Thoughts On The Passing Of An Old Acquaintance

The news that Kodak is opting out of the silver black and white paper business should not have come as much of a shock, given the company's recent emphasis and direction. But it was a bit of a wake-up call. According to a Kodak spokesperson, the company has been seeing declines in sales of their silver product line for years and could no longer justify staying in that business. Oddly enough, at least judging from our Forums, there was no great gnashing of teeth over the announcement.

My first reaction was like that of hearing that a distant cousin had died, one whom I had not spent more than three days with anyway. I was sad that a member of the family had passed, but I had not connected with that person enough to really get into mourning. I did have a moment of some nostalgia for past black and white papers (go ahead, date yourself) like Afga's Portriga (the real stuff, with cadmium) and Kodak's Medalist (which I considered the one very good Kodak paper).

The Kodak announcement does diminish the materials available to silver printers, of course, and some might see it as a bell tolling for silver printing in general. But it is ultimately a business decision, the likes of which we have seen recently and will see more of in the not too distant future.

Photographers are not exempt from this environment. We might have stayed loyal to a paper, or a camera, or even a film brand over the years, only to discover one morning that the conglomerate who bought out a company without our even knowing it had decided that it didn't fit into their culture, or meet their expectations for return on investment. It might be a failure of imagination, or the new culture not understanding the old, but whatever the reasons, the rug gets pulled.

Oddly enough, Kodak's hike off the silver paper trail comes at a time when the silver print, at least in some of the circles I travel, has become a sort of magical medium. This summer I visited a bunch of galleries and talked with photo buyers, and the consensus is that the silver print is much more valued than the inkjet print, regardless of the fancy French name given the new medium. "Is that a real print or a print off a machine?" I overheard one buyer question a gallery owner, and while the question was perhaps less than sophisticated the instinct was valid. It's kind of fun to see how photographers are wrangling the naming of their newly chosen medium. Some call it the good old Giclee, or pigment ink, or pigment photo print, or simply photo print; anything, it seems to not call it an inkjet print.

I enjoy printing on inkjet, especially now that the black and white shifting problem has been resolved. And inkjet printing has opened the door to many more photographers who can now see the circle of their image making completed. But I also recognize how the silver print has become a very worthy item in the eyes of art buyers, which is something aspiring fine art photographers should recognize.

But there's no turning back the tide, as far as the Kodak decision is concerned, despite some petitions being circulated. You can't petition these things, you just have to vote with your pocketbook and find some other resources out there. Do give a tip of the hat to the passing of an old friend, even though you might not have called on him for a while.

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