Discussion Assignment 3: Momma Don’t Take my Kodachrome Away
When I think back on all the crap I’ve learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
Though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me much
I can read the writings on the walls
Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colours
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
In 1973, Paul Simon released the hit song Kodachrome. It represented the cultural perception that photography can capture important life memories. In Simon’s song, the photographed world looks quite a bit better than does real life. After all, we tend to photograph only the happiest events, rarely the saddest. He uses photography as a metaphor for seeing life as we wish it would be, rather than how it is really. Unfortunately, for the Eastman Kodak Company they too tended to see the world the way they wished it would be and this attitude resulted in their eventual undoing.
The song’s signature phrase, “Momma Don’t Take my Kodachrome Away,” focused on an iconic consumer product, Kodak Kodachrome color film. The product, introduced in 1935, was the first high quality color film. Curiously, it was developed by two professional musicians and part-time chemists who worked under contract to Kodak, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky. The film was a tremendous success and photographers valued its ultra rich color and archival stability; for many years National Geographic photographers, such as Penn State grad Steve McCurry, used it exclusively.
In 2009, 75 years after its introduction, Kodak ended production of this venerable product. Digital photography eliminated the market for the film, which was complex and expensive to manufacture and process. Since Kodachrome was slide film, it required specialized and expensive slide projectors just to look at the pictures and prints were difficult to make from slides.
Consumers wanted to take digital pictures so they could put them on Facebook and look at them right away on their new iPhones. Professionals were working on tighter deadlines now defined by digital speeds incompatible with additional film processing and scanning delays. Photography had changed radically and so did the way we use it. Kodachrome became a relic of the past.
Unfortunately, Kodak had no other products that could assume Kodachrome’s formerly powerful place in the hearts and minds of the photo consuming public; it was so embedded in the culture they were even writing popular songs about it. Kodak was indelibly identified with their film products, which had fallen rapidly into disuse.
This was an odd and sad situation for the company because they were an early leader in the development of digital photography. Steve Sasson, a Kodak engineer, had actually invented the digital camera in 1975, for which President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2010. However, Kodak failed to exploit Sasson’s invention the way they had capitalized on prior inventions such as Kodachrome or even the Brownie camera. Ironically, Sasson retired from Kodak in 2009, the same year they retired Kodachrome.
On January 19th, 2012, the once mighty American industrial giant, Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy, a victim of its own inability to keep up. At some point Kodak saw themselves as primarily a film company, not a photography company or even a visual communications company, and therefore failed to continue developing the innovative photographic technology they needed to survive in the cell-phone camera era, when film is unnecessary.
Alternatively, Apple sold 320 million iPhones with robust Internet connectivity and they all contained good quality cameras. Although photography is vital to their business, it is clearly only one component of a complex system of digital smart-phone based communications. In many ways, Apple is now a company that focuses on the methods of digital communications embodied in their media rich cellphones and computers.
Kodak as a company saw themselves much more narrowly and they failed to understand that the photograph is no longer the end-product. What we do with the photos after we take them is something that now matters immensely. The iPhone works successfully for photography because it is a camera, an editor, a portable photo album, and photo publishing and broadcasting device all in one.
During the last 15 years, the fortunes of both Apple and Kodak changed dramatically. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy; Kodak however, was at the top of their game with record stock prices. To understand the magnitude of Apple’s success and Kodak’s failure we only need to look at the numbers.
Kodak had a 1997 stock price of $90 a share; today it is about 25 cents a share. They experienced losses of nearly $40 billion. Alternatively, Apple was valued at $22 a share in 1997 and is now at $450 a share.
If you had bought 100 shares of stock in both companies in 1997, the Apple shares would be worth nearly $150,000 today (the stock split several times); the Kodak stock would be worth about $25. The true importance of these numbers is that innovation and creativity matter in measurable ways over time. The numbers also helps us understand the extent to which photography has shifted from one technology to another. The era of photography-for-photography’s-sake ended as digital imaging wove the medium seamlessly into a fabric of other technologies, of which Apple was prepared to implement in their products and Kodak was simply not.
Thanks to technology that puts tiny good quality cameras in everyone’s pocket, photography is more popular then ever with about 400 billion photos taken each year; up from about 75 billion in 1997. It is the essential visual-communications element of everything from commercial advertising to on-line social media (i.e. Facebook).
