Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kodak to Kill Kodachrome

The Eastman Kodak Company announced Monday it would retire Kodachrome, its oldest film stock, because of declining customer demand in a digital age.

It was the world’s first commercially successful color film, immortalized in Mr. Simon’s song in 1973: “They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day. ... So, Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

It enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, but in recent years sales have dropped to just a fraction of 1 percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture films.

“It really has become kind of an icon,” said Mary Jane Hellyar, the departing president of Kodak’s Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group.

The company, which is based in Rochester, now gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business, but plans to stay in the film business “as far into the future as possible,” Ms. Hellyar said.

Kodak has seven new professional still films and several new motion picture films introduced in the last few years.

Kodachrome was favored by still and movie photographers for its rich but realistic tones, vibrant colors and durability.

It was the basis not only for countless family slide shows but also for world-renowned images, including Abraham Zapruder’s 8-millimeter reel of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The widely recognized portrait of an Afghan refugee girl that appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, taken by Steve McCurry, was shot on Kodachrome. At Kodak’s request, Mr. McCurry will shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome film and donate the images to the George Eastman House museum in Rochester, which honors the company’s founder.

Unlike any other color film, Kodachrome, introduced 74 years ago, is purely black and white when exposed. The three primary colors that mix to form the spectrum are added in three development steps rather than built into its layers. Because of the complexity, only Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kan., still processes Kodachrome film. The lab has agreed to continue through 2010, Kodak said.

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