Kodachrome Fades—Out: But the Afterglow Lingers

Final frame, final photo R.I.P..

This is the last photograph on the last roll of Kodachrome film manufactured by Kodak. It was taken by National Geographic photojournalist Steve McCurry with his trusty Nikon F, the camera on which for decades he loaded thousands of 36 exposure rolls of the 35mm color-transparency film. This final exposure was made in a cemetery (what an apt metaphor) in Parsons, Kansas (location of Dwayne’s Photo, the last lab in the world still processing Kodachrome). McCurry had brought the roll there himself, hand-delivering it to Dwayne Steinle, whose family still owns and operates the lab that he founded in 1956.

Dwayne's—Last stop for Kodachrome.

From its introduction in 1936, the year after Kodak had introduced it in the 16mm. motion picture format, Kodachrome reversal became a film of choice for professionals and shutterbugs alike. It was the emulsion that William Eggleston chose for his photographs, work became a 1976 landmark book and exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first ever in color by that institution.

Cover of the MOMA book.

Kodachrome is the film, in motion picture and still formats, on which so much of America’s mid and late twentieth century color photographic history rests. John Huston’s documentary, Report from the Aleutians, (discussed in my recent essay on Let There Be Light), as well as George Stevens’ WWII liberation of Paris footage, were both shot on the then still young emulsion. So were several thousand images from the WPA depression era; these color slides exhibit a surprising sense of casual immediacy that many of the more iconic, stylized B/W photos lack.

Time.com—“The Dawn of Kodachrome” audioslide show link

Russell Lee FSA/Library of Congress.

Marion Post Wolcott FSA/Library of Congress.

Millions of feet of “home movies” in 8mm and Super 8mm were shot on Kodachrome. The visual history of our families, friends and most of popular culture were recorded for decades on Kodachrome. It was the first film school for many established filmmakers working today. It may be difficult for young people to imagine, in a culture that now has so many instant recording media available, what was the anticipation of waiting for developed film to come back via mail from the lab—then stringing the 50′ or 100′ roll up on a home projector, or popping the slides into a Kodak Carousel to watch breathlessly as the images danced on a roll-out tripod screen in a dim room.

Who can deny the wondrous technology we have at hand today, with multiple viewing platforms overwhelming us, and with the ability to manipulate images on a laptop, and posting them online? I for one could never have fantasized this richness, this total democratization of image making, when I was a kid exposing 8mm film of the family summer outing in Yellowstone Park in the mid-fifties. The merged memories of travel, summer vacations and Kodachrome home movies, was so pervasive at the time that the state of Utah named one of its parks Kodachrome Basin.

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah.

In 1973, Paul Simon recorded one of his many pop anthems (at Muscle Shoals, Alabama) titled simply Kodachrome. It is wonderfully upbeat and catches the love that a generation had for the film.

No one ever preached that Kodachrome records totally faithful color. In fact, that was the point. Its colors were intensely saturated and thickly luscious, more so than quotidian life. Everything looked BETTER and BRIGHTER on Kodachrome. That’s the spirit captured by the Simon song and the look of the hyper-chroma of a YouTube video. It bears as much resemblance to the real look of Kodachrome as the colors of a Maxfield Parrish painting do to one by Jacques-Louis David. But thanks to Carann5 for creating this “tone poem.”


They give us those nice bright colors

They 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

Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Several weeks ago, while discussing with my friend Rob Hummel the subject of the eagerly anticipated second report of AMPAS’ Sci-Tech Committee that will address the challenges of digital archiving, The Digital Dilemma—he told me about recently discovered Kodachrome film and slides he had of his own family. He was astounded at the high quality of preservation of slides that had been stored in boxes for more than 60 years, shelved away with no archival intent. Here is a photo scanned from a Kodachrome slide—of his grandmother in 1947.

Hulda Pennell, 1947.

And one of his mother, Lois.

Rob's mom on a Miami beach, 1947.

Both photos were taken by Rob’s dad on Kodachrome 828 film with a Kodak Bantam Special camera. Rob says he still has the camera.

