Robert Burley documents the decline and fall of film photography

The Kodak company was a vast, vertically integrated empire; it had its own herds of cows to make gelatin and everything else in between needed to make film. The almost instant death of film photography took the whole film manufacturing industry down, and created a lot of surplus real estate.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The National Gallery of Canada shows the work of two photographers, Robert Burley and Michel Campeau, who have documented this decline and fall of photographic empires.

Robert Burley's The Disappearance of Darkness examines both the dramatic and historical demise of film-manufacturing facilities and industrial darkrooms. The photographs taken between 2005 and 2010 speak to sites and events related to the key corporations (Kodak, Agfa, Ilford). As an artist working in photography for the past thirty years, Burley has been both an observer and a participant in this radical transition. This exhibition addresses the emergence of a new technology, which irrevocably changed photography, as well as the abrupt and rapid breakdown of a century-old industry, which embodied the medium’s material culture.

© Robert Burley

This building, in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, put up a fight.

On a gray December morning in 2007, crowds gathered to watch the death of photography in its birthplace. Photography refused to go quietly. After the demolition team had set off the 950 kilograms of explosives placed at the base of the building, only a portion of the structure came down. An embarrassed group of Kodak executives were forced to schedule a second attempt in February of 2008, which successfully ended the company’s presence in Niépce’s city.

© Interior of Building W1, Polaroid Waltham, Massachusetts 2009 / Robert Burley

Polaroid at least lives again in the Happiness Project, but it is hardly mainstream. We are in a new digital world; Robert Burley has documented the demise of the analogue with this sad but beautiful show. On at the National Gallery until January 2014, then it moves to the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, then on to The birthplace of photography at Musée Nicéphore Niépce and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film .

Tags: Photography | Toronto

Best of TreeHugger