The Theater with No Name

The Kodak Theater, the Oscars’ (custom-built) home for the last decade, is now nameless. Although Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, the judge’s decision releasing the company from the $3.6 million annual naming fee came just last week. It was too late to remove the Kodak signs before this year’s ceremony on February 26, and they remain like phantom limbs, gone but still felt–seven (of nine) 2012 Best Picture nominees were shot on Kodak film.

And the Oscar for Best Actor goes to…

“It makes you nostalgic for the days when we only worked with 35mm film,” said Mark Graziano, senior vice president of post-production at DreamWorks. “You look at many filmmakers that swear by film capture, their movies always look gorgeous. It’s hard to turn your back on that.”

I’m nostalgic too. Kodak made the first roll of film I ever shot, Tri-X 135-36, loaded into my Pentax Spotmatic. And the last rolls too, TXP 120, in a back on a Hasselblad 500 C/M. Mostly a Kodak girl, I had a fling (well, a relationship) with Fuji RDP before returning to EPP 120 for the best, most neutral skin tones.

I left again, for digital (but initially only for assignments), first a prosumer Nikon D70 (I didn’t know this would get so serious so fast, that the tech-tonic plates were rapidly shifting) and then Canon 5Ds (totally great) and a PhaseOne P45 back for my beloved no-tech Hasselbald 500 C/M.

But I assumed Kodak would always be there, for the “arty” assignment to be shot on black and white 120 film or for personal work–or just there, like my bedroom with the crumbling foam mattress in my parents’ house.

In 2005, endlessly energetic Catherine Wyler, then the director of The High Falls Film Festival in Rochester, offered me an exhibit at two of the festival’s venues, The Little Theater and Eastman House, in an area near the museum’s Dryden theater. And Catherine asked John and Andy at Kodak to sponsor my show and they agreed, making gorgeous, (then) state-of-the art digital C prints with the room-size Durst Lambda. (Kodak also sponsored my 2006 show at the Furman Gallery at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, making it possible for me to hang 72 digital Cs.)

But seven years ago, Kodak’s enormous facility at 343 State Street already had wide open spaces, as the company refused to fully embrace digital, rejecting cannibalizing its film business, believing that Kodak’s chip, inside many digital camera bearing other companies’ brands, would save the company.

George Eastman, genius and philanthropist, of course also had quirks. Time passed at Kodak in 28-day months, 13 per year, plus one day. He lived with his mother for her entire life, much of it in his Rochester mansion, a shy indoor acre at 35,000 square feet. And in 1919, almost 15 years after the completion of his house, he sliced the conservatory down the middle and expanded it by nine feet to improve the acoustics (cost: $750,000). Eastman’s house, like Susan B. Anthony’s more modest Rochester home, in a less upscale neighborhood, is now a National Historic Landmark.

Left to right: George Eastman’s conservatory; Susan B. Anthony’s bedroom

Much as I miss Polaroid (especially dreamy b&w positive/negative 665), it’s even rougher to accept that there will be no more of those bright yellow (the color chosen by Eastman himself) boxes stuffed with five rolls of TXP 120. But if that’s true, good-bye, Kodak, and thanks for the moments.

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