The Kodak 828 Bantam Special.

And here is one of William Eggleston’s most famous 35mm Kodachrome images; it was included in the recently closed retrospective of his work at LACMA.

William Eggleston, Red Ceiling.

I recently viewed this exhibition with Nicolas Harvard, a young filmmaker I met several months after having written a series of pieces about his (in)famous Xtranormal.com video, Cinematographer vs. Producer.

Xtranormal.com—Cinematographer vs. Producer link

Nic, who is in his late twenties, is a full-fledged child of the age of digital imagery; he has been considering which direction to go with his movie career, to continue as an AD or to become a cinematographer. Like most of his generation evaluating a career in image making, the current film/digital dialogue is both exciting and confusing. Wholesale change in the arts is always disruptive because it is about so much more than just the equipment, about even more than the overarching technology. Movies have ridden the edge of this razor many times before and seem even more susceptible to technological evolution than the other arts. But memory, emotion—dare I say, “nostalgia”, are powerful factors when we examine the tools with which we create our work. I’m no exception.

Well over a decade ago, on the day I began filming the Jim Brooks film, As Good As It Gets in NYC, the camera truck failed to make the morning call time; it had been stolen overnight from a “secure” parking lot. Some of the lenses were missing, including my meter case which contained a very outdated but much beloved analog Photo Research Pro light meter, the meter I had bought used in 1965 when I was a student at USC. The battered leather case had once been tossed out by a meaningful camera assistant and replaced with a new one, much to my distress—but eventually the shredded case was retrieved. That meter and case was my own Pooh-Bear.

I know that here’s nothing rational about holding onto obsolete equipment—or onto a by-passed technology. But we do—because we all live in a world that is rich in the past as part of our ongoing experience. This is one reason there was such a level of protest last year when Kodak announced that it was discontinuing the manufacture of its signature consumer product, Kodachrome. No matter to its legions of fans (many of whom had not exposed it in years): they were bereft and signaled their pain via online chat rooms.

There is an intensely affecting scene from an episode of Mad Men where ad man Don Draper pitches more than a new machine to Kodak executives. He pitches a narrative. He pitches a dream.

Not “The Wheel.”

Embedding of the clip of Mad Men is “disabled by request” but here is the direct link. It’s a brilliant scene.

Youtube.com— Mad Men, “The Carousel” link

In the scene, insert shots of the Kodak Carousel projector clicking through the slides evoke a powerful sensory recall. There is something immediate about the analog, rhythmic shuttling of the projector tray that elicits a visceral response—at least to a certain aged demographic. I wonder if there will be an equivalent emotional hitch 30 or 40 years from now when the smart phone, iPhone generation, thinks back about their by then obsolete touch screen devices.

Dwayne’s Photo discontinued processing Kodachrome at the end of 2010. There was such a rush of orders that they did not turn off the final processor until almost mid-January. The announcement of the shutdown was made amid much media coverage, including a wonderful profile of Dwayne’s frenzied final work orders—one of which included 1,580 rolls of 35mm. Kodachrome processed at a cost of almost $16,000. It was picked up by a 53-year old railroad worker from Arkansas named Jim DeNike. He had borrowed the money for processing the film from his father’s retirement account. DeNike loaded the boxes of slides into his old maroon Pontiac. All the thousands of photos, he said, were of railroad trains.

Nytimes.com—“For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas” article link

The nearby newspaper, the Wichita Eagle, featured a slideshow of employees at Dwayne’s working the Kodachrome processors.

Kansas.com—“Last Roll of Kodachrome” article link

CBS’ Sunday Morning TV show ran a story:

CBSnews.com—“Kodachrome: The Legendary Film’s Last Days” story link

After the initial announcement in 2009 ending Kodachrome’s manufacture, BBC news editor and photographer Phil Coomes began a project that he called 64×64. He made a single photograph on Kodachrome 64 every day for 64 weeks and posted them on flickr. His inspiration was William Eggleston’s project, The Democratic Forest, no hierarchy of imagery or critical judgment—just every image standing alone for itself.

