NPF: TORCH-PASSING

Kodak declared bankruptcy on Thursday, which is interesting to me inasmuch as I've spent the week sick, mostly at home, and obsessively looking through NASA's newly released, true color, hi-res scans of the photographs from the Gemini missions (pre-Apollo). Incredible is an understatement. I'm not a photographer and I don't know much about the technical aspects of it, but I do know that nothing coming out of a digital camera looks quite like Kodakchrome (which they stopped making in 2009, incidentally) and other kinds of film.

Yes, I understand why film has gone the way of the dodo. It makes perfect sense. From an aesthetic perspective, however, it's sad. There's something about the way things are captured on film that all the Photoshop filters in the world can't reproduce. Besides, in fifty years I doubt we'll get the same kick out of looking through a flash drive full of cellphone camera pics as we do from flipping through an old box of pictures.

Bonus: If space isn't interesting to you, take a look through one of my other favorites, the Prokudin-Gorsky color photographs taken in Russia between 1900 and 1910. Or learn more about the pioneer of color photography here. It's pretty difficult to convince your brain that this photo was taken in 1905, isn't it?

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21 Responses to “NPF: TORCH-PASSING”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    Fun fact: Kodak actually invented the digital camera. Thanks NPR.

  2. Middle Seaman Says:

    Thanks for the great sources, especially the Prokudin-Gorsky color photographs. No, it is not surprising to find great photography at the beginning of the 20th century. The 30s brought us Dorothea Lange and Robert Capa, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen starting very early 1900, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray in the 1920' and many others.

  3. * Says:

    There were filters & tricks in the dark room employed back in the good ole days too. (Not as obvious as photoshop – but that speaks more to the lack of skills people have with using photoshop. I'd show you one of my own photos as a perfect example, but…)

  4. c u n d gulag Says:

    It's true, photographs look "warmer" than digital photo's.

    Just like Singles, LP's, 8-tracks, and cassette tapes, sound "warmer" than CD's, and other digital audio recordings.

    That's because they are the actual recordings of "analog" light and sound "waves", and not a digital "re-creation" of them.

    We trade off that warmth for access and convenience. That's not always a good thing, but that's progress.
    Can you imagine hauling hundreds of LP's around in a little red wagon so you can listen to any one of thousands of songs on your "portable" 'I-Record Player?
    Or hauling out your encyclopedia sized photo-albums of everything people take pictures of today? "Wait, let me show you a photo of that topless babe at the bar last night. Let's see, did I put that in "B" for babe, bar, or boobs, or "T" for topless or ti…?" Well, you get the idea.

    And carving shit into a rock is more everlasting than any Stephen King novel. But it takes an awful lot of rock to tell a story.

    Convenience may not always be better. But it IS more convenient.

  5. anotherbozo Says:

    Get well soon, Ed. Though reading your blogs for the past week, I hadn't a clue that anything was amiss. Your head may have been stuffy or feverish but it sure functioned well enough to fool us.

    Ten years ago I bought Kodak stock, one of the "dogs of the Dow" that the Motley Fool thought were undervalued. Then I watched it sink below the horizon. It was a horrifically managed company that never made the transition to digital or even expanded to stay competitive. Pity.

  6. Mr. Prosser Says:

    I like your blog, Ed. Being an old fart I sometimes get a bit irritated when you diss us; but, today you sound like an old fart.

  7. Rick Massimo Says:

    "Besides, in fifty years I doubt we'll get the same kick out of looking through a flash drive full of cellphone camera pics as we do from flipping through an old box of pictures."

    But that's just because we know, when we're flipping through an old box of pictures, that they're an old medium. If, in 50 years, there's another way (or more than one new way) to look at pictures that supercedes a flash drive full of phone pics, I'm sure giong through the flash drive will feel warm and mostalgic. I don't know what those new ways will be, but I bet they'll happen.

  8. Jaime Says:

    One of the things I love about the Gemini missions is they frequently featured multiple vehicles in close proximity and the flights were usually at altitudes that usually guaranteed that the Earth (in greater or lesser proportion) was also caught in the pics. Those elements plus all of the EVA make the Gemini photos resonate with an '….in Spaaaace!' vibe that's never left me since I saw them way back in the day. And this may be a bit of bogus psycho-analyzing, but I can't help but feel that the serious envelope-pushing that Gemini was doing is somehow captured in those photographs.