The trend in photography since its invention in 1839 has been – at every step- to make its technology more convenient and more accessible, a trend that George Eastman, Kodak’s late 19th century founder, ironically capitalized on. Steve Jobs did for Apple exactly what George Eastman did for Kodak; he fostered a climate of innovation and ideas aimed directly at the consumer audience. Both men drove their companies to make products that were so elegant and intuitive a child could use them. Will Apple have the same success at innovation without Jobs in charge?
There has been one predictable constant in photography over its 174-year existence, every generation or so it is reinvented. From Daguerreotypes to smartphone photography, has been a continuous and creative arc of progress. Kodak’s top echelon people could have prepared for the next reinvention and made decisions necessary to keep the company innovatively vital.
They certainly had the talent and resources; instead, they relied on old ideas and old technology. Theirs was failure of imagination and a failure to reinvent. Kodak manufactured Kodachrome for 75 years and during that time it changed very little. Can you even imagine the current iPhone still being viable 75 years from now in 2088?
The digital revolution has put photography in play as an important component of digital communications; therefore, its potential possibilities are changing very rapidly. This creates opportunities for smart and creative people to reimagine and reinvent what it can be or what it will be.
For this discussion assignment, you will need to do a little research on the state of photography today so that you can use your imagination to take a defendable position about its possible future.
The Discussion Tasks
Write a Position Statement
For this discussion post a Position Statement that addresses the below question. Feel free to address other pertinent issues on these basic topics beyond the specific question listed.
Imagine this… With the loss of Steve Jobs, Apple executives are very keen on finding ways to ensure their company remains as innovative as it did while he was alive. Apple wants to continue putting photographic technology in their products and become a leader in the field.
Seeing the demise of Kodak and other important US companies due to a lack of innovative vision they contract you, as a consultant, to write a position statement on what the future of photography will be 25 years from now.
They will use your report to make decisions about the direction of photographic components or uses in their product marketing and R&D (research and development). Take into account both the technology that will likely be available and possible new uses or needs people will have for photography.
You can speculate on new photo-related products or suggest new trends for which the company should plan. Be realistic; do not engage in wild speculation without the support of research to suggest your speculation will be possible within 25 years. For instance, do not suggest that cameras will be embedded in peoples’ skulls unless you can point to credible research that such technology will be possible and reasonably common. Important: Include the sources of your research in your report.
Note: Your report does not have to be overly (or even primarily) technical. Focus on possible imaginative or innovative uses of photography in future products that may be used by Apple or similar companies.
Remember, if 25 years ago you could have written a similar imaginative report for Kodak based on well-known trends in the existing technology and cultural trends of the time, you might have saved the company.
Write the Peer Responses
Browse your Peers’ Position Statements and write well-reasoned responses to at least ten (10) different statements.
The Discussion Assignment Guideline (read this carefully)
In PHOTO 100 our discussions occur in two parts:
1. The Position Statement
Our Position Statements are short (300 words or more) research-based papers where you take an informed stand or position on a topic and then argue your position using your research as support. A key element is the concept of taking an “informed position.” That means that you should be able to back up your position with evidence based on research from credible sources. In other words, you need to know what you are talking about and be able to prove it.
A Position Statement is an opinion, however unlike the opinions posted to most blog sites, your work in PHOTO 100 must be critical and scholarly. Base your Position Statement supporting arguments on facts and evidence. Include at least three (3) footnoted authoritative references to validate your position. Use primary source quotations, statistical data, etc. to help build your case.
The basic Position Statement structure is as follows:
Identify the issue and state your position on it.
What does the reader need to know?
Evidence should logically lead to the position presented in the introduction.
Discuss various sides the issue.
Summarize the main concepts and ideas without repeating yourself.
Suggest solutions to potential problems you address in your position (i.e. courses of action)
Grammar and spelling should both be at college level. Your instructor will reject late or incomplete assignments.
Self-Assessment task: Before you upload your statement, assess your own work by answering these questions for yourself:
Do you present a very clearly stated insightful position?
Do you provide at least three (3) sound reasons to justify it based on your research?
Do you provide an analysis that reflects the complexity of the issue?
Do you look at the idea from various sides? Consider ethical, cultural, social and even political aspects of photography.
Do you provide valid and comprehensive elaboration on the reasons for your position?
Did you organize the position in a logical manner that is easy to follow (see the structure above)?
Is your grammar and spelling should both be at college level?
Do you use vocabulary that is precise and varied?
Discussion Assignment 3: Momma Don’t Take my Kodachrome Away