With its market eviscerated by digital photography, Eastman Kodak Co. last year stopped making black-and-white photo paper.
It was a loss most photographers could live with, except for a few who dreaded the loss of Azo, a paper with unusual characteristics that Kodak had made continuously since 1898. Other papers "just are not as beautiful," said Michael A. Smith, a photographer who prints all of his work on Azo.
In another world, the few Azo adherents that were left might never have found each other. But through their Web site, Smith and his wife Paula Chamlee, also a photographer, pulled together almost a quarter of a million dollars from photographers and customers to finance production of an Azo-like paper at an old photographic plant in Europe.
"The place we're having it done has one old guy who supposedly made it for Kodak in the 50s, and we were told that if he wasn't there, it just couldn't be done," Smith said.
The resurrection of Azo is just one example of how the Internet is helping an old craft hang on despite the march of technology. By facilitating the exchange of information, equipment and plain old-fashioned encouragement, Web sites and mailing lists has given analog photography a second lease on life.
"The Internet certainly has enabled us to reach the community of people who use these products. Without it, it would be impossible," Smith said.
One online haven for photographers who use silver-based materials is APUG.org, home of the Analog Photography Users Group. Discussions of digital cameras and inkjet printers are forbidden from the site, except for a few circumstances where they're an adjunct to traditional processes.
Started in 2002, APUG has more than 12,000 members. Its founder, New Zealand-based Sean Ross, left an IBM Corp. job a few months ago to devote himself full-time to the site.
"I have no doubt that much more film, paper, and chemistry are sold today because of our community," Ross said via e-mail.
A beneficiary of that trend is JandC Photo, a small company in Kansas City that specializes in importing photo products from Eastern Europe and film for old-fashioned cameras.
"There was a pent-up demand for film - especially black-and-white film - in formats that were previously unavailable," said JandC's John Minakais.
For example, the company reintroduced film for the classic Kodak Brownie box cameras. Kodak hasn't made film for them in more than a decade.
Such film wouldn't be worth the shelf space in a brick-and-mortar store, because in any given area, there are only a few users. But JandC's Web site reaches a worldwide customer base, Minakais said.
In his Manhattan apartment, language professor and fervent APUGer David Goldfarb shows off his eBay finds, including a boxy 12-pound Graflex camera the size of a desktop computer, made in 1926 for photojournalists. Built for speed, it can take about one picture every 20 seconds (compared to eight pictures per second for today's press photographers' digital cameras.)