Kodachrome: True colors are fading (or maybe just showing).
The other day, I was in the car with my niece Molly, driving near her old grammar school.
“Oh, no,” she gasped.
The ice cream shop where she and her friends had hung out after school during seventh and eighth grade had shuttered.
Molly’s in ninth grade, so this hanging out was just last year.
Welcome to the wonderful world of grown ups, honey, where the places, things, and - oh, yeah – people we remember are so often, as we get older, gone, baby, gone. Alive only in our memories, or in snapshots, if we’d bothered to take them.
At my age, there’s no end to objects in the rear view mirror, often farther away than they appear. My childhood Friendly’s has closed. Don’t even ask about the stores of my childhood – I’m even (almost) capable of nostalgia for Zayre’s tawdry merchandise and garish red and yellow bags. Filene’s Basement breathed its last right around Christmas. And let’s not get started on the products of the past – although many of them seem to take on new lives in the pages of the Vermont Country Store catalog. (I believe you can still set your hair with Spoolies and Dippity Do, if you so desire. And dry it with a bouffant-bubble hair dryer.)
And now, it seems, a brand far more ubiquitous and venerable than Dippity Do may have breathed its last.
Eastman Kodak – which once held a near monopoly on the US amateur photography business - has filed for bankruptcy.
Although I am not one myself, I come from a family (at least on my mother’s side) of picture-takers. And until my father came home one Christmas with a Polaroid, like everyone else’s, ours was a Kodak family.
At first, my mother’s family had pictures taken: stiff family portraits to send back to the Old Country.
Then my grandfather made a wonderful Amerikan purchase which, I would bet anything, was an early version of a Kodak Brownie.
The Wolfs took pictures of everything and everyone.
My sister Trish may still have the carton full of 1930's and 40’s black and white snapshots of my grandparents and their friends (unrecognizable to us), and of my mother and her sibs.
And so, we get to see my mother grow from the stiff immigrant in the studio portrait, to the skinny big sis, to the bookish high school nerd with glasses, to the (almost glamour puss) young woman in her twenties who fell hard for the Irischer sailor boy from Worcester, Mass.
We have far fewer pictures of my father to trace his progression – until he met the Wolfs and became a regular photographic subject and picture taker, himself.
There is the large-group family picture of the children and grandchildren on Matthew and Bridget Trainor, my father an infant in my grandmother’s lap, face blurred because he turned his head. Then there’s nothing until his high school graduation picture.
Or so we thought until my cousin Barbara unearthed a picture of my father, age 14 or so, the shortest and scrawniest member of the South High football team of 1926.
At first, I couldn’t find him in the picture. And then, there he was.
How could I not recognize him?
Although they don’t look at all like each other, each of my brothers is the spit and image of my father.
(Perhaps because he so seldom posed for pictures as a child, my father never got into the habit of looking into the camera and saying “cheese.” In most of the pictures we have of him, if my father is pictured with someone else – my mother, one of us kids – he is, quite winningly, looking (and smiling) at us.)
As for the Rogers’ family, the camera that recorded our mostly informal goings and comings was a Kodak Brownie, a little bakelite camera that took black and white pictures, only.
Yes, there were pictures taken of Baptisms and Holy Communions, but most were us just hanging around, Kodak moments waiting to happen. The neighbor kids standing around a tree that Hurricane Irene toppled in 1959. Or the Rogers and Dineen kids, along with our kid Aunt Kay, posed in front of the stone wishing well at my grandmother Wolf’s lake house. My friend Susan and I – age 7 – horsing around in the backyard in diapers, sucking our thumbs, pretending we were babies.
Pictures came back from the drugstore in envelopes emblazoned with the yellow and red Kodak logo – a far more famous use of this color scheme than the Zayre’s bags. The pictures often had scalloped edges, and most had a date stamp on the bottom (May 55). You also got back a set of negatives, which came in strips, that you used if you wanted to make copies.
For occasions that warranted color film, we borrowed the McGinns’ more updated Kodak camera.
And, although my mother hung on to that Brownie, some where along the line, the family broke down and bought a Kodak Instamatic, which took pictures in color.
But our big switch was to the Polaroid, which captured the family’s imagination for a couple of years, even though no one ever figured out how to consistently take pictures that weren’t blurry around the edges.
Polaroid. Another great brand of my childhood.
Perhaps, like Polaroid, Kodak will emerge from bankruptcy with something (their name, at minimum) intact. Perhaps, like Polaroid, Kodak will name someone like Lady Gaga as their creative director.
Perhaps the brand will just fade away entirely, a victim of its own failure to embrace the wave of technology that turned into a tsunami.
Kodak won’t be the first – hey, I worked for Wang Labs when they were still clinging to the mini-computer – and they won’t be the last. All part of the creative destruction of capitalism. And isn’t it better to be able to take a picture, anytime/anywhere, on your smartphone? And just get Snapfish to print them off for you? No muss, no fuss, no negatives.
So why is the Kodak bankruptcy such a bummer?
Labels: growing up