Friday, December 31, 2010

Kodachrome, the end of the yellow brick road

Kodachrome's celebrated 75-year run came to an end yesterday when the World's last processing machine located at Dwayne's Photo, a small family run business in Parsons, Kansas, was shut down after processing its final rolls.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced there, transforming the small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome rewarded generations of skilled users with a richness of color and a unique treatment of light that many photographers described as incomparable even as they shifted to digital cameras. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” Paul Simon sang in his 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which carried the plea “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

As news media around the world have heralded Thursday’s end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in closets, sometimes for decades, have flooded Dwayne’s Photo, arriving from six continents.

Among the recent visitors was Steve McCurry, a photographer whose work has appeared for decades in National Geographic including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of a Afghan girl that highlights what he describes as the “sublime quality” of the film. When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, the company gave him the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Parsons. “I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he explained.

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo. Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.
In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he 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.”

Article from the New York Times, December 29

And the future....
A NY Times reader posted this comment on the papers LENS BLOG
Sad to see all the posters here who think that they can "archive" their digital photographs. "Archive" them on what? CDs? DVDs? Memory sticks? All of these media are tremendously volatile. In twenty years much of you've shot will be gone. In fifty years nearly all of it will be gone. All that will remain are the photos that you've printed to archival paper using pigment-based inks. Maybe. If you're lucky and Epson et al. are not lying.

In a hundred years my dark-stored Kodachrome slides will look more or less as they do today. We know this because we (my own family) have 50 and even 65 year old Kodachrome slides and movies that look like they were shot yesterday.

Good luck with your digital "archives," folks. Your great-grandchildren are going to wonder what you looked like.

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