Phil Coomes blog, “Traces of Life” link

Flickr.com—blinkofaneye: “64 Weeks on Kodachrome 64” photo link

As you can imagine there was much juggling to decide whose roll of Kodachrome would be the last one to be processed. Dwayne’s Photo owner, Dwayne Steinle, made the decision.  He exposed the roll himself. The NY Times story by A.G. Sulzberger documents the final rite.

It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he [Dwayne Steinle] fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.”

Steinle may have processed the last roll of Kodachrome but it was Steve McCurry who was given the last roll manufactured by Kodak. McCurry’s name and reputation is more closely associated with Kodachrome than that of any other photojournalist. A year ago last October I wrote a piece about Kodak’s decision to cease production of Kodachrome.

John’s Bailiwick—“Product Recall… Kodachrome Fades” article link

McCurry was featured prominently in this essay including an embedded Kodak video of him talking about his love for the film.

Not only was McCurry given the last roll of Kodachrome, but he also decided to turn its frame-by-frame exposure into a worldwide trip, a photo essay back into his own past. He began in India where he had had so many assignments for National Geographic magazine and to the country that had spawned several of his books.

Steve McCurry in India, 2010, last roll of Kodachrome.

On his return home, McCurry passed through New York City where he photographed three American icons—the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station and Robert de Niro, before ending up at the cemetery in Parsons, Kansas.

Steve McCurry, Grand Central Station 2010.

Steve McCurry, Robert de Niro, 2010.

A documentary crew from the National Geographic channel accompanied him. The sojourn became an hour-long film to air on television in April. Concurrently, National Geographic Magazine will run a feature story of some of the images.

Ben Dobbin of the Seattle Times wrote a story about this nostalgic trip, which concludes with a quote from McCurry regarding the storage cabinets in his darkroom, drawers that are filled with Kodachrome slides:

McCurry has a personal archive of 800,000 Kodachrome images he takes good care of. But in late July, he chanced upon a batch of 1969 and 1972 Kodachromes he’d put in storage in Philadelphia long ago and forgotten about. The discovery got him reminiscing about his days as a hungry photographer hopping from Amsterdam to Africa to Soviet-era Bulgaria.

Dobbin concludes with McCurry’s footnote on Kodachrome’s archivability:

“Not only was the color really good, but they were actually not bad pictures,” McCurry marveled.

“Imagine leaving digital images in a hard drive and coming back 40 years later. Would anybody be able to read that data? That’s the great thing about film. It’s a self-contained object. You hold the picture up to the light and there it is.”

Seattletimes.nwsource.com—“De Niro, Brooklyn, India on last Kodachrome roll” article link

Here are two of the Indian photographs that McCurry made on that last roll of Kodachrome:

Steve McCurry, Raburi woman, India, 2010.

Steve McCurry, Raburi tribal elder, 2010.

Vanity Fair has recently published an online story about this last roll along with a slideshow of the frames of this last roll. Here is the link.

Vanityfair.com—“The Last Roll of Kodachrome–Frame By Frame” article link

The slides made from this last roll have been given to the Eastman House collection in Rochester, the city that is the corporate headquarters of Kodak. Drumroll irony, please.

In a heartfelt story by NPR writer Claire O’Neill posted on Dec. 30, the journalist recounts a holiday family homecoming. Her father projected 12 boxes of Kodachrome family slides. None of the children had ever seen them.

NPR.org—The Picture Show blog, “Goodbye (Again) To The Last Rolls Of Kodachrome Film” article link

For various reasons it was probably the most bittersweet thing we’ve ever done as a family, completely drenched in nostalgia. That’s the paradox of slide film: It has a hefty permanence and tangibility to it, but is almost by definition a nostalgic experience. You only haul those boxes out on special occasions but when you do, it really is a special occasion.

