Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Kodak Moments

Back in the 20th century, when an occasion arose that would make an especially memorable picture of family and friends, it was called a "Kodak moment," named after the once famous makers of cameras and film. Those Kodak moments captured touching scenes of family, children, friends, relatives and sometimes perfect strangers showing human gentleness, kind-heartedness, and even love. 

The term "Kodak moment" went on to become a trademarked marketing catchphrase for Eastman-Kodak, but that is not what we are talking about here.

It used to be that life was measured in Kodak moments. The day to day routine may have been overwhelming, stressful, and, at times, aggravating, but every so often a Kodak moment would come along and make it all worth while. Kodak moments didn't happen often, but when they did, people would stop, smile, and say, "I wish I had a camera." Or, if they did have a camera, they moved as quickly as possible to take off the lens cap, focus and snap the shutter before the scene was lost.

In order to be ready for any Kodak moment that came along, Moms and Dads became experts at having Instamatics or Polaroid Land cameras handy at all times.  Most of these occasions would involve children doing something so cute that moms would dash for the camera. Kodak moments caught on film would often have high emotional content, prompting Mom or Dad to say, "We have to get extra prints made to send to Grandma and Pops."

Cellphone cameras have made capturing personal moments so easy that genuine "Kodak moments" often get buried in hundreds of digital files that are looked at once or twice, but never printed on paper. The pictures are uploaded either to Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook. If Grandma and Pops aren't on Facebook, they are out of the loop for Kodak moments.

These days Kodak moments have partially become overshadowed by "selfies," snapshots showing the affection between a person and their cellphone. Since the picture-taker and anyone else who happens to be standing next to them are looking directly into the camera and grinning, it's hard to say that any of those pictures will represent the "human condition" in the same way that a Kodak moment did.

Years ago, the term "human condition" used to mean the joys and sorrows, the achievements and disappointments, of individuals, their families and friends. Each day had its challenges, but those challenges were met with determination, resolve, and love. Few people complained because not only was that not really helpful, but complaining was looked down upon. Only steady relentless plodding towards a better future was the acceptable course of action. Kodak moments, when caught on film, helped immortalize those encouraging family memories that somehow brought comfort when things became difficult.

There should be a Kodak moment museum somewhere, a place you can go to and stir up those family memories commonly-held by every family: class plays, baby's first steps, cousins visiting, summer vacations, high school graduations, a teenager's first car, etc. Somewhere in the attic or closet or self-storage unit are the old family photo album, the scrapbook, the shoebox full of scalloped-edge black and white photos, together with stacks of fold-over envelopes filled with old negative strips that are stuck together. All those Kodak moments are in there somewhere.