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Sunday, June 28

The "decline" of film photography


“Employee Darkroom Area, Building 9, Kodak Canada,
Toronto 2009”

Here's a sad little item - not new but new to me and possibly some readers. It's a feature charting the decline of film photography through the closure of various manufacturing facilities and labs. Sometimes in quieter moments I think back to what film was like in its heyday and realise how much we've lost. This article, with 5x4 pictures courtesy of Canadian photographer Robert Burley, evokes similar emotions.

“Implosions of Buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester,
New York [#1] OCTOBER 6, 2007”

It's not just materials that have disappeared but the manufacturing capability. Let's face it, the plant being used to produce today's film stock isn't going to last for ever and once it's worn out it's never going to be replaced. It's possible that there are enough spare parts out there to keep some of the machines ticking over for years or decades to come but  …

Anyway, the feature is well worth a look and you'll find it here. Sensitive types might like to have a hanky or two to hand.

9 comments :

Alastair Moore said...

The link to read more is just going back to theonlinedarkroom.com!

Bruce Robbins said...

Now fixed. Thanks, Alastair!

peter k said...

Shooting more film now, than back then ;-)

John Robison said...

So sad, so bad. I still use film because the cameras I like use film. Now, if some company wants to make a clip on digital back for my OM-4Ti that will of course fit my OM-1 also then I will consider digital. Imagine that, a camera you can focus manually, what will they think of next?

Of course the companies have no interest in cameras that last too long, they want to sell us a camera made of plastic that takes a special battery and has an instruction CD that if printed out would be as long as War and Peace.

David Cliffe said...

Thanks Bruce for this link. The article was written in 2012 and is somewhat downbeat. I would like to think that in the intervening years, the author's foretelling of the future of film has not been as bad as he had thought. Clearly, the quantity of camera and film sales are significantly down on a decade ago, but I would have thought 20 million rolls and 250,000 cameras is still a viable market and a foundation for the future (albeit it remains a very low percentage of American users). Given the prices some cameras are fetching on ebay I would consider film is having a second wind, which is backed up from the increased sales of film.
I have returned to film after 30 years and I am still very much learning about the whole process from taking images to printing. I am still experimenting with different types of film and, oddly, do feel guilty if I buy one companies film/ chemicals over another (surely, I must be contributing to their immediate demise ... ).
I doubt that film will be ever used in the quantities of the 1990's but the number of articles, websites and forums dedicated or beginning to include film photography suggest that film is in a healthier position than it was in 2012.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I like to think that someone somewhere acted like they did when all the great vinyl pressing plants of the world sold their cutting machines back in the 1990's . . someone somewhere is sitting on machinery . . or are they?
Don't you think it is incredible that vinyl production in the UK and Europe was 'saved' by the burgeoning rave movement?

MartinP said...

The linked article is rather old, as mentioned above, and is somewhat North-America centric. It also appears to try to link the mismanagement of US based colour-film manufacturers with Harman, implying that Harman have also disappeared while in fact the old Ilford company had already been split and resold some years before the linked book-project was being made. That was shot over several years, up to about five years ago, but this date context isn't clear from the blog post.

European manufacturers are still producing materials. Off the top of my head, Foma (with some replaced machinery), Adox (mostly using equipment saved from Agfa-Gevaert), Ferrania (again based largely on old machinery) and Harman (including an entire new production facility currently being built) are managing to run and maintain production sites. The "re-sized" Polaroid Project is continuing to make their instant materials (but perhaps that wasn't up and running during the shooting of the linked project?) and the Filmotech company (in Wolfen, Germany) is coating film too.

There are no insurmountable technical obstacles at the scale which is now appropriate. Even the sales volume of black-and-white materials is increasing again. The difference in approach has been re-sizing to suit demand and also then building that demand. I realise that a lack of optimism might be most justified by E6 and C41 film production but, even now, those are printed on silver-based RA4 colour paper which itself continues to exist at high volume because of most digital-printing using it as a medium.

Joe Iannandrea said...

I'm inclined to think that as long as there are still those willing to buy film someone will find a way to make it. A greater crisis may come as the supply of still working good quality used cameras begins to dwindle and the only established new camera manufacturers are making trendy lo-fi plastic models.

Richard Sintchak said...

As others have mentioned, this is old and was discussed and lamented in many forums. Why drag it up and give it "new" life now dated again on the internet to your posting today. Yes, sad, yes new to you, but it's LONG past. 2009? Think about it....