Reclaiming the Moment - Introducing Kodachrome
- January 05, 2017
May 2017 Update: U.S. residents, Issue One is available for purchase at store.kodak.com.
From throwback cameras to haptic hankerings, writers Oliver Berry and Clare Howdle share their outsiders’ perspective on just what led a technology company like Kodak to go all-out analog, and how a short-run print magazine fits into this picture…
Can you smell it? Change, people. It’s in the air. Over the last 18 months independent magazine sales have surged, vinyl records purchases have hit a 28-year high and a ‘136 year-old start-up’ launched a brand new Super 8 camera so people could once again create their very own celluloid stories. Around the world, a new generation has rediscovered the beauty and honesty of analog technology – not out of nostalgia, but appreciation. There’s a groundswell of energy that’s growing with every page turn, shutter click and projector purr – so now, it’s time.
In December 2016 Kodak created a magazine. A journal to celebrate analog culture in all its glory, Kodachrome explores, shares and encourages creative thinking, from creative people worldwide. But its story doesn’t start today. To understand where it came from, what it’s for and why it’s here at all, we have to dig down deep, right into the heart of Kodak itself.
Las Vegas, a year ago. The technology world gathers for a sneak preview of the year’s latest gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). With more than 2 million square feet of exhibits, CES is a sprawling showcase for everything from drones and 3D printers to intelligent fridges and self-driving cars. Only in 2016, the product that caught everyone’s imagination wasn’t a wearable, or a VR headset, or a hoverboard. It was a piece of tech invented more than five decades ago. A mini movie camera with a fixed lens, a handheld grip and a genuinely retro aesthetic. And it was loaded with film, not flashcards.
Launching a new analog product at the biggest, future-facing tech show in the world was one thing. The response was quite another. “The fact that Kodak is building a brand new Super 8 camera is a dream come true,” said JJ Abrams (Cloverfield, Super 8, Starwars: The Force Awakens). “This camera appears to be the perfect bridge between the efficiency of the digital world and the warmth and quality of analog."
From the Super 8 in January to the Kodak Ektra camera-first smartphone launched in October, 2016 marked a pivotal point in Kodak’s narrative. After rocky times, the company was innovating again. Not by trying to be shinier or techier than its peers (a battle it fought and lost as digital technology claimed consumers’ pockets at the turn of the century), but instead by simply being true to itself, to the values at its heart and to the creativity that makes anything possible. Yes, 2016 was a big year for yellow. Because it was a big year for analog.
“We've had computers for the better part of eight decades, the internet for twenty years, smartphones for ten. And with each of those things, as they become part of the fabric of our day to day life, we are done with the honeymoon,” explains David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why they Matter, about the world’s burgeoning interest in analog culture. “Analog is a choice now. At the end of the day many of us want things, not the idea of a paperless virtual world where we're distant from all the things that we have.”
Kodak has drawn on its heritage to create the kind of products consumers have been crying out for. Tools that enable people to connect with the real, to enjoy the process of making again. But this isn’t just about developing new products from old. This is about the sensibility that sits behind those products and runs through the core of Kodak as a brand.
“Kodak is one of the most iconic companies in the world, but somewhere along the line, we just lost our way,” admits Dany Atkins, Vice President, Global Brand & Creative. “For us, the last couple of years have been about examining who we are as a company, and what George Eastman was really trying to do when he started Kodak more than a century ago. We realised it all came down to creativity. We’re a brand for creative people. We’re there to make magic happen.”
You know me
So it made a deliberate statement of intent. An acknowledgement of who it was and what it believed in. In the same month that it launched its new camera-first smartphone, Kodak also launched its updated marque – and the design world greeted it like the return of an old friend. Why? Because the familiar yellow and red had been resurrected, and just like the (re-)release of the Super 8, it offered a vision of the future that was also an unabashed return to Kodak’s roots.
“This was almost a logo waiting to happen, so the design process was incredibly efficient,” says Keira Alexandra, the designer tasked with reimagining the logo for Kodak’s relaunch. “I think we had maybe three meetings, several phone-calls, and we knew what we had to do.”
