How Kodak Went From Industry Leader To Bankruptcy

Posted January 15, 2019
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In 1990, when we ran our very first VJ bootcamp in Philadelphia, one of our first participants was PF Bentley.

PF was at that time the White House photographer for Time Magazine, a very big deal.  He was personal friends with Bill Clinton, who he followed all over the world, had published lots of photo books of his work, and was an all around great guy and an amazing photo journalist.  You can see his work here.


We became good friends.

Because PF was one of the world's best photojournalists, he was always getting the latest in gear to test from camera manufacturers.  One day, he invited me to come with him on a shoot at a political event.

In those days, everyone shot film, but PF had a new camera he was trying out.  It was a digital camera, from Canon. The first of its kind.  As we sat in the front row, he simply held the camera over his head and, hitting the shutter (which is what we called it then) and moved the camera around. He didn't even have to look through the viewfinder.

In the days of film, you had only 36 exposures on a roll of film, but with the new 'digital' camera, you had, well, a lot. A lot. And the longer you held down the button, the more exposures you got.

When the event was over, we went back to PF's hotel; rom and he downloaded the images onto his laptop.  I, of course, had never seen anything like this before.

He pored over the hundreds of images and selected two or three good ones and sent them in.

"Isn't that amazing?" he said.  

It was.  

"That's the end of your career," I said.

"What do you mean?"

"If you can do that, well, so can anyone else."

And so it came to pass that the advent of digital photography pretty much destroyed photography as a profession.

There are still niches for the greats - people with amazing eyes, like PF or Sebastao Salgado. But for the most part, when the public uploads 657 billion photos to the Internet every year, no one is going to pay someone to take a picture. 

I tell you this story because yesterday, PF sent me a fascinating video done by Cheddar, about how Kodak, once the world leader in cameras, invented and patented the digital camera, and then tried to suppress it to protect their film business.

It did them no good.

When a new technology comes along, resistance is futile, both for the individual and for a company - even one of the biggest companies in the world.

Here's a video worth watching.