The New Engine

The Kodak disc camera appeared on the market with great fanfare in 1982. Kodak’s chairman at the time, Walter Fallon, ahead of the biggest publicity campaign Kodak ever launched, called disc photography “the new engine that will drive amateur photography”.

Although presented as ultra-modern on its release, which in some ways it was, the disc camera had precedents. Some ‘detective cameras’ from the 1880s, so called because of their easy concealment, also had a circular, flat design of film. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the more regular box-shaped ‘detective camera’ was the inspiration for the design of the Kodak No1, released in 1888. In another respect, the disc camera also followed a design trajectory begun in 1972 with the introduction of the new, smaller format 110 films with a 16mm negative, less than half the size of 35mm film. This new reel-to-reel cassette format provided for a more portable, pocket-sized camera. The disc camera, with its 15mm negative and flat, carousel design meant that cameras could be made even smaller.

Although 25 million were sold, the Kodak disc camera was finished by 1988. The miserly 15 exposures on each film was poor value, and the tiny negative provided for disappointing, grainy prints. Very few labs went to the expense of upgrading to the new technology developed to get the best out of this smaller negative. It has been said that the under-performance of the Kodak disc camera campaign certainly contributed to the company’s eventual bankruptcy. 

Time and obsolescence have rendered these developed disc negatives art objects. Never designed to be seen like this, only as individual prints, once scanned into a computer and colour inverted, the positive images appear in a rosette pattern around an inner label, much like a vinyl record. The strange aperture at the centre, the barcode and boxy, machine-like font are suggestive of a robot age, while its petals and floret shape are evocative of nature.

Nigel Martin Shephard

Published by The Family Museum

We are an archival project about amateur family photography, based in London and set up by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney.

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