With Agfa-Gevaert just having announced it would stop producing film, today’s news of Ilford’s business problems might look as yet another piece of shocking news for photographers. If indeed Ilford, the maker of supplies for black-and-white photography, was to disappear that would be quite a disaster. However, it remains to be seen what the actual outcome will be. A while back, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy protection, but now it seems the company will survive.
I think what we will probably see is an ever-expanding digital market, mainly for amateur consumers - who don’t care about quality as long as it’s convenient - and for commercial professionals, and a small but stable niche market for photographers who want to use traditional photography. Probably, the situation will be comparable to the hi-fi market where CDs outsell LPs by vast margins. But if you want you can still get LPs - and some stuff you can only get on LP.
This needn’t necessarily be a bad situation for photographers for the following reason: It’s simply bad for photographers to rely on big companies to manufacture stuff that those companies have only limited interest in. Big companies are interested in profits, with quality coming second (at best). Niche companies, however, will be able to provide photographers with quality products. In a sense, we are already in a situation where lots of photographic products have become niche products that you can only buy in specialty shops or over the internet.
Needless to say, this development will come at a price but that has always been part of the photographic equation. If you want quality you have to pay for it: You can’t get a Leica for cheap. If you want it cheap… well, then you’ll have to get a Canon EOS.
PS: Well, maybe I was a bit too optimistic. Agfa’s shedding of its film business will probably mean that their Scala b/w slide film will not be produced any longer. And now I found that Kodak will discontinue its Technical Pan film.