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Jakob Ehrensvärd | profile | all galleries >> Ruins of despair >> Kodak Hill tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Kodak Hill

Let's make this clear from the very beginning – I strongly advocate that there is something like aesthetic ruins and non-aesthetic ones. This one certainly falls into the latter category, and honestly – it's just a set of utterly dull and uninspiring buildings, built between the late 1960s and 1985 or so - all with prefab concrete elements. But in the shadows of these ruins, there is a case so fascinating, I simply couldn't resist the temptation getting there right away, although I've been told by my doctor to take it easy with my wounded back.

Well – here we have something really spectacular, I believe. Finding a blue-print having the bold label "Kodak Hill" reveals that we've landed at Kodak's former head office, factory, film-processing lab, warehouse and logistics centre here in Sweden. I think it was actually a hub for all the Scandinavian countries, including sales, R&D and customer service. Walking around in these empty premises is really surreal, knowing that some 500 people worked here about 20 years ago. I think Sweden was an exceptionally good marketplace for Kodak and they probably had a nice market share, above the world average here. But - sic transit gloria mundi - there is apparently no such thing as an evergreen.

I had some years during the early 1980s, when I photographed a lot. Needless to say, it was analog back then and I had an own darkroom where I developed film and made paper copies. I had my fair share of Kodak products, from film to chemicals and photo papers. To me (and most other, I believe), Kodak was equal to film and post-processing. They were The Company and they had The Products. Period. A statement back then that they would disappear from their dominant position in the photographic marketplace would have been as absurd as the Berlin Wall would fall or that the Soviet Union would collapse. But unimagninable things seem to happen after all...

Photographic film, x-ray film, lithographic film, photographic paper, photographic chemicals, developing equipment, slides, projectors, development services, low-end analog cameras, motion picture film cameras, single-use cameras, APS, Super-8, 1-hour photo, Kodak Carousel, PhotoCD... Just think for a second how all these things have become hopelessly obsolete in less than ten years time. By coincidence, all these products were all in the line of Kodak's business. (Well, with the case of Super-8, we're talking about something that started to crack seriously about ten more years earlier when VCRs and electronic cams started to affect motion-film sales)

The thoughts go to the book "The Innovator's dilemma" by Clayton Christensen with the by-liner "When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail". Applying his theories around what's called "Disruptive Technologies" on Kodak's fate gives an exceptional match. Coming from the land of the Hasselblad cameras, it's somewhat thoughtful to think back to when Victor Hasselblad sold his film business to Kodak during the 1960s. Where both companies went into a bright future in their respective fields of business in the years to come, the probably made the same strategical blunders when the digital bandwagon started to gain speed in the late 1990s. This transformation almost killed Hasselblad, but it seems like they're back on track, at least for now. Regarding Kodak, it seems like their failure in the digital marketplace is beyond repair. Ironically, on of their few edges in today's digital space is within high-end CCD sensors. For which customers ? Yes, you've got it – Hasselblad among a few others. But, the jury is still out there - it was after all a Kodak guy that invented the Bayer pattern. But I'm fairly skeptical, I must admit. Film is chemistry and digital photography is electronics. The silver-halide heritage provides little help in the field of silicon science... Rather a revolution in the inkjet/printing business, if anything. Some real competition for Canon, HP, Epson wouldn't hurt.

It feels both surreal and ironic at the same time to walk around these vast all empty and vandalized premises with a digital camera to document the mess. Feeling the scent of developing agent in one of the storage rooms gives flashbacks and reminds me of the yellow light in the darkroom. I close my eyes and see B/W pictures slowly appear on the Kodak Polycontrast paper in a simmering bath of D-72...

Update 2011-10: Just as Kodak announces that they're selling off their sensor business, the remains of the premises at Kodak Hill are finally being demolished. To me, this feels like more than a symbolic coincidence...

Update 2012-01: As the area at Kodak hill has now been cleaned off and the demolition teams are gone, it seems like Kodak will file for bankruptcy. As if the symbolism was strong enough some six months ago...
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