JULIA BAYLY

Evolving along with photo technology

Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 5:12 p.m.

There have been a lot of “Kodak moments” in my life over the last three decades. For the past 25 years, working as a photojournalist most of the moments have been news-related, and at times, career directing.

So it was with real sadness and more than a little nostalgia that I read last week the company whose branding gave us the phrase describing the ideal photo-op is preparing to file for bankruptcy.

For more than 131 years Kodak has been the gold-medal standard for casual and professional photographers around the world.

This is the company that with the unveiling of the user-friendly Brownie Camera in 1900 made photography accessible to the masses and condemned future generations to endless posing and mugging for posterity in family photo albums.

For me, Kodak meant film, chemicals and paper.

For years I processed my own black and white photographs in my home darkroom where I would spend hours working with light, filters, exposures and time to create my perfect Kodak Moment.

Like many photographers back in the predigital days, I purchased film in bulk or, “bricks,” as they were known.

Best kept in cool, dry storage an entire side shelf in our refrigerator was devoted to Kodachrome, Ekatchrome, T-Maxx and Tri-X films in 35-, 120- and 220-mm sizes.

Photography is what got me into the journalism business in the first place. The local weekly was in need of a photographer and, when I went for the interview, I was asked if I could write, too.

Thus began my ongoing love affair with the written word and photography.

Through the years the technology and I have evolved together.

Back at the weekly, all film was processed down in the paper’s darkroom, and every roll — every photo snapped for that matter — was a leap of faith.

There were no LCD screens in the backs of cameras, no way to know if your shot was properly focused, exposed or composed.

So we took lots of photos in the hopes of one, just one, turning out.

How many times I remember charging up the rickety stairs from that basement darkroom, waving still-damp prints in my hands yelling, “We got it!”

Upstairs technology was just as raw as reporters typed out stories on “computers” that were really little more than electric typewriters with small, poorly lit screens.

By the time I worked as a district correspondent for the BDN between 1989 and 1992, computers had come a bit further along, but film was still the name of the game for our photos.

Those of us reporting from the outlying bureaus, like the St. John Valley, would mail our film to the BDN for processing.

For photos that accompanied a story requiring a speedier time to print and if the schedule worked, we would drive the film to Caribou and send it down via the Cyr Bus Line.

For photos that simply, positively had to be there as soon as possible, we found the first truck driver heading south willing to make a film drop at Dysart’s, where someone from the Bangor BDN office would pick it up.

Sure, it meant a lot of running around, but that was all part of news gathering back then.

Today, of course, it’s all about digital.

Gone is the mystery of how photos will look when developed — simply review them on camera.

Need to get a photo to its destination immediately? No problem, download, edit and then send it off via the Internet with the click of a few keys on the computer.

The technology has certainly opened doors for photojournalists who can capture images and send them back to their papers halfway around the world.

Several years ago, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and digital imaging, I found myself shooting a biathlon race in Presque Isle for four newspapers in Germany.

People certainly captured and filed amazing images long before anyone even imagined digital photography.

Consider some of the all-time great photographs — Dorthea Lang’s “Migrant Mother,” Mathew Brady’s tragic Civil War battlefield photos, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 V-J Times Square kiss, and virtually any photograph taken by the late, great Ansel Adams.

All of these and so many more taken on old, film cameras, processed in chemical-filled darkrooms and published for the world to see.

Before digital imagery, photographers had to be creative.

One of my favorite examples was from a whitewater rafting photographer out in Colorado who was competing with dozens of other photographers to be the first to get images of excited rafters processed and ready to sell.

It was no secret the photographer who got their photos on display first often made the most sales. And since the best photo ops were in remote areas down narrow logging roads, it meant for some white-knuckle drives back to the studios.

This one photographer was hit with a brilliant idea to hire help that, quite literally, worked for peanuts.

After snapping multiple images of rafters passing by, he secured the film onto the leg of homing pigeons that then flew the film back to their roost on the roof of his studio, beating his competition by hours.

The need for those extreme measures are long gone. With the advent of digital imaging in everything from cameras to cellphones, we are inundated with photos through emails, Web pages and social networking sites.

I won’t lie, I’m a big fan of the convenience and control that comes with digital imaging.

But there’s also a part of me that loathes to say goodbye to the days of loading film in the back of my camera outside in sub-zero temperatures; praying I’d have enough exposures left on the roll to get that one, perfect shot; and holding my breath waiting to see if the image would develop and print the way I had envisioned it.

Losing Kodak would be like losing an old friend and all of us who put a camera to our eye owe the company a huge debt of gratitude.

Not only did Kodak make photography accessible to the masses more than a century ago, in 1975 it invented the first digital camera.

Talk about becoming a victim of its own success. I’m quite certain it’s a “Kodak moment” they never saw coming.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbaylybdn@gmail.com.

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