Death of Film: scenes from Kodak plant demolition

Jesse Brown sez, "My uncle, the amazing photographer Robert Burley, captured the death of analog photography: the demolition of Kodak plants, the rapid downfall of the film photography industry, the sudden obsolescence of neighbourhood photo shops and subway photo booths. Naturally, he did so on film. His book, Disappearance of Darkness, was just released, and some of the gorgeous, haunting images are featured today on CNN's website."


  1. I agree with everything he says, except (former Kodak employee) Kodak wasn’t a victim of the digital age. It was the victim of decades of bad management following decades of good management.

    Kodak had every piece in place to shape and grow digital photography. However, it didn’t know how to execute. This wouldn’t have “saved” film, but the company would have been able to have the resources to steward silver-halide photography into something new and different had it not failed at its basic task of existence.

    1. Agreed. Kodak had quite a lot going for it in terms of digital imaging. They had a huge role in inventing it in the first place. The Bayer pattern used by nearly every color digital camera is named after one of their engineers. They marketed some of the first digital SLRs. They supplied a lot of the early sensors.

      Their failure is precisely BECAUSE they concentrated on film, and got sunk by it. I wouldn’t be so sentimental about their own killer.

      It’s definitely a business blunder and not a failure of engineering. I bet that within a few years we’ll see the business schools teach their story as a failure.

    2. Absolutely!
      Honestly, Kodak was out in the market fairly early with a line of very good digital cameras. But, instead of building on that early success, management seemed to simply rest on their laurels and the competition quickly caught-up and passed them.

  2. I’ve seen a preview copy of this book, and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Buying a copy first chance I get, even though it’ll make me cry. 

  3. Sorry but analog photography is in no way dead.  I can order film for my fairly obscure 5×7 large format film camera and have it delivered tomorrow, no problem.  I can even get brand new fresh Kodak film, probably the best film ever made, to my doorstep.  Kodak has even created some new formulas in the last couple of years, and they are dynamite. 

    Whether they will be around in a year or 5 is a bigger question.  But Ilford and Fuji are both making very, very nice film too.  Ilford appears to be in it for the long haul.  Fuji is a crapshoot.  

    Here’s a picture I took on some brand new 4×5 Kodak film in October.

    1. Not dead, no, but deathly ill. I think large format may be the last to go, but the choice of materials shrinks almost daily. I shoot 4×5, but also 35mm stereo, and I seriously doubt whether I’ll have any 35mm transparency film in 5 years.

      1. yeah but that’s because transparency film (you’re talking chromes?) has limited usefulness these days.  It’s pretty well covered by digital and the things that it was used for commercially are pretty well covered by digital.

        As far as B&W film, Ilford makes pretty competitive products.  In a perfect world there would be a competitive market with multiple suppliers, but Kodak and Fuji could both go out of business and there would still be a really good company producing excellent film.  Additionally there is some pretty good Czech film and some pretty crappy but useable Chinese film.  

        1.  Agree with you on the utility of chrome film. Unfortunately for me, what I want it for falls into the cracks of “pretty well covered”. In a few years, I won’t be able to make stereoscopic slides. And I really, really like stereoscopic slides.  While it’s true that digital 3D has progressed by leaps and bounds, and I will inevitably break down and put together a digital rig, it won’t be the same. It will simply become impossible to do what I’ve been doing for almost 20 years.

          1. That’s a bummer.  I feel for you, honestly.  Sounds like cool work.

            Truth is though, there is plenty of chrome film around right now.  Are you shooting 35mm or MF?  A freezer and $1k would buy you enough film for a long, long, long time.  Someone just gave me 20 rolls of Elite Chrome 35mm.

          2.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the plan. There are still a couple of labs in town that do E6, but surely somewhere will be able to do it for a while. Stereo slide mounts are another issue, until a few years ago they were easy to get, when I exhaust my current supply, I’ll have to get the expensive plastic ones, or have some laser-cut, which will actually be pretty interesting.

  4. That’s really over the top.  Yes, film production is definitely threatened.  But there is really, really awesome film made right now that you can get and use, and it looks great.  Saying “film is dead” is pretty stupid.  There’s way, way less available now than there was 20 years ago.  But a lot of film 20 years ago was used for taking snapshots and family photos.  Something digital excels at.  If you want to use film for your photography project, the film available now is better than the film 20 years ago.  It’s actually pretty amazing.

  5. There are two important factors. Color/BW and cinematic films.

    Black and white film chemistry is relatively simple and lends itself well to a cottage industry. It will be around forever, made by small shops. Color doesn’t have this property. Its chemistry is much more difficult to work so once the big players shut down and the distribution channels clear it will be very difficult to source.

    The reason film has lasted as long as it has is Hollywood. Those wonderful recent films were made for movies. Movie volume is huge (not for shooting, for distribution) and it was the thing that supported these large factories. Movies are switching to digital en-masse right now, so the film volume is now gone. The artsy film photog was essentially buying scraps, and neither Kodak nor Fuji can live off selling just those scraps.

    From a commercial standpoint, color film is dead. BW film is a tiny niche.

  6. If you want something to feel good about all of this consider that the photographic process was a huge chemical waste producer.

    None-the-less I’ll miss Kodak.  My father worked for a company that made film but he was never satisfied with anything but Kodak. Kodachrome was one of the few brand names he commonly use in speech.

  7. It’s not the film itself I miss so much as the simplicity and straightforwardness of taking a picture in the film camera era. (I used Minolta SRTs and occasionally a Rolleiflex).

    Look through the viewfinder.  Set the shutter dial to account for subject motion and match the needles using the aperture ring.  Open up a stop or two if backlit, close down a bit if brightly lit.  Or use the old “sunshine f/16” rule.  Squeeze the shutter.

    Today, I either have to trust to an auto-exposure setting or wade through a stack of menus, with controls that do one thing at menu setting A and something entirely different at menu settings B through Z.    

    And I suppose the economies of manufacturing for the market dictate that there will never be a digital camera for old film farts like me, one made with dedicated shutter and aperture controls and a set-it-yourself operating mode philosophy.

    1.  “simplicity and straightforwardness of taking a picture in the film camera era” LOL Really? Loading of the film, previewing shots, setting ISO on the fly. Please tell me more about this “simplicity and straightforwardness”.

  8. I’d like to read it but I don’t buy paper books any more. Will it be available in electronic formats?

  9. Queue sad music, talk in soft voice, put something pointless, yet visually striking in front of camera = hipster bookshelf/coffee table eye candy.

  10. Really…. Film is hard to find? I can think of four or five places I can click to right now and order Ilford, Foma, Fuji, Rollei, or even (gasp) Kodak film. Jeez I can even walk into my local camera store and buy a couple rolls of 120, 35mm, and even 4×5 film and I live in a town of only 45,000. This is just some guy’s melodramatic transition to digital…. In the end film and digital photography are just tools. I shoot both but I love film photography for the process. #believeinfilm

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