The logo – the bold, geometric K, in that unmistakable yellow-and-red colour palette – had been synonymous with the company since 1971, but had been shelved in 2006 as Kodak tried to keep pace with the digital revolution. “At that time, that logo was felt to be too physical, too outdated,” explains Atkins. “They wanted to make Kodak feel hi-tech. But in doing so, they stripped out all the personality, and I think that’s symbolic of how we as a company lost our way.”
“But that K mark had 58% automatic recall,” she continues. “People already know it instinctively without being told it’s Kodak – which is amazing, really, when it hadn’t been in use for 10 years. It’s clearly part of who we are, so we knew we had to bring it back.”
In a world where consumers are savvy to the point of cynical, where the connection between brand and buyer means more than ever, and where ‘being real’ is the Holy Grail, Kodak is having a moment. Because when it comes to authenticity, this is a brand that has always had it in spades. It just took a wrong turn for a while.
And it was quite a wrong turn. After competing but losing in the digital photography race of the early noughties, Kodak’s stock plummeted and by 2011 it was facing debts of $4.5bn. In 2012, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and it looked like the shutter was about to snap shut on one of the world’s most loved photography brands. A 2012 article in The Economist sounds its death knell: “Kodak, along with many a great company before it, appears to have run its course,” it said. “After 132 years it is poised, like an old photo, to fade away.”
Two years later, into this maelstrom stepped Jeff Clarke, who took on the role of CEO to bring Kodak back from the brink. Within weeks of his appointment he faced one of the toughest calls in Kodak’s history.
“Our film business was down 94%,” Clarke recalls. “That’s a pretty tough decline, right? So when I came in I was confronted with the decision – do you want to shut the last motion picture film factory in the world [Kodak’s Rochester film factory was the last factory still operating]. And we thought about it and we knew we didn’t. There are hundreds of reasons why film is important. We just felt it was important that choice is still there.”
So Clarke saved the factory. And then he set about saving film. Garnering widespread support from Hollywood’s heavyweights – including Christopher Nolan, JJ Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Judd Apatow and even Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg – the Keep Kodak Open campaign wasn’t just about Kodak. It was about film. It was about making something. It was about choice and posterity and possibility. It was about all the reasons the world is falling back in love with the creative values and processes of times gone by.
Today, the momentum continues to build, as a new generation of filmmakers discovers and extols the virtues of film. “I always loved the way working with film made me feel; the intensity it brought to the creative process and, more than anything, the look and feel of the footage,” explains Jeremy Teicher, an Oregon-based director who has shot several recent projects on film, including Speed Goggles, a five-part series about the psychology of runners made for the New York Times . “I’ve found there’s just no way to reproduce that filmic look in post, even now. Trust me, I’ve tried. There’s only one way to make something look like film, and that’s to shoot on film.”
Saving film showed the world the sort of company that Kodak was. What it cared about and what it stood for. Importantly, too, it marked an epiphany for Kodak itself – the realisation that in order to ensure its survival as a company, it needed to rediscover the things that made it different – the “science of creativity”, as Clarke puts it. It had to innovate. It had to experiment. And most importantly, it had to inspire.
– Steven Overman, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Kodak
Back to the future
So it’s late 2016. Kodak’s back. It’s rediscovered its identity, and its mojo. It’s making much-loved products. It’s making film. It's thinking in a different way to its competitors. And it’s from this surge of energy that the idea for a magazine first made its way out into the open.
“There’s something about the physicality of print that makes it appealing to creatively–minded individuals,” explains Joshua Coon, Head of Content for Kodak. “We’ve seen such a positives response and learnt so much at every point in our analog journey, that pulling everything together in a beautiful piece of print just seemed like the next logical step.”
