Digital Reluctance: Can You Acknowledge Kodak’s Failure to Adapt While Still Harboring Your Own Digital Reluctance?
End of the Roll by Creativity103 – Flickr Creative Commons
The NPR/Public Radio International program “To the Point” today invited photographer Eamonn McCabe on air to reflect on the news that Kodak just filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. I listened to the segment in my car, on the way back to the office from lunch, and as I did so I was struck by the irony that by the end of the show McCabe—who is the former Picture Editor at the Guardian newspaper and an award-winning photographer himself—ended up holding fast and proud to the idea that digital photography is inferior to film photography and that it is a dubious format both in process and after an image is captured. This, in the wake of the news that the company that once dominated the world of photography—Kodak—was brought to its knees after its own reluctance to embrace digital technology.
At the top of the segment, McCabe says that he is “just staggered that [Kodak] just couldn’t see this digital revolution coming and couldn’t invest in it,” and that “to be so arrogant and conservative not to change, I just find staggering.” Later on in the conversation, when host Warren Olney urges McCabe to discuss the “quality of the product” in terms of digital versus film, McCabe talks enthusiastically about his Kodachrome days and admits his concern that nobody knows how long digital output will last. “We assume it’s going to last forever,” he says, “but does anyone know?” These days, McCabe is a half film, half digital photographer, though he says, “The trouble with digital is that it’s very hard to fall in love with a digital camera.”
Here’s where things take a turn: “I have a theory,” McCabe says, “Everybody’s taking loads of pictures now on their iPhone…and their digital cameras, but who’s looking at the stuff that’s taken?…You’re taking these pictures, and you might show them to somebody in a bar or somebody at work, but you don’t ever print it.” He calls this “the great mistake of digital.”
He goes on to wax nostalgic about the family photo albums of his childhood—which is all fine and good—but he seems erroneously out of touch with the ways in which photography is viewed these days. It’s as if he hasn’t considered the fact that digital images are seen by millions of eyes every day around the world via the largest family photo album imaginable: the Internet. With these comments, McCabe seems to believe that all digital images taken by the average person are forgotten the moment after the scene is captured and then quickly relegated to the deep dark confines of a hard drive. Has this man never heard of Flickr, for instance? Nevermind Instagram or Facebook—which now has an image collection ten thousand times larger than the Library of Congress.
While McCabe is certainly entitled to his opinion that film cameras are preferable to digital (because right now that’s not even the issue), what ultimately struck me as ironic after listening to his remarks was how he ended his talk by decrying digital photography in a strikingly similar manner to that same “arrogant and conservative” reluctance to change that he first labeled as Kodak’s big failure. This made me wonder: can you really acknowledge and learn from Kodak’s mistakes while you still harbor your own digital reluctance?