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No more Kodak moments

india Updated: Jan 24, 2012 01:07 IST

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As the company that popularised photography, Eastman Kodak, shuts shop, many mourn its end Photographers, professionals and amateurs alike, are mourning the end of an era after Eastman Kodak, which produced the cameras and film many started hobbies and careers with, filed for bankruptcy.

While Kodak could still recover after court-supervised restructuring and selling off assets, the company that did more to popularise photography in the 20th century than any other is unlikely to claw back the ground taken over by digital cameras and memory sticks.

From the simplicity of its Brownie cameras to the brilliant colours of its Kodachrome film, Kodak was a constant presence in the lives of three generations of amateur and professional photographers around the world.

That will be sorely missed, said Henry Posner, corporate communications director at B&H Photo, New York's Mecca for camera shoppers. "Everybody in the photography industry is impacted," he said. "When I started photography, Kodak was what you put in your camera. From an emotional point of view, this is a serious situation."

Kodak founder George Eastman began experimenting with film rolled around a spool in the 1880s, and launched Eastman Kodak in 1892 in Rochester, New York.

To sell the film, the company developed a simple low-priced camera, the Kodak Brownie. "You push the button and we do the rest," Kodak's advertisements told consumers, and millions took up the challenge.

Eventually, Kodak's cameras, film, slide projectors and home videos came to preserve the memories of generations of Americans and others around the world. In 1932, the year a depressed Eastman killed himself, the company began selling the first filmstock for amateur movie makers. It also developed home 8mm movie projectors, all of which gave way to the Super 8 movie technology of the '60s.

And "Kodak Moment" - the company's advertising catchphrase for its film - became embedded deep in the US vernacular before it became popular in India. At its height in the 1980s, the company had 145,000 workers, and was seen as the Apple or Google of its day, a leading innovator able to attract the most creative scientists to become.

NASA lunar orbiters in the '60s brought back some of the earliest images of the moon's surface on Kodak film, and the first astronauts to walk on the moon documented their historic expedition with a shoe box-sized Kodak camera.

Kodak also furnished the film for countless Hollywood movies, including 80 Oscar-winning Best Pictures, and it won nine Academy Awards of its own for scientific and technical excellence, according to the company website.

But when digital cameras began to appear in the mid-'90s, the company, which had already years earlier developed its own digital technology, was unprepared and lost the market to more nimble Asian producers. No one needed film anymore, and Kodak fell behind in the race to sell the cameras themselves. It was an ominous sign last year when the company stopped producing its Kodachrome film, long the standard of qualify photographers. For many, it was like losing a limb.