Epitaph for Film and Print
by John Delach
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Make you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.
Kodachrome lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Songwriter: Paul Simon
Kodachrome, Eastman Kodak’s non-substantive color reversal film. Born 1935 – Died 2009. It produced the sharpest, brightest, clearest slides, films and photographs and in the hands of a skilled photographer or film maker, brilliant shots and scenes that forced us stop and take notice. Gone, a casualty first of digital photography and finally of cell phone cameras. Now the name is remembered by most as the title of this song replaced in talk about photography with a new and crass expression, “the selfie.”
Paul Simon’s Nikon camera and paper photographs are also on the list of endangered species extinguished by smart phones, tablets, text messages, etc. and sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblir, Flickr and other social media destinations. The SLR is being relegated to the small ranks of serious photographers and professionals. The camera of record is the cell phone where an endless stream of junk photographs and out of focus videos fill whatever the space is where the internet exists covering such riveting, moving and important subjects as, what I ate for supper, how I am dressed, look at my fabulous vacation, my children doing disgusting things and cute pet tricks.
And that’s just some of the benign uses. Humans behaving badly take pains to utilize their devices to record their transgressions. They don’t do this secretly or covertly; no, no they share it enthusiastically. Any thing of note that happens, a fist fight, accidents, crimes, natural disasters; people are seemingly poised to shoot the scene usually poorly. But this doesn’t prevent the media from running with it. These scenes will viewed on countless outlets where talking heads guide us through what is otherwise unrecognizable. Beyond television, many watch on the internet, podcasts and other social media locations which will take hits in the millions.
This junk photography and free electronic distribution has also wrecked and continues to wreck print media. Once upon a time, the various entities within Time – Life preened about the quality of their photography particularly Life Magazine and Sports Illustrated. In the 1970s, Sports Illustrated’s advertising slogan was, “We Are Sports in Print” and this slogan would appear under dramatic action photos on billboards and posters mounted on buses and train stations. I remember one in particular photo taken at the 1976 World’s Series. Taken from behind first base, it shows Mickey Rivers in the air as he is starting his attempt to slide into second. The baseball is passing to the left of his head on its way to Joe Morgan who strattles the bag, glove extended waiting to make the tag. Definitely Kodachrome; now that was a photograph. We Are Sports in Print indeed.
Now Life is long gone except for special editions, Time is a shadow of itself as is Sports Illustrated. The entire organization is in doubt. As David Carr wrote in his piece, “Print Is Down, and Now Out” in the August 10 edition of the NY Times, “The people at the magazine business Time Inc. were not so lucky, burdened with $1.3 billion in debt when Time Warner threw them from the boat. Swim for your life, executives at the company seemed to be saying, and by the way, here’s an anchor to help you on your way.”
Regional newspapers are on life support and successful media giants are casting out their print divisions. Time is not alone. Rupert Murdock set the Wall Street Journal adrift. Granted, he did it with a generous infusion of almost $2 billion but it begs the question, how long will it take to burn through that?
Gannet has cast aside USA Today. Good grief, does this mean that McPaper’s days are numbered?
Dark days ahead according to Mr. Carr:
“Newspapers will be working without a net as undiversified pure-play print companies. Most are being cut loose after all the low-hanging fruit like valuable digital properties have been plucked. Many newspapers have sold their real estate, where much of the value was stored.
“More ominous, most print and magazine assets have already been cut to the bone in terms of staffing. Reducing costs has been the only reliable source of profits as overall revenue has declined. Not much left to trim.”
It seems a brave new world is before us, one without photographs to view in albums nestled in our laps, or newspapers to fold and caress or even magazines for in depth coverage of news we already know.
As I read David Carr’s piece I wondered if he stopped to consider: “Damn, I’m writing my own obituary!”