When my wife, Carol, returns from any of her ambitious walking trips, such as the Santiago Campostella pilgrimage trail, she creates comprehensive digital slideshows with music—a natural impulse for a film editor. So far, viewing has not moved beyond her computer screen. And so far, so good—nothing has been lost. But Carol is methodical in upgrades since she spends hours every day working with the latest iteration of the Avid. Many friends not in the film industry, however, have lost large digital photo files—whole family records; this includes her sister, Betty, who has recently published a multi-generational family history that includes several hundred photographs—a veritable history of nineteenth and twentieth century Oklahoma, seen through the prism of a single family. When all the digital copies were lost in a hard drive crash, Betty still had the paper prints to rescan, many of them over a century old. One can’t help but wonder what may happen, long term, if your own family photo history (captured only on digital cameras) is posted on Shutterfly or flikr.

The death of Kodachrome may be dismissed with a regretful but casual shrug by those of us who have no nostalgic history with 35mm film cameras, those who look ahead to the ever more promising horizon of digital photography. After all, everything and everyone has its time in the sun. I confess that even as I transition into the inevitability of a post photochemical motion picture future, I can’t help but cast a backward glance.

I suspect that some of the emotional reaction to Kodachrome’s final passing, especially as a motion picture film (discontinued in 2005), is that this demise is also emblematic. Eastman Kodak can find reasons to justify discontinuing a film stock. They do it all the time as improved emulsion generations are introduced. So, what’s the big deal? Just this.

Kodachrome was not just another film stock. It was once the flagship product of the company, one that (as we have seen) symbolized the pre-eminence of Eastman Kodak in the world of consumer and professional photography. Its archivable dyes preserve our personal and national history.

But today, Kodak is a company that appears to be at odds with itself over its own future. The corporate execs in Rochester do not seem, from my perspective at least, to have a clear vision of how to move ahead, of how to present its side of the motion picture film narrative to an industry where the manufacturers of digital technology have captured the high ground. Kodak corporate executives may try to maintain a reasoned voice extolling the continuing merits of film emulsions—amid a marketplace filled with screeching digital hawkers. But this non-confrontational posture is simply not working. The one time digital gnats buzzing around Kodak’s imperial crown now have become vampire bats draining its life blood. Yet Rochester seems unfazed, certainly not fazed enough to fight back, not enough to present their case in an aggressive pro-active mode. Those of us who want to continue making movies on film don’t get much back-up from corporate headquarters.

Not so long ago the Kodak name sounded in harmonious sync with America, in tune with its happiest and saddest moments— those moments that we wanted to remember– save, savor and share. The vaunted “Kodak moment” was our own moment. What happened? I don’t believe this looming crisis of corporate identity  is only about a seismic, technological digital revolution. I believe it’s about a loss of vision.

I fear that the death of Kodachrome is just the surface manifestation of a much greater illness within the corporate body of Kodak. Kodachrome’s lamented passing, sadly, may symbolize the imminent death rattle (at least for its still profitable photochemical film division) of a great American company, a sputtering which its top brass in Rochester seem loathe or unable to staunch.This apparent disconnect does not reflect, it seems to me, the spirit of Kodak men and women in the field. It is they who continue daily to represent the best of Kodak; they are committed passionately in their support of FILMmakers, students, and professionals alike.

From my own student days, Kodak has always been engaged with emerging filmmakers, sponsoring many events and seminars. Cinematographers, myself included, have traveled with Kodak’s sponsorship to lead discussions and workshops around the world. Last year, I was Kodak’s cinematographer-in-residence at UCLA, and have been a judge for Kodak’s annual Student Cinematography Awards. These are important ongoing commitments that Kodak makes to the future of cinema– and never once have I been asked to promote film over video.

Those of us who love FILM, even as we work more and more in a digital industry, want to hear that this kind of support for young filmmakers will translate into a compelling narrative, that Kodak will rise up strong in defense of its still superior product, that the corporate honchos in Rochester believe and will convince skeptics that motion picture film is still the best and most durable “capture” medium, that a “mature” technology like film will continue to co-exist with a digital one….  But I’m not holding my breath. . . . In any case, you can get the T-shirt.

The comment box is open.

Next week: Owen Roizman’s photo exhibition, portraits of fellow ASC members at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and sciences.

