Search This Blog

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A KODAK MOMENT- Contributed by Mark H. Mayo[i] and (his sister) Deborah G. Mayo

Louis J Mayo and Elizabeth Mayo, Mayo Studios

A company filed for Chapter 11 last week. So what else is new?

But it’s not just any bankruptcy. It’s the bankruptcy of Kodak. Which is something other than the failure of a corporation that (or “who,” you might say) has been in business since 1889. It’s a kind of tragedy, rooted in denial—in the refusal to acknowledge that to remain the leader, they would have to change.[ii] And it’s a specifically American tragedy, obviously not on the order of losing JKF, Elvis, or Marilyn Monroe, but the loss of a piece of Americana all the same.

Eulogies for this one-time leader of photography are everywhere in the past week.  After all, our generation grew up with Kodak. Our first Brownie cameras, then our single-lens-reflexes, then slides. Who among us of a certain age doesn’t still have Kodak prints, slides, or movies? Or hasn’t been posed—or posed our children or grandchildren—in front of a Kodak picture-spot sign at Disneyland or the World’s Fair? Even Simon and Garfunkel begged to keep their Kodachrome, which “makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.”

The nostalgia is a bit more personal for those long in the photography business. Growing up as a child of Louis Mayo meant growing up around film. It meant the mystery of darkrooms, the smell of emulsion chemicals, the shadows of negatives of room-settings. Harvard Business School’s Rosabeth Kanter told The Economist that Kodak’s executives simply “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it.”

Louis Mayo was a perfectionist, too, and staying with Kodak was part of that. When Mayo Studios’ largest clients compared the quality of Kodak to Fuji or AGFA, they insisted staying with the policy of all Kodak. When the Studio had trouble keeping colors consistent, the Kodak Company, committed to excellence, actually sent people down from Rochester to ensure that the emulsions would be precisely right.

Then there were the countless slides he shot anywhere and everywhere, which foreshadowed, with Kodak’s help, his success in business. He built a commercial photography studio that would lead the way in the home-furnishings industry. In his 38 years as president of Mayo Studios,, he purchased, developed, and delivered millions of sheets of Kodak’s 8 by 10 color transparencies, black and white prints, and Type C, or color-photo, prints.

He applied the same perfectionism to filming our family. While everyone else had those dreary vacation slide shows, Louis and Elizabeth Mayo’s shots (notably, of France, Egypt, and sub-Saharan Africa[iii]), in the hands of Lou Mayo, became meticulously orchestrated extravaganzas, precisely set to music. With a narration he had composed on a yellow pad, he would put on the show (accompanied by lavish food). Strange to think that his painstaking effort of many weeks is today’s effort of a few hours in Power Point.

Then there are the trunks and trunks of slides: the family posing, always on precarious ledges, mountain cliffs, the edge of a waterfall . . . waiting, waiting. You couldn’t move, never mind the bug bites, sunsquint, for an interminable interval while light meters were adjusted and readjusted, until it was just right.

Today we don’t have to wait through light-meter adjustments, or worry about soaking the paper in its chemical bath a fraction of a second too long. But we’re just a little nostalgic for that cool darkroom, where, with perfect timing, life shined through glorious Kodak film.

[i] Currently president of Mayo Studios, Inc.
[ii] Kodak invented the first digital camera but did not develop it.  Of course they still have numerous, valuable patents.
[iii] Incomplete, but worked on days before he died.

No comments:

Post a Comment