Mr. Eastman Could Not Have Pictured Kodak's Fall

By Markowitz, Jack | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 12, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mr. Eastman Could Not Have Pictured Kodak's Fall


Markowitz, Jack, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Who could forget your first camera? It cost $4 and was called a Brownie.

The manufacturer was Eastman Kodak Co. -- and who else could it have been?

Who else was more efficient, more inventive? And more American, to put it bluntly? (Imports weren't much then.) Besides, anybody would have preferred Kodak, not an "off-brand."

Loading the film (also Kodak) was easy, but a matter of care. Don't -- by all means don't -- allow an instant of light to expose the film before it got wound into the camera's small black body with a papery whisper.

After you took all 12 pictures, advancing the film each time until a new number appeared in a small red plastic window, you took the exposed roll to a drug store. From whence it got sent somewhere for about a week.

Probably a local lab. But maybe as far as Rochester, N.Y., the center of the photographic universe along the Erie Canal, where 19th century entrepreneur George Eastman, contemporary of Edison, Westinghouse and Ford, set up a world-leading enterprise in 1880.

German lenses, a tripod camera with a hood over your head -- nobody needed all that for a family snapshot. This was Eastman's insight. He didn't invent photography, he mass-marketed it, creating a traffic of simple cameras, rollable film. And made us all photographers.

In good time came digital cameras, a century or so later, amazingly capturing the image, not on film, but in electronic bytes.

And it was Mr. Eastman's company (long after he was gone) that invented and marketed the digital camera. But they didn't make a must-have product of it, reluctant perhaps to curse their own film trade. …

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