Dwaynesphoto.com link

About John Bailey, ASC

John Bailey, ASC

John Bailey’s cinematography career encompasses such mainstream Hollywood films as Ordinary People, The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Groundhog Day, In the Line of Fire, As Good as It Gets and A Walk in the Woods, and such offbeat fare as Tough Guys Don’t Dance, That Championship Season, Swimming to Cambodia, A Brief History of Time and The Kid Stays in the Picture. He lives in Los Angeles and New York.


  1. Stephanie Wilson

    John Bailey, you have been one of my favorite cinematographers my entire life. You taught me a thing or two long ago on a Schlesinger set many, many years ago. I wish I had more time in my day to read every word again, and then all of the links, in an article that must have taken you WEEKS to write. We all owe thanks to you for lovingly and ELOQUENTLY documenting this life and death.

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  3. AitchCS

    There will always be people who want to work with film. I don’t see it completely dying out. Young people will go to Art School and want to do something “different” than everyone else.

    The Polaroid Instamatic is having a bit of a comeback as a cult item. I think they are still being made in some factory in Switzerland.

  4. Chris O'Kane

    I shot my first Kodachrome stills in 1977 I looked them out only a few days ago to find some family snaps. I was surprised at the colour and quality of the image. I have been shooting Kodachrome 35mm still and 16mm/super 8mm/standard 8mm since the 70’s. I shot my last roll ok K64 on the west coast of Scotland where I live and my last 4 rolls of 16mm K25 and K40 in November 2010.

    I shot the 16mm in CinemaScope on the subject of cinema changing from film to digital. I have cut it together and will donate it to the Scottish Screen Archive at the National Library of Scotland. I’m sure that it will still be of educational value and look superb in 3011

    It has been very sad, the passing of Kodachrome, but I think we now have a new love affair with all the existing images. A World library should be set up to to save all the exisiting Kodachromes packed away in attics and cupboards. They represent a stunning hi res colour record of life in the 20th and early 21st century.

    Farewell old friend, you are gone but not forgotten.

  5. Rick Mitchell

    Forgotten in all this discussion is that Kodak also made a 35mm version of Kodachrome for Technicolor called Technicolor Monopack. It was first used by Elmer Dyer to shoot aerial scenes for DIVE BOMBER (1941) and consequently used on a number of films where it would be difficult to use a three strip Technicolor camera; the African sequences for KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950) were among the films shot on this stock. Separation negatives would be made from the original for intercutting with the original negatives as was done with blowups from 16mm Kodachrome. THUNDERHEAD, SON OF FLICKA (1944) was the first feature shot entirely on the stock, by Charles G. Clarke, ASC and apparently all five of the color 3-D films RKO made in 1953 were shot on Monopack. It’s been confirmed that in he mid-Fifties, Kodak made a special run of 50mm Monopack for a wide film process 20th Century-Fox was experimenting with, which is still being researched.

    Rick Mitchell

    Film Editor/Film Historian

  6. Raf Nazario

    My friend Tony sent me this… At once heartbreaking and oddly, heartwarming. So many shared experiences from one single product… My dad, whose darkroom dimmed until he could no longer make prints would have been heartbroken.

    Thank you. –R.

  7. Bob Fisher

    Thank you John for writing this sad story. It reminds me of the 1970s, when i travelled around the country interviewing news photographers at Tv stations, who were shooting amazing behind the scenes news stories and documentaries. Every station had archives for historical news and documentaries. Videotape killed newsfilm, because it was “cheaper and faster” and you could re-use the tape. It was goodbye to archives. News coverage became talking heads and local documentaries went away. Newsfilm cameramen belonged to IATSE. The switched to video killed that. Now it’s happening all over again in narrative filmmaking.

  8. Tim Kang

    John, have you read/heard of this interview with Roger Deakins on the potential impact of the Arri Alexa?


    as well as what he says on his website forum (http://www.rogerdeakins.com/forum2/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1440&sid=2e4d9edc79657b5b0e5f2169e8ed4a8d):

    “The Arri specs on the Alexa seem totally honest and accurate. I was testing the camera yesterday and I found it the first (and right now the only) digital camera to produce an image with the resolution and range as one captured on film.”

