes would see a pile of sepia photographs being arranged by my mother in an album.

The few years of traveling gave my father the insights of good photography but he admits that one has to have an artistic eye to come up with a prize-winning photograph. And when all was said and done, it boiled down to one thing – Kodak was the best film.

I was fortunate to have experienced the class picture-taking during my elementary days. Mr. Elona, I remember him as a balding, short stocky man, was the official photographer of Mandaluyong Elementary School.

A standard shot of Mr. Elona whose studio used to stand in front of the Mandaluyong Elementary School in Blumentritt Street. The author is seated, second from left.

Mr. Elona’s big camera standing on the thick-limbed tripod was overshadowed by the big flash device which looked more like a disco strobelight. And not to forget, there was also the black curtain he used when he sights the view of the lens.

Aside from film, Kodak also sold cameras. In the early 1960s, Kodak’s instamatic camera came out in the market. Being a point-and-shoot camera, the instamatic was called the idiot’s camera because it was so easy to use.

During the prime of the instamatic cameras, Kodak’s was one of the bestsellers. In fact, Kodak was so popular in the country such that its name became an idiom for picture-taking – “kodakan tayo.”

Despite the popularity of the instamatic camera, a large majority still couldn’t afford it because the roll of film was costly and there was the developing charge. And the printing of the photographs was also expensive. Much more, a pack of flash bulbs is needed when using the camera at night.

Nevertheless, Kodak had made memories especially for the sentimental Filipino families. It was customary to have photographs for every milestone like baptism, debut and even first communion of the children.

Recent photo of Antonio Socorro, now an American citizen residing in North Carolina. At right is his grandson Kenneth

Photo albums were the treasures of the Filipino family especially those in the lower class of the society. “Yan ang kayamanan namin,” grandmothers would say of the faded photographs inside the expensive-looking, hardbound album

During the golden years of the Philippine movie industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Kodak had a fierce rivalry with Fuji Films for movie reels. At the time, movie producers were aplenty, churning out movies every week.

Some cinematographers still prefer Kodak over Fuji because of quality but some others chose Fuji because of the cheaper cost and good customer relations. At any rate, the film industry was at its peak and the film suppliers were raking in the profits.

One of the rare photographs taken by Antonio Socorro. The author and his mother while the 1955 total eclipse was in progress.

But not all good things last. With the present state of technology, the photographic film is slowly being relegated to the museum. Digital cameras and video cameras are common, not to mention the cellphone cameras and the laptop cameras.

The prevalence of cameras is coupled with ease of photography in terms of archiving and retrieval. Convenient too because there’s no developing involved in digital photographs. The digitized image is instantly accessible right after clicking the shutter.

And with the rising popularity of the digital video camera, the photo-graphic film industry is now saying goodbye. As a veteran cinema-tographer said, “Kung mapapantayan ng digital ang quality ng film eh wala na ngang ilalaban ang film dahil sa magastos ito.”

At the turn of the millennium, Kodak started streamlining its operations. They were at a loss on how to fight back against the digital age. But it was apparent that film companies were losing the war.

Cameras were sold in discounts with matching promotional gimmicks. They also started selling rechargable batteries to augment their declining revenue. Some other film companies were giving away instamatic cameras for free.

The crux of the rescinded contract

Early this year (2012), Kodak had admitted its bankruptcy. As proof, it was successful in rescinding its contract with the Academy Awards by taking off its name from the Hollywood Theater. That would save Kodak a yearly expense of $3.6 million.

Surprisingly, Kodak had decided to phase out their digital cameras and will just concentrate on their digital printers. With a leaner workforce, perhaps Kodak is looking into another good market opportunity.

Comments to this article can be sent to ajsocorro@yahoo.com

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