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Photoworks is Closing
Photoworks is closing its doors on April 4, 2011. I have been sending them my photos since I was in grad school, which I started in the fall of 1991. But back then, they weren't called Photoworks. They were called Seattle Filmworks.
I loved Seattle Filmworks. I was introduced to them by my father, who gave me a free sample of their film that he had gotten through the mail. They used a special kind of film, and it gave very sharp photos with really vibrant colors. But you couldn't develop it just anywhere. You had to send it to their lab in Seattle.
Now, at the time, I was in my early thirties. I had no children, and nothing much to interest myself in besides literature, poetry, linguistics, justice, freedom .... and the politics at the department of linguistics where I was a grad student.
I could post some of the photos I took at the time. They were all about the characters of the professors and the students and how they interacted and what was really on their minds. But... I think I would need permission from those other people to do that, so let's skip forward to 1998 when I began teaching in Taiwan.
At first, I visited a lot of temples and took photos of the deities displayed in each. Also I took a lot of photos of stray dogs that I met. Then my daughter was born, and my focus shifted to her. But no matter what was in my viewfinder, the pictures I eventually took were sent back home by snail mail. I couldn't send them anywhere else, I thought. The only film I used was Seattle Filmworks film.
The History of Seattle Filmworks
According to the Wikipedia, Seattle FilmWorks started out as "a mail order film processor". It was founded in 1976 by Gilbert Scherer and was initially known as "American Passage Marketing." In 1978 they were incorporated as Seattle Filmworks, Inc. and they sold 35mm motion picture film that used a special developing method. In the 1980s, Seattle Filmworks began offering two rolls of Seattle FilmWorks film for just $2.00. They advertised in newspapers, magazines, and package inserts. Their special patented motion picture film was put in film canisters for still photographers to use. After you sent in the film to be developed, they would return of a new roll of film with each order that could be processed only by them.
Who can resist a free roll of film? Not me. So I kept using their film, sent it in to be developed, and never paid for film again. All I ever paid for was processing.
Then one day I heard that actually their film was no longer that special patented kind. They had been lying to us for some time, and a lawsuit was brought against them for printing on every roll of film that it could only be processed in their lab, when it simply wasn't true.
The lawsuit must have hit them hard. They went out of business in 2005. But they were reincarnated as Photoworks, and Photoworks ended up with an archive of my photos that dated as far back as 1998.
The History of Photoworks
Now, if you look up Photoworks in the Wikipedia, here's what you will find:
"PhotoWorks is a raytrace rendering program created by Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation." Now, that's not the Photoworks I mean. (But if you are interested in learning more about Dassault, read this hub.)"
But if you want to know about my Photoworks, the people who are keeping the online archive that tells the story of my life, here is what Photoworks, Inc. says about itself on its website:
"After a rich, 30-year history in film, photography, and outstanding customer service, PhotoWorks (formerly Seattle FilmWorks) was acquired in 2008 by AG Interactive, a subsidiary of American Greetings Corporation (NYSE: AM), known for its 100+ years of design expertise in innovative social expression products and personal connection tools. This powerful combination has made us a leading online personal publishing company that helps you capture and share the special moments of your life."
So what does all that mean? What, for instance, is a "social expression product"?! What is a "personal connection tool"? Well, whatever it is, they didn't make any money off it.
People stopped using film. They no longer needed their film developed. They sometimes wanted images from their digital cameras printed out, but there were many places to do that, starting with your own printer and ending with a place that allows you to sell your photos as print-on-demand products. Yes, Photoworks would print your image on a coffee mug if you asked them to, but so could millions of other places. There was no reason to choose them.
The Notice from Photoworks
Here is what the notice says: "You will not be able to access your PhotoWorks projects after Monday, April 4, 2011. Please view your projects to complete or re-order prior to Monday, April 4, 2011. After Monday, April 4, 2011 you will only be able to transfer your photos to Shutterfly. Your PhotoWorks photos will be deleted if you do not transfer them to Shutterfly before 11:59pm EST. May 2, 2011."
That is shocking. They have over ten years of my photo albums archived. Yes, I do have all these photos on CD as well, but I am confined to the pens, and I can't easily get to the CDs. I haven't sat around looking at physicial photo albums in years. When I need one of my photos, I always look for it in the Photoworks archive. The resolution isn't as high as I might like, but I don't have to get up from my laptop in order to view them.
I thought they were always going to be there for me. I thought that even though I stopped sending them film to develop five years ago, they would always keep my memories for me, in the hopes that someday I might order something.
But I didn't order anything. And maybe nobody else did, either. And now they are closing.
Before it became "the pens", it was the sunroom
This is a picture from the sunroom, which has since been converted into the pens
How Long Should a Business Endure?
I realize that other people are not my slaves. Just because it would be convenient for me to have a single corporation deal with all my photographic needs from the moment I selected them until the end of my life does not mean that this will happen. Other people have rights, and if they choose to stop serving me, there's nothing I can do but look around for a replacement, or do without.
And yet... I've always expected successful businesses to last longer than I did. I thought that if there was a profit in it, surely they would keep doing it. And I also thought that they would find a way to keep it profitable, because that's how they lived.
How long should a business endure? A corporation has the potential to live forever. And yet most of the corporations that I have ever dealt with have gone belly up when I still needed their services. How many banks have made me buy new checks, when I had only been a customer for a year or so? Why is it that I, who lead a precarious life, am more stable than they are? How many department stores have closed their doors, though I still breathe. I am a flesh and blood person, destined for the grave. But they are deathless legal persons.
And yet, they are not immortal at all. I've outlived so many corporations. So what accounts for that?
Is it the shifting economy? Is it technological innovations? Or is it that corporations really aren't people, and they depend on people to make them run, and no two people are the same, and some people are worth more than others?
All of that is possible. But even more important is this: when the investors are not responsible for the outcome, why should management care if the business makes a profit? Business failures are routine these days. Some businesses are even designed to fail.
The Story of My Life on Film
I stopped taking photos on film in 2006, shortly before my confinement with Bow to the pens. The photos that Photoworks archived for me tell the story of my life, from my travels in Taiwan, to the death of my father, to my first days in the Ozarks. They show Sword and Bow growing up together, becoming stronger and more capable, until one day Bow became too capable too soon, but did not have the self discipline to handle his freedom.
I will probably transfer everything to Shutterfly, though I don't feel good about it. But just in case anything gets lost in the transfer, I'm sharing these photos with you. As long as Hubpages do not go the way of all flesh -- or all corporations -- they will remain here for your amusement.
© 2011 Aya Katz