    John’s reply: yes, Tim. I have spoken several times with Roger, most recently at the Oscar telecast (where, sadly, once again he was not chosen by Academy voters). I know Roger and others are very keen on the Alexa. He has finished one project with it and is prepping another on which he hopes to use it. For my own part, I am certain to employ the Alexa soon enough. This is no way diminishes my love for film. Film is a different medium— that’s all.

  9. Wolfgang Klein

    Kodachrome ist ein eigenständiges Stilmittel in der Photographie.

    Das Fade Out von Kodachrome ist eine Vergewaltigung der Photographen, ein Kulturverlust. Die DoPs waren Kodak immer treu, es ist ja auch ein gutes Produkt.

    Kodak darf diese Compliance nicht einfach mit Füssen treten – wir sind keine Shareholder, sondern Kunden! Kapiert das endlich. Auch Produktmanager müssen Kultur leben.

  10. Raul Davalos

    It’s a crime. One only has to see the photos in this article to recognize what a great shame it is that Kodak has pulled the plug on Kodachrome, the single most iconic product they make.

    Even the record companies still make vinyl albums. So Kodak can’t make small batches of this wonderful film? Such short sighted corporate thinking – it’s like pulling the plug on their own identity.

  11. Ralph Score

    I still remember getting my first Yashika super 8 movie camera back in 1974 as I dove into my first filmmaking class my senior year in high school. We also had access to a Bolex but it was always checked out. Then during the late 70’s I acquired a very old Revere 16mm cartridge movie camera that still had some film in the cartridge. I could never find lenses for it but it sits proudly on display at my home. In the late 80’s through the 90’s I acquired several super and dual 8 cameras and embarked on an adventurous forray into my love of stop motion animation (one of which I will be editing soon albeit within a computer environement). Several years ago a very good friend of mine gave me his father’s Beaulieu R16 which had been used over a 20 year period of time for producing all the “Arizona Dairy Council” spots. I still have 400 feet of 16 triax in my fridge waiting for the right subject to use it on. In the meantime I make a living in community TV shooting on P2 cards and cameras with built in hard drives thereby driving me crazy because of not nearly enough external hard drive space for archiving raw footage. I miss the romance of being the crazy guy back in 74′ running around campus making crazy films about crazy stuff and then showing it to people after splicing it together on my little viewer/editor and racking it up on my projector. I still love production but it feels somehow cheapened and diminished by the instantaneous/non-linear/world of digital everything that now pervades my every waking moment.

    John’s reply:

    Ralph, for those of us of a certain age, it is an interesting internal dialogue. I wish I could more easily objectify the nostalgia factor of all that analog, hands-on photography and darkroom work— to separate that warm memory of it from the true aesthetic bedrock that gets embedded by having to do such time-consuming work on a human time-scale rather than on a cyber one. I don’t think we have much scientific or even anecdotal evidence of that yet– beyond the too easy observation that computers and online activity are making us all ADD candidates.

  12. Tim Kang

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment personally. The ambivalence sure does cut across generational lines! The usage of film isn’t just a nostalgic yarn championed by photography’s elder statesmen – younger people love the format too. Whether for technical or nostalgic reasons, I don’t think I’ve met a single serious photographer in my generation that wants to completely eschew film the way executives seem to think we do. My close-knit group of photographer compadres here in NYC has increasingly taken more strides to incorporate film in our workflows, because its cost forces us to think more carefully about our pictures and learn the value and rewards of patience. In many cases, this extra effort yields superior results.

    Now, digital photography obviously has a democratizing power over film to give more chances to a greater range of people to learn the craft – I count myself a clear beneficiary of this trend. But I had working with film as the end goal in my mind because of the higher level of mastery it requires. Digital may be the practical Honda/Toyota of our times, but in a race for excellence, it will never be the Formula 1 of imaging that is film.

