American ingenuity never ceases to amaze.
Every year about this time our family – my wife, our son, the dog, the cat and I – engage in a nerve trying ritual.
The annual Christmas postcard picture.
For years now we have been taking this picture on the nearest point and shoot digital camera which falls to hand as the probability of catching all five cast members with bright smiles, good expressions and open eyes is …. well about as likely as that of finding a politician with integrity. Not impossible, but difficult, to say the least. So we place the camera on a tripod, gather together and bang away. Twenty tries usually does it. This year it was twenty one. Digital, of course, with its instant feedback, ensures we get something useable without having to wait for the film to come back from processing and going through the whole ordeal again.
Now, the picture taking part of the process, I must admit, is far from the most trying. The tough work begins when it comes to printing forty or fifty hard copies to mail to all and sundry. As I ordinarily use my wide carriage Epson printer for large prints which end up mounted and framed, making 4” x 6” postcard-sized ones is sheer agony. You can bet that the print nozzles will be clogged, rendering all and sundry in shades of purest magenta on the first pass. Then, after wasting much time and ink using the self-cleaning cycle (only a marketer could have thought up that misnomer), I try to recover that template I made for Photoshop years ago which places four prints on one sheet. Well, of course, it’s either missing in action or the annual software upgrade has rendered it useless again. Then when I get that bit sorted, I invariably run out of ink.
But then what would you expect? Take one of the very worst designed applications, a study in user torture named Photoshop, and pair it with the least friendly consumer gadget since the VCR – the home printer – and you have a recipe for frustration and failure.
So, this year, I said No More. I had come across an advertisement by one of the large drug stores in the West, Walgreens, which said you could upload your snaps and then elect to have them printed and ready in sixty minutes at a store of your choice. So we uploaded the annual snap (number 21 of 21!) to the local Walgreens, after first downloading their software which, believe it or not, even came in a version that works with computers preferred by human beings rather than geeks. I mean, of course, Apples. And not sixty minutes later, an email arrived asking that we drop by to pick up the prints. No, they don’t deliver. Not yet, anyway.
So we took the boy and the dog for a stroll down the road and there they were. Fifty beautiful 4” x 6” prints, perfectly exposed with those wonderful skin tones the home printer only dreams about, processed in a Fuji Frontier machine right there in the store. Total cost? $8. Yes, 16 cents apiece. Now had they been using a Kodak machine I would have gone elsewhere, as the second worst run American corporation (the prize goes to GM by a considerable margin) is not even capable of making a reliable machine or supporting after market service in a timely manner. So unreliable are the Kodak machines, and so poorly supported, that even the Wall Street Journal noticed after the large Target store chain threatened to return all its machines and going with Fuji if service did not improve. At my local Target, the Kodak machine is typically down 40% of the time.
The point of this piece is that while film may indeed be dead, the commercially made print is alive and kicking.
When I originally wrote the Film is Dead piece, I posted it on Photo.net to gauge reactions. Some fifty emails later, many laced with obscenities and personal attacks, I had in fact confirmed that Film must be Dead, otherwise why would so many deny the facts in ghetto language? It is troubling, though, that these purported aesthetes never graduated from grammar school.
Since that time, America’s second worst run corporation has restated earnings (they don’t even know how much they are losing), laid off thousands more employees (if all else fails, blame the worker – right out of the GM play book), has discontinued monochrome printing paper (excuse me, silver gelatin to those who still use it for cheap effect or is that marketing again?) and obsoleted (‘rationalized’ in MBA speak) most of its color film offerings. And that was just in one fiscal quarter.
So while film, which I still use for serious work, is on the way out, shortly joining the wax cylinder and the LP record as an avocation of the lunatic fringe, the genius of American capitalism, that prime mover of this great nation of hustlers, remains alive and kicking by making easy printing from digital originals a trivial matter.
I for one, while Walgreens and Fuji did their thing, got on with other more fun things this year rather than wasting time with the execrable Photoshop interface and the ink jet printer.
So go ahead and send your casual digital snaps to the local drug store – just make sure it does not use a Kodak machine if you want your prints back any time soon.