The recent bankruptcy of Kodak - America’s largest photographic film company - is expected to affect employees and photographers alike, especially those who rely on the film, paper and chemicals Kodak has produced since the 19th century.
Jim Megargee compares himself and others like him to dinosaurs on the brink of extinction. He is a traditional photographer confronted by the threat that digital technology poses to the developing and printing of images in a darkroom.
“There’s a physical difference between a silver print and a digital print," he said. "There’s just a physical difference to them. It’s something not many people think of. With a silver print, that’s actually an etching on paper into a silver layer that’s embedded in the paper. With the digital print it’s ink on paper.”
Megargee says the Kodak bankruptcy is not the end of the world for darkroom photographers - at least not yet. He says plenty of supplies are available, although some products have been discontinued.
“What happens to the photographer when you lose a material, like your favorite film gets taken off the market and the company stops making it, there are other companies,." he said. "They’re not going to replace that film, but it may be a similar product.”
But discontinuing any given material means a loss of jobs for the people who produced it.
“Personally, [I am] very concerned," said Ray Rock, one of the employees at Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York facing possible unemployment. "I still need a few more years before I can get retirement benefits, we’ll see what happens.”
Observers say Kodak is likely to continue as a corporation by capitalizing on some of the digital imaging technology that it pioneered.
“My hunch is they will be mostly an intellectual property company, meaning it will just be collecting revenue from licensing its patents and technology,” said Bruce Upbin, managing editor of Forbes magazine.
Jim Megarkee says he can create a fine art print in less than an hour. He jokes that photographers who trade traditional photography for digital go over to what he calls “the dark side” [ie. the enemy]. He cautions that doing it right is not as easy as pressing a button.
“It’s not unusual to see someone sitting at a computer station and trying to do the same thing and taking two, or three or four hours," he said.
Megarkee says that comparing traditional chemical photography with digital is like comparing water colors and oil paintings - they are very different. This dinosaur is hoping for a continued supply of traditional products to prevent his extinction.