    I therefore resonated with your call to Kodak to aggressively market the benefits of film, because I honestly do believe such a campaign would have success. One can only look at businesses like Lomography (www.lomography.com) and The Impossible Project

    (http://www.the-impossible-project.com/) that have tapped into this love for analog photochemical processes. The former company has successfully marketed film as an idiosyncratic, hands-on medium that engenders risk-taking, creativity and fun in a way that digital can’t. The latter company has successfully launched a campaign to keep Polaroid media alive after the much ballyhooed discontinuation of Polaroid film a couple of years back. They bought out the last Polaroid production plant and have since successfully used it to develop and market new emulsions to keep the format alive.

    After all this thought, I still am left to wonder what will happen if and when advances in digital technology will overcome its current technical shortcomings in comparison to film. New 20 (!) stop imaging technology has been developed in research labs (http://www.gizmag.com/hdr-video-sees-like-the-human-eye/17623/,

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/surgeons_cctv_tv/), and new advances in sensitivity, resolution, processing, and storage continue to astound me. The possibility of the future therefore makes me wonder if film will truly become relegated to the dustbins of tomorrow, but the pleasing aesthetic qualities and workflow discipline benefits give me hope that it won’t die.

    Thank you for writing such a meaningful and powerful entry.

  13. Tim Kang

    Since I grew up in the 80s and 90s but learned photography in 00s digital environment, I find myself in the same category of confusion as Nick. I’m well aware of the rewarding rush from waiting for exposed film frames to develop, but I have reaped enormous education benefits from digital’s immediacy. It enabled me to teach myself the fundamental technical concepts of photography at a much higher rate and lower cost than film would have yielded me.

    I love working with film, but my biggest fear lies in its impending obsolescence in the minds of the biggest players in the photography and movie-making industry. just last fall the associate dean of USC informed attendees such as myself at the MFA information session that they did away with all film workflows to keep up with the times. so even if i wanted to keep working with film down the road, i fear the cost would grow even greater along the whole processing chain until it becomes prohibitive to warrant the toil spent.

    it just looks so good. i’ll probably just go broke because i like it so much.

    John’s reply: I can’t help but wonder if USC Cinema’s decision to abandon film completely is more a measure of the proclivities of the several donors to their new installations than it is to the diminishing viability of film. They do this at a time when many of the photography schools have re-instated darkroom courses in their curriculum. They have discovered that the purely digital point-and-shoot and Photoshop aesthetic is somewhat limiting as a means to learn the principles of photography.

  14. Nic Harvard

    I grew up in LA in the 80s watching the Wonder Years. Inevitably, my idea of childhood is a scratchy Kodachrome super8 reel of a family BBQ with Joe Cocker covering a Beatles song. The passing of Kodachrome and the anxiety it has caused seem to speak to a broader fear of losing all these beautifully imperfect analog media that have documented our lives. Take the onslaught of “retro photo” apps for the iPhone (Hipstamatic, Shake It, etc…); they are fast becoming the preferred manner of making images you intend to keep.

    The cost of digital capture and storage is undoubtedly lower than that of any analog system. That being said, the cost of any individual image is so low and it’s exact amount so fleeting that the images seem to have lost their value. Even the moment of capture has lost some of it’s charm. I can tell you that when I make images with my packfilm-converted Polaroid 110B, I stop to appreciate every aspect of the dollar-a-pop exposures.

    I can’t help but wonder what the daguerreotypists and collodion photographers felt when pre-coated celluloid and rollfilms came out.

    Maybe it’s time we all learn to sensitize polished silver plates over boiling mercury…

    John’s reply: One of the reasons the Mad Men scene resonates so powerfully and cuts across generational lines, I suspect, is how much emotional impact there is in the slower, analog image capture to finally viewing the pictures, a kind of alchemy that instant results elide— and even the Carousel projector’s clunky mechanism. It’s uncanny how we seem to need a human time scale and physicality to truly imprint on our psyche. Maybe it’s atavistic, after all. There IS a tremendous revival of interest in 19th century darkroom techniques– or maybe all this is purely transitional until we have several generations of purely digital visual experiences. Our current ambivalence is fascinating, isn’t it?.