  9. JBerardi Says:

    "It's true, photographs look "warmer" than digital photo's.

    That's because they are the actual recordings of "analog" light and sound "waves", and not a digital "re-creation" of them."

    Digital cameras use ANALOG sensors. A pixel on a CCD doesn't just register "on" or "off" like a digital device would; the electrical current it puts out is infinitely variable between a min and and max value.

    Film, on the other hand, IS digital. Each "pixel" (ie, molecule of silver) is either exposed to light or it isn't– on or off. Film overcomes this by having an enormous number of pixels, so many that all these "on" and "off" values can approximate continuous tones. But ultimately, film is based on measurements of light that are almost all extremely inaccurate on an individual basis.

    Point is, neither format represents a "true" representation of "light waves". It's just two different technologies for counting photons. And by any objective measure, a digital sensor is a more accurate measurement of those photons.

    You like the "aesthetic" of older formats because you're familiar with them. That's it. That is the only real reason. And that's fine. But please, don't go around insisting that the things you happen to be condition to like are somehow inherently superior. Speaking on behalf of the vast majority of working photographers who've moved from film to digital over the past decade, we SERIOUSLY don't want to hear it.

  10. Don Says:

    in re Rick's comment… "If, in 50 years, there's another way (or more than one new way) to look at pictures that supercedes a flash drive full of phone pics, I'm sure giong through the flash drive will feel warm and mostalgic. I don't know what those new ways will be, but I bet they'll happen."

    … it might feel warm and nostalgic, but we'll likely be limited to looking at the flash drive and wondering what the hell was on it (if not just "what the hell is that?"), because there won't be a place to insert it into our virtual reality cloud-hive-mind implants. Kind of like when I find a floppy disk in the back of a drawer now. I'd love to take a trip down memory lane but my last floppy drive was 2 computers ago, and going out to buy one kind of destroys the mood. (And it's probably just going to be a resume from 1998 anyway.)

    If I live long enough, I'm really going to miss shoeboxes full of other people's snapshots in thrift stores. I don't think people will be dumping grandma's flash drives off at the Salvation Army.

  11. Graham Says:

    Yes, the Prokudin-Gorsky photographs have long been a favourite of mine.

    They take my breath away every time I look at them. For me the best one is the portrait of that cunning bastard Emir Alim Khan in his splendid blue robe and ceremonial sword.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    JBerardi,
    I defer to you on this, since you obviously know more about the subject than I do.

    You never know btout those flash drives, though.
    You can always thumb through the the shoe-boxes and see what's in them.
    But grandma or grandpa might just have some old-school, killer porn on them new-fangled thingy-majigy's! ;-)

  13. mothra Says:

    Can you imagine hauling hundreds of LP's around in a little red wagon so you can listen to any one of thousands of songs on your "portable" 'I-Record Player?

    What? You're saying I'm the only person who does this? I'm a BIG hit at parties, let me tell you.

  14. mothra Says:

    Oh, yes, and "filing for bankruptcy" does not equal "out of business."

  15. BruceJ Says:

    * says "There were filters & tricks in the dark room employed back in the good ole days too. "

    Yep, much of Ansel Adams' images were 'made' in the darkroom, not in the camera. He had a keen and insightful eye for composing, but the man was an absolute wizard in the darkroom.

    There's a reason the dodge tool in photoshop looks like a circle on a stick…

  16. Southern Beale Says:

    Yeah I used to shoot Kodachrome. The thing is, it looked great but it was a huge pain in the ass. So …

    But for color saturation, nothing beat it.

  17. j Says:

    Yes, pretty slick pics.

    You have my personal unconditional guarantee that you are going to like this Ed.

    http://vimeo.com/32001208?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    It almost makes up for the 99.99% of the internet that is trash.

  18. mm Says:

    Those NASA pix bring back memories. I was able to convince my mother to let me stay home from school to see all the Mercury launches & I also saw all the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and into the Space Shuttle launches until the networks got tired of covering them. During Mercury missions the 3 networks had live coverage through the entire mission.

    The Kodak thing is sad. If I recall correctly, back in the late 70s or early 80s I read an article that said that corporations could not be good public citizens anymore. Profitability was very important to keep the stock price up. Otherwise corporate raiders would swoop in and buy the company for less than its assets. Kodak was mentioned as one of the good corporate citizens that took care of its employees and community.They could no longer afford to divert profits.

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