19 January 2012

Give us the nice, bright colours..

Businesses file for bankruptcy everyday. Indeed, it's reported on everyday. In the 'Business and Finance' section of newspapers. You know, the bit no one ever tweets about. But the demise of Eastman Kodak (at least in its current form – the firm apparently plans to relaunch itself in 2013 with digital photography as its sole focus) has gone mainstream in, I think, quite an unexpected way.

The news that Kodak is filing for bankruptcy has prompted a wave of articles analysing the demise of Kodak's once thriving business - a decline that is largely blamed on the company's tardiness in 'going digital'. The first digital camera was developed by Eastman Kodak in 1975, but the company sat on the technology for fear of damaging their own film-making business and were overtaken, in the meantime, by Japanese companies such as Nikon. More interesting, however, has been the slew of overwhelmingly nostalgic articles looking back over the history of Kodak and its products. This is partly down to the appeal of George Eastman, founder of the company, as a figure in our collective cultural history. Eastman's own rags-to-riches biography – left school at 14, invented revolutionary technology (roll film), founded pioneering company, became legendary philanthropist – is interwoven with the history of photography and, therefore, the history of the last century, in an almost irresistible way. Eastman made it his aim to make photography portable and accessible, putting the first Kodak 'Brownie' camera on sale in 1900 and instantly creating a new market for a previously cumbersome, specialist technology. By the 1970s, the company was at it's peak, selling 90% of all photographic film in the US in 1976. It's an extraordinary legacy.

The brand has also always been extraordinarily visible - Kodak and advertising have historically gone together like Guinness and Pelicans - and even inspired a 'Mad Men' episode where Don Draper is tasked with marketing the companies 'new' slide carousel and comes up with... well, with this, drawing on the sentiment and nostalgia we all associate with domestic, personal photography. This is the point, isn't it? Photography is often described as inherently nostalgic, or a least backwards looking, especially in the context of personal or 'vernacular' photography. Kodak has become a focal point for this nostalgia, and I for one am not immune.

My own Kodak memory relates to a book I worked on at Aperture Foundation - William Christenberry: Kodachromes – which documents Christenberry's archive of work made using 35mm (Kodak) Kodachrome slide film. Christenberry (b. 1962) made this work over a period of 30 years, in his home of Hale County, Alabama, and it is beautiful, as is the book. We received hundreds of 35mm slides from the artist (which had previously been kept in his refrigerator) and these were edited by editor Denise Wolff and book designer Dave Chickey into a dreamy sequence of beautifully framed snapshots - usually devoid of people, often documenting structures, signs and places which had become iconic in Christenberry's oeuvre. I love the work, I love the book and it reminds me of a really happy time in my life!

Let me know your Kodachrome memories and I'll do a post if I get a few! Either way, there is more archival Kodachrome action to come on the blog, so watch this space!

3 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Well hello to you all, and here's hoping it's been a good start to 2012 for 'PLATE' readers! Ive been tweaking the front page of this blog a little in readiness for the ONSLAUGHT of posting that I'm planning for the new year (somebody's been making new year's resolutions..) and one of my changes has been the addition of a couple of new sites to my blog roll. I'm continually updating this list, mainly because I find it useful to have a round-up of good art and photo resources in one place, but also to share new finds (artists, bloggers and publications) with anyone who reads here. I hope some of the new listings are of interest to your good selves and provide good browsin' in the difficult first days back at work after hols.

I can't lie, the additions here are mostly cribbed from an article on the topic of photo blogs by Joerg Colberg, which appears in the first digital issue of the British Journal of Photography. I have been ushered into the world of apps and digital publishing by the generous Christmas gift of an iPad and have been hungrily downloading books and magazines that I enjoy in print form to see how they stand up in the digital format. The British Journal was recommended to me by a friend and it's a really impressive example of how the print magazine can be expanded and adapted to a digital platform - the first (free) issue contains audio, video and links to outside resources alongside full-length, easily navigated articles and beautifully presented sideshows of new and archival photography. Ive never been a reader of the print magazine previously, having found it a bit fusty and 'gadget'-heavy on first browse and assumed it is intended as a community forum and tech-guide for professional, usually editorial photographers. While this may have been true in the past, a re-design of both print edition and website seems to have been directed at a more 'arty' readership, and the content of aforementioned digital edition has also been cleverly skewed so that it addresses those with an interest, not just in photography as a discrete art form, but as a medium of communication disseminated through books, magazines and websites. See the 'Profile' of Michael Mack's ambitions for digital publishing, or the feature on documentary photo projects, as cases in point. Essentially then, this is still an 'industry' magazine, but given a tweak to appeal to an increasingly design- and tech- savvy audience..

I advise readers to beg, borrow or steal (maybe not steal) an iPad and take a look at the magazine if you haven't already. I'm sure it's going to get lots of competition in the coming months - the beautiful Aperture magazine have just launched a digital editon, for example - but it's a lot of fun and gives us a taste of what might be possible for photo-publishing and photo-writing in new formats!