Kodak & Eve RIP

Kodak RIP, originally uploaded by jjn1.

The news today is that Kodak is preparing to file for bankruptcy and there can’t be a photographer of my generation who doesn’t feel an incredulous shudder at the prospect. It was an iconic company, and its products (especially Kodachrome) attained near-mythical status. (I mean to say, how many other commercial products have inspired a Paul Simon song?) Business school students will see the company’s demise as an illustration of Clayton Christensen’s idea of the Innovator’s Dilemma. Stranger still is the discovery that Kodak was a pioneer in the digital photography field (it built the first digital camera in 1975), and indeed its only current prospect of escaping bankruptcy seems to rely on selling its portfolio of patents, some of the most valuable of which are in digital imagery.

My hunch is that because the film-retailing and chemical processing sides of the business were so profitable and successful, those involved in that carried most weight in the company, and the engineers working on digital simply couldn’t persuade senior management to pay attention to a technology that would eventually cannibalise that core business. In a way, the same thing happened with the music industry when MP3 and the Net came along.

Today also brought news that Eve Arnold has died at the great age of 99. It sent me to Magnum (of which she was the first female member) to look again at their carousel of her most famous images. (The BBC also had a slideshow which includes the lovely picture of her sitting crosslegged on the ground shooting with a Leica.) The Guardian had a lovely piece by the film-maker Beeban Kidron, who became Arnold’s assistant at the age of 16.

“From Eve”, she writes,

“I learned: how to pack a suitcase – with a dress you could wear to a palace and shoes to run a marathon if required; how to look at pictures – for metaphor, form and truth; how to work – until it was done; how to be kind to your fellow artist – judge the endeavour not the result; and how to be a friend – through thick and thin; and how to laugh – uproariously and often.

I haven’t worked for Eve for more than 30 years – that privilege resides with Linni, her long-term colleague and assistant. But she became my adviser and friend. And when my son was very sick shortly after he was born, she did the one thing she knew how to do – she took his photograph – breaking her own rule of no baby pictures. It is one of those pictures, along side one of her with Marilyn, that adorn my office wall. “

The photograph shows the last roll of Kodak film that I possess.