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'Kodak was in my blood'


Courtesy of Kurt Schlosser

Emerson Schlosser, second from left, at Harvard Business School in 1934, the same year he started at Eastman Kodak Co.

By Kurt Schlosser, msnbc.com Entertainment Producer

For a story that has been developing over the past several years, I still had a hard time grasping the news out of my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., on Thursday. Kodak, the once mighty maker of everything having to do with the pictures on my walls, was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

I left Rochester almost 20 years ago, but the memories of what Kodak meant to the city, my family and why I love photography have been everlasting.

My dad’s father, Emerson Schlosser, spent 40 years at Kodak. He rose to become the superintendent of the roll film division before retiring in 1974. I remember getting packs of Kodak film wrapped as presents every year at Christmas. My dad says Emerson, who died in 2000 at age 90, “never realized what digital [photography] was” before his death. I imagine if I photographed him today on my iPhone and posted it to flickr before his eyes -- for the entire world to see in an instant -- he’d be a little speechless.

Courtesy of Kurt Schlosser

A cherished Kodak moment: Kurt Schlosser, with his mother in New York City in 1972.

As a boy I remember shooting on disc cameras and looking at a Brownie like it wasn’t an antique. My dad remembers developing pictures in a home dark room his father set up in the basement.

“We were a Kodak family,” my dad, Richard, says. “I can’t say Kodak came before everything else [for Emerson] but it was right up there.”

My mother, Kathy, and my father were both summer interns at Kodak. So was my dad’s brother. My mother’s mother Margaret worked in Kodacolor photofinishing, developing and printing people’s photographs for more than 20 years through the 1950s and ‘60s and into the ‘70s. My aunt spent 30-plus years as a managerial secretary. My wife, also from Rochester, counts her mom, dad and grandfather among the faithful at one time or another. It’s what people did. The stories are the same out of evolving company towns in Michigan and Ohio and across the country. Some people built cars or appliances. My family helped build … memories.

As it snows in Seattle this week and I look out at the fluffy blanket covering my yard, I remember playing in the yard of my childhood home, just blocks from one of Kodak’s industrial parks. Large smokestacks always left little black flecks of soot on the deep snow – something as synonymous with the town as that company. The soot never stopped me from eating the snow, and over the years, when I always chose the yellow box of film over the green one, I guess you could say Kodak was in my blood.

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Employees of Eastman Kodak, the company best known for making film and cameras, are now bracing for layoffs. NBC's Brian Williams reports.