However, this isn’t about being exclusive or niche, about making something just for the supposed ‘creative’ among us. Quite the opposite, in fact. Since Eastman founded the company in 1880, Kodak has strived to encourage the creative in everyone. “Creativity is what makes us human,” explains Steven Overman, Kodak’s Global Chief Marketing Officer. “We believe that given the right tools and inspiration, everyone can be creative. Our aspiration is to continually inspire people to discover, create and share the experience.”
Enter Kodachrome magazine. 80 pages of interviews, imaginings and musings with creative firecrackers including actress-turned-filmmaker Chloë Sevigny, illustrator Tad Carpenter, film artist Isaac Julien and even the team behind Kodak’s famous Coloramas. Color theory, independent publishing, the pressures of a creative family legacy, the addictive attraction of all things analog – this issue dives deep into a wide range of topics, immersing readers in insights most fantastic and leaving them to decide when to come up for air.
“We knew this needed to be so much more than just puff,” Coon continues. “It’s not a sales brochure or a catalog. We wanted to show and share our fascination with print, from the richness of the content to the beauty of the design, images and illustration. Taking Kodak out of the frame; as analog enthusiasts we knew we had to be thrilled by it as a publication, to ensure others would be too.” Because something Coon and his team are all too aware of is that for true analog fans, the pleasure of reading goes way beyond just the text. “It’s in the object itself – the experience of reading it,” Sax confirms. “And that experience starts with picking a book or magazine up, examining it and admiring the art and the design and the feel of it. It goes even deeper. The weight of it in your hands, the smell of it, the feel of the paper on your fingers. The pure, unmistakable physicality of it.”
So what’s in it for Kodak? What impetus has driven them to invest in a short-run publication that exists in the real world, which by nature, only a fragment of its customer base will ever get to touch? It’s the same motivation that has informed every decision in the brand’s reinvention. A passion for creativity. “Our goal is to amplify what is already memorable and resonant around the world,” Overman explains. “I for one find inspiration in people, communities and places that have renewed themselves – that’s what Kodachrome, and Kodak embodies – the irrepressible creative spirit that leads people to do incredible, exciting, inspiring things.”
The question on everyone’s lips, of course, is can it really work? In a world where companies like Apple and Google and Facebook call the shots, where the majority still wants new, new, new, now, now, now, can a company with such prominent historical roots carve out a compelling future?
Well, maybe that’s the wrong question. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the story of Kodak, it’s this: innovation means nothing if you lose sight of its purpose.
Over the last two years, Kodak has had its own Dorothy/Kansas moment. It’s discovered that the answer to its reason for being was inside itself, all along. Because what technology alone can’t do is turn accuracy into art, or pixels into masterpieces. And, as consumers become increasingly dissatisfied with the clean, digitised, binary uniformity of everything, Kodak might just have found a niche.
In the blend
Kodak’s Super 8 draws inspiration from the original movie camera, updating it with a digital viewfinder and the latest advances in sustainable manufacturing and design. The Kodak Ektra smartphone boasts a tactile, analog feel and employs functionality that mirrors a classic 35mm, combining it with the latest photo editing and sharing software, as well as an app for ‘printing’ your photos, so you can have them delivered to your door in a familiar yellow and red envelope. And Kodachrome magazine showcases just what’s possible with analog in a digital world, on every level – in its content, of course, but also in its production, printed on the Kodak NEXPRESS printer, which enables high-speed, high image quality, premium print over short and longer runs with less effort.
And therein lies the rub. If Kodak can truly become the first company that embraces both worlds, bridging the gap between the analog and digital, then surely it will thrive. Because it’s in that overlap that the creative collective lives, that innovation is happening. That tomorrow resides.
In the words of David Sax: “The real world isn't black and white, it's not even grey… reality is multi-coloured, infinitely textured and emotionally layered. It smells funky and tastes weird and revels in human imperfection. The best ideas emerge from that complexity which remains beyond the capability of digital technology alone to fully appreciate. The real world matters, now more than ever.”
If any company should know about that, it’s Kodak.
A limited run of Kodachrome magazine is available at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, January 5-8, 2017. An extended run will be made available from late January 2017.