This is the Kodak EK6 Instant Camera.
This is an interesting piece as I was unable to find any sort of detailed discussion of it online. I was able to find that it was manufactured between 1976-1978 and retailed in the US for $69.50 (thanks to History of Kodak Cameras for those facts). The rest of the sites tend to be people selling them, people recently having bought them and displaying pictures of them, and people looking for film for them.
Which leads to the most interesting part of this camera. Kodak was sued by Polaroid for patent infringement because of the instant film process used in these cameras and had to pull the film and cameras off the market (thus the reason why most people these days use ‘Polaroid’ instead of ‘Kodak’ as the proprietary eponym for ‘instant photo’). Kodak was directed to destroy all the film they had, making it extremely scarce. Most sites agree it’s easier to try and modify a different type of film than it is to try and find original cartridges for this camera.
My brother-in-law has helped me acquire the majority of my entire collection due to his job which puts him in contact with all sorts of used treasures before they’re made available to the public. This camera was one of his finds. I know that’s not too exciting a story, especially after the pathos of the Crosley divorce story. There is a sad element to this piece in that it’s a Kodak and in January 2012 the company that is tied to most people’s photo-nostalgia filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, and is now no longer making consumer cameras.
This is the first of the pieces I’ll be looking at that fall into an interesting time in the technology’s lifecycle before the next big stage. These pieces end up being temporary stop-gap measures to try and account for the issues of the current tech but don’t quite take it to the next level. Once the next phase of the tech takes off (in this case, digital cameras), the stop-gap tech ends up being an interesting, if failed, curiosity.
Back in the days of all-film cameras, there was a an interesting balance in play between time, cost, and quality of photographs. For the younger readers out there, your standard camera would shoot on rolls of film that would usually hold 24 or 36 pictures each. When taking pictures there was no way to tell what they would look like until the film was developed. The film had to be developed and then photos had to be made off of the film. This was usually done at a store unless you had a home darkroom setup. If you wanted to save money, you could sometimes wait a week or two until your pictures were developed and ready. If you wanted to reduce that time you could also go to a one-hour shop which would then charge more (and usually deliver a poorer quality photo). As you couldn’t see the photo until it was developed, if you wanted to ensure good pictures you would have to take more shots, which meant more rolls of film which meant more cost of developing. And so if you wanted to decrease your costs you had to either increase your time until you could see the pictures and decrease your quality. If you wanted to increase your quality or speed up the time it took to get the photos, you probably had to increase costs considerably.
The instant cameras were an attempt to reduce the time factor in the equation, although they did it at the expense of both cost and quality. The instant cameras didn’t take as good pictures as the traditional film ones and the instant film was much more expensive than the costs of developing rolls of film. But they did succeed in reducing the time between when the picture was taken and when it could be viewed. Of course, digital cameras have now reduced that time to milliseconds and have also added in the ability to distribute that picture immediately after it’s been taken at little to no cost.
With cost and time being all but eliminated from the equation, it is interesting to think about what digital cameras have done for quality. There are still groups that will argue for the better quality that film delivers, although that’s maybe moved on to the realm of the folks who swear records sound better than digital recordings. And there is definitely still room for the discussion as to whether the average digital camera itself isn’t made out of less durable materials and made to be disposable, whereas the film ones were made to last. But as to the actual quality of the photography that we now see, I think that the fact that a person can now take a hundred photos of one small moment in time without having to think about costs has also improved the overall quality of photography. Granted, there is still the danger that the people taking the photos don’t curate their own work and just post all their bad pictures with their good, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have lots of good pictures in there.
The interesting thing is that when I sat down to write this last part about quality I was going to make the argument that our quality had gone down because it was so fast and cheap to take pictures. And then I started thinking about older photos. I’ve done multiple wedding videos where I take the old photos of the bride and groom growing up and put them together in a montage, and I started thinking about all the old photos I’ve seen and used for those videos. And as much as they have that great old quality charm to them, and as much as they mean to the people who are in them–the truth is that most of them are not good photos. They’re grainy, blurry, poorly framed and poorly lit. In most cases, unless the person taking the photo was an actual photographer, they tend to be not very good. And then I started thinking about your average Facebook photo gallery, and much as the content can be boring and repetitive and contain more photos than anyone needs to see of most people’s lives, they do tend to be clearer, brighter, better photos.
I’d be remiss to have a post about an old instant camera without mentioning Instagram. Instagram exists to make modern, clear, bright photos look old and muddy and imperfect. I think that what I was just discussing is the cause of this. If you are older than twenty, chances are all of your childhood photos are the blurry, muddy, imperfect photos that Instagram filters emulate. When you look at your old photos from growing up, there is probably a warmth of nostalgia for that place and time and what it was like to be a kid. The odd thing is that we’ve misplaced that nostalgia from the actual place and time to the imperfections of the technology — imperfections that only existed because the technology either wasn’t fully developed or user-friendly enough for the average person to use properly. Too make things even stranger, we are now artificially adding these imperfections to our current, more perfect, tech–and then using it to store our current memories. So that in the future when we look back at the pictures we took now, we’ll see them not through the imperfections of the tech, but through the artificial imperfections that we chose to put on it to emulate earlier actual imperfections.
I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with all that (I was putting imperfection-generating filters on my videos before it was cool* in order to create artificial nostalgia for the memories they hold), but what I am saying is we might want to keep some un-filtered copies of our photos on hand. Just in case one day comes and you want the option of seeing things as they actually were.