It wasn’t mama who took the Kodachrome away, but Eastman Kodak that finally pulled the plug this week on the 74-year-old film.
It’s a nostalgic time for lovers of bright colors, finicky photographers and the singers Simon and Garfunkel.
For many fledgling photojournalists, finally running Kodachrome through their cameras was a rite of passage, a sign that perhaps you actually knew what you were doing.
Working as a photographer for UPI decades ago, the small amount of color I shot was Ektachrome. It had a faster film speed than Kodachrome (160 v. 25), was much more forgiving and could be developed in the field (envision lots of stainless steel tanks crammed into a black plastic-shrouded ice-filled motel bathtub).
Kodak says the heyday of Kodachrome was the 1960s through the early 1980s. It was a time when lenses became sharper, cameras were better and shooters were more technically adept. And with Kodachrome that was necessary because of its slow film speed and other characteristics of the film, it was unforgiving and demanded exposures that were right on the button.
That’s about the time I began shooting for photo agencies like Black Star, where my images might be reproduced on slick magazine paper. I was told that Kodachrome should always be my first choice, if possible.
There were times when I prayed that I could use it — my years covering Vietnam jump to mind. Think about it — lush jungles, GI’s in green camouflage, a thousand shades of green everywhere. The cold, blue tint that was inherent with Ektachrome drove me crazy.
Oh how I wished that I were a better photographer so I could have used the warmer, more natural Kodachrome more often. When I did, the difference was vivid, rich but realistic tones with all the varied greens and browns in the rice paddies clearly visible.
Kodak says that it expects Kodachrome to remain on some store shelves until early fall, and I know two photographers (who haven’t shot with film in years) that say they will fill their freezers with all they can buy “for old time sake.”
Kodak has given the last roll to come off the production line to award winning photojournalist Steve McCurry. His 1985 iconic image of an Afghan refugee girl that graced the cover of National Geographic magazine has been a living ad for the capabilities of Kodachrome. McCurry has agreed to donate the images from that last roll to the George Eastman House.
The film was immortalized by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in the early 70s and became the anthem for many alcohol-driven gatherings of photojournalists. Here is the Chorus:
“Kodachrome, 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.”
And if you want to sing along, here’s a link to it.
Kodak, which is still based in Rochester, N.Y., says sales of Kodachrome have dropped to just a fraction of 1 percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture films. It now gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business.
Kodak says that today there is only one lab in the U.S. that will develop Kodachrome. It is Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kan. And it has agreed to continue through 2010.
Here’s a link to Kodak’s announcement on the passing of the fine film.