Say it ain’t so

You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away”

– Lyrics from “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon

The end of an era has come. This week, Kodak announced it will stop manufacturing the famed Kodachrome film. Arguably the best film ever made, Kodachrome has been in production for 74 years. Even though I haven’t shot any kind of film in years, it’s sad to see it go. I’ve still got thousands of slides sitting in plastic sleeves in binders at home. Kodachrome’s fine grain, rich, accurate color and dynamic range was unparalleled. Whether looking at them through a magnifying loupe or projected on a screen, the slides were beautiful.

I remember as a photo student, sending the film off to be processed and anxiously waiting days for the slides to return in those little yellow boxes. I’d quickly open them up and, squinting through a loupe, edit the pictures into piles of keepers and rejects.

Kodacrhome was THE film
for National Geographic shooters. Steve McCurry’s unforgettable
haunting portrait of a young Afghan girl with piercing green eyes that
graced the cover of the magazine in 1985 was shot on ‘chrome. Nikon’s
slogan used to be “We Take the World’s Greatest Pictures.” Well, the
same could be said about Kodachrome (click here for a Kodak slides show
of pictures taken on Kodachrome).

Kodachrome wasn’t all a bed of roses (even though it was the film of choice if you wanted to shoot one). It was slow, with ISOs of 25, 64 and, later, 200. The method to develop the film was difficult, too. Technically, it was a black and white film, with the color being infused during the arcane processing. You couldn’t do it yourself, it had to sent to Kodak or an authorized photofinishing outlet. In the late ‘90s even Kodak gave up the developing of Kodachrome, leaving it to independent dealers. Today only one place in the world, Dwaynes Photo in Parsons, Kan., still processes the film (they will continue to do so through December of 2010).

Kodak no longer primarily associates itself with film, but rather calls itself an “imaging” company. In the digital age, the one-time film giant had to change with the times to survive. In truth, Kodachrome sales have dwindled to a fraction of 1 percent of Kodak’s film sales in recent years, according to the company. Digital cameras have supplanted almost all types of film, with convenience and speed far outmatching whatever image superiority Kodachrome could supply.

Maybe I’ll buy a roll or two of Kodachrome, shoot a few slides for old time sake. Call it a last hurrah or a fond farewell to an old friend. To paraphrase Paul Simon’s song: Mama didn’t take my Kodachrome away, Kodak (with the help of the digital age) did.

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