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Tradition to the wayside

Film makers discontinue black and white film

By Heather Smith

In this digital age, is there room for tradition? The top manufacturers of traditional photography equipment and supplies seem to think not.

Kodak, the company that introduced the first consumer camera in 1900, announced on June 16 of last year they are going to discontinue the production and sale of black and white photographic papers.

By January 11, Nikon, the forerunner in single lens reflex (SLR) film cameras, revealed their decision to focus on digital imaging. They have discontinued production of all lenses for large format cameras, enlarging lenses, and most of their film camera bodies and interchangeable manual focus lenses.

Less than two weeks later, Konica Minolta Group, the Japanese company which introduced its first camera and silver-halide film paper in 1903, announced it plans to phase out worldwide sales of its film and digital cameras after March 1.

Why are these companies abandoning their flagship products? Kodak cited a 25 percent annual decrease in sales for black and white paper, while Nikon declared 95 percent of their sales are attributed to their digital line-up.

According to the top manufacturers, the growing consumer demand for the convenience and simplicity of digital photography has changed the market, making traditional film cameras obsolete.

Many attribute this to the ease of use with a digital camera. Anyone can become a photographer with a digital camera. Mark Robertson, President of Beach Photo & Video, Inc., said, “Digital photography is like hunting with a machine gun; just point and shoot. Traditional is like hunting with a bow and arrow; it takes time.”

For many traditionalists, this is the end of an era. “Film is responsible for the past 100 years of history; it deserves a going away party,” Robertson said. However, some feel this shift has added appeal to black and white photography.

Ken Barrett, professional photographer and photography instructor at Flagler College, believes the switch to digital brings the art of black and white photography to a new level. “At art shows, for every color photo I sell, I sell three or four black and white (photos),” he said.

Austin VanRider, a graphic design student, perceives the shift as promising. He feels digital is easier and faster than traditional printing and processing. “You can take many photos without having to worry if it’s a good shot,” he said.

Nonetheless, Barrett suggested traditional photography will have a comeback in a year or two. “Digital photography will make its peak at some point,” he said. “I mean how many more end roads can be made in digital photography?”

Fuji and Olympus have decided to continue their traditional photography lines despite their competitors’ decisions. Fuji said in a statement they intend to keep their silver-halide business to “further cultivate the culture of photography.”

Stewart Muller, executive vice president of Olympus, told The Washington Post,”Film will be over soon, (but) we’re going to be the last company in it.”

Now, more than ever, black and white photography is considered an art form. Due to the
accessibility of digital, traditional imaging has become elite. For Barrett and many other traditionalists, the darkroom will always be their medium. However, digital photography has introduced a newfound audience to a long-standing tradition.

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