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  17. Scott Mohrman

    A very beautiful and nostalgic read. Even though I am not old enough to have experienced much of Kodachrome’ life, I feel the lose. I am glad to have had film experience in film school.

    Thank you.

  18. M

    “It was taken by National Geographic photojournalist Steve McCurry with his trusty Nikon F6, the camera on which for decades he loaded thousands of 36 exposure rolls of the 35mm color-transparency film.” – What an odd statement. The Nikon F6 has been around only since 2004, so it’s impossible that he loaded film in for decades.

    John’s Reply: M, I don’t own a Nikon so I’m not up on the different models. I’ll correct that — but I do hope you got more out of the article than just calling me on that.

  19. Dan C

    Wonderful post, and I agree with your connection between the death of Kodachrome and its parent company.

    I’ve been a newspaper photographer since the early-90s and remember fondly Kodak’s support of photojournalists and students. Hell, I probably got half of my materials for free from Kodak reps.

    Like many in my profession I turned my back on analog when we went digital in ’98. It was exciting, even as we took huge steps backwards in quality. Digital grew up and has gotten great, but now I find myself looking back and using analog just in time for the funeral. I’ve been shooting more personal work and some newspaper work on Kodak film, using plastic Holgas, Dianas, some medium format and vintage cameras. The look is not something you can fake in the digital world. It’s sublime and subtle.

    Also, working with analog materials has helped me rekindle my love of photography. Even my digital work has improved, mostly because I’ve rediscovered how to ‘see’ again. I credit analog for making me slow down and think about the picture or moment.

    I’ve been hoping that analog and digital could live together happily ever after. I hoped that after the film business shrinks and readjusts it could carry on as a profitable niche. Sadly I believe I am wrong. Just last week Kodak published their 4Q results and it’s nothing short of a disaster. And, worst of all, the analog business went from being very profitable to losing some $3 million. In just one year.


    John’s reply: That’s a wonderful realization about analog “thinking” time. Carol misses very much the pure thinking time she had on the KEM, rewinding film rolls as she was planning the next set of changes– Just because you can now push a few buttons on the Avid does not necessarily make the process more creative.

  20. Richard Walden

    Last Thursday, January 27th. the Wall Street Journal ran a story on Eastman Kodak and how profits were down 95% because the company was “leaning on its patent portfolio as a source of cash while it refocuses its businesses”.

    Link to that story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703293204576105722401828718.html?KEYWORDS=Kodak

    It would seem to me that the company is starting to flounder, as so many other companies have done in years past when they lose faith in their older products and can’t quite innovate fast enough with new ones. Kodak now risks going the way of Polaroid and Mitchell Camera and others, a logo that some other corporation will buy up to slap on cheap products.

    That final frame from the final roll of film is, sadly, very appropriate.

  21. Kevin Martin

    My Kodachrome experience ran for about 15 years, and was strictly Super-8 reversal, but it defines the way I see things in a way not easily described. I had shot the highspeed Ektachrome 160 at first, and was horrified by the grain issues.

    I even tried the ‘niche’ films (ones you had to send to a real lab like Diner’s in SF, not handled by Fotomat or drugstores), I think they were 7244 and 7242, which were Ektachrome that had a softer pastel look, but while interesting, they weren’t ‘it.’

    Kodachrome 40 was the way I WANTED the world to look, and if it meant building some extra set pieces so additional lighting would be incorporated into the sets of my zero budget spaceship epics, so be it — didn’t Kubrick usually have his sources visible in frame?

    Even the weird irreproducible effects of doing something wrong looked better in Kodachrome. I put eight 600 watt bulbs on a Xmas flasher and sent them through spinning broken mirrors and some red translucent sheeting for a shot of an astronaut reacting to the universe folding in on itself — and got this unbelievable red-strobe overexposure effect, like the stock didn’t know what to do with the color and just made it gush even more brightly than usual. Couldn’t ever recreate that look, but maybe that made it more magical.

    Kodachrome. Thanks for the terrific memories.

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