Thursday, January 05, 2012

Fleeting Memories

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."  Ansel Adams

News of Kodak preparing for bankruptcy made me rather nostalgic.  It is indeed is bittersweet to see such an icon stumble especially since they helped pioneer the marketing of consumer technology products.  This is not so much an article on the business strategy, but rather a reflection of photography on my life and how something is lost for me as film fades away.

Christmas -- 1980s

One year I got a Kodak Disc camera for Christmas and I loved taking pictures with it.  On every family trip, I would take pictures documenting the experience.  As the camera got older, the pop out flash broke and stayed popped out.  As a result, I rigged it with tape so it wouldn't stick out and flash for all pictures.  There was one time I recall taking pictures with my cousin Wes with each of us shooting one another with our respective camera and saying "Gotcha with my Kodak Flash."  I don't recall if that was the marketing tag line, but it made for an enjoyable time.

High school -- early 1990s

Given my interest in photography as a kid, I decided to take a photography class in high school.  My first few pictures were pretty pedestrian, but with the help of a great teacher, I started to get a feel for composition and the art of film.  I loved spending time in the darkroom developing the film, making prints, and perfecting my technique.  Pretty soon, I was that guy with the camera in high school shooting for the yearbook.

College -- mid to late 1990s

One summer I worked for a photographer who had his own photo lab.  The place was not so OSHA friendly but I loved being in the darkroom.  I didn't like the spiders or the equipment failures, but it was still a memorable experience that I appreciate today.  I also managed to continue working with photos in college, where I shot for the publications office and school paper.  As a result, I even managed to get some things published in random journals and local newspapers.  I enjoyed that experience so much that I tried to pursue journalism as a career path after school (more on that later).

Chicago -- 1999-2001

After college, I hit the pavement looking for work in journalism -- photography or otherwise.  Fortunately with the aid of my network, I landed a gig working with MSNBC.  Granted, it wasn't photography, but it was a related aspect of the business.  It gave me a taste of film in a different light, but already it was clear digital was the way to go.  Despite the huge battery packs with early digital cameras, and the relatively low resolution by today's standard, it was only a matter of time before the technology improved and digital would dominate photography.

Seattle -- 2001 to current

Since moving to Seattle, I haven't really gotten back into photography as I once knew it.  Part of it was not finding a darkroom to rent like I did in Chicago, and part of it was the pace of change with digital cameras.  In the span of a few years we've gone from 3.x megapixels being the top of the line for a point and shoot to an 8 megapixel in my phone.  


While I love the instant nature and always present nature of digital photography, I do miss those darkroom days.  I miss the feel of the paper between my fingers after it's been fixed.  I miss the trial and error aspect of Polaroid transfers.  I miss the physicalness of dodging and burning.  I miss the sound of the water, washing the prints.  I miss the smell of the chemicals with film and photo processing.  

Filters, auto-correct software, and now incredibly awesome multi-focus cameras like Lytro -- while they make photography easy, and accessible -- for me they lose that special quality of something I made.  Yes, the memories are captured and the image looks great but the tangible aspect for me is gone.  They say memories are reinforced when multiple senses factor into its creation -- smell, sound, touch, etc.  With the old school way of film and photo processing I engaged many of those other senses; with digital, not so much.  As camera technology improves, do we run the risk of losing our memories by making them so easy to capture?