R.I.P. Kodachrome

It was only a matter of time. Earlier this week, Kodak announced that it has finally ceased production of Kodachrome film.

Kodachrome's days were numbered, even before the rise of digital cameras. Environmentally, it required a toxic development process. Aesthetically, it had taken a second seat to super-saturated emulsions like Fujichrome Velvia. And forget about getting it processed in an hour. Turnaround times were anywhere from a day to several weeks, depending on where you lived.

That said, Kodachrome defined the look of color photography for decades. And archivally, it was fantastic. You could shoot a roll of Kodachrome, throw the slides in a drawer, take them out 25 years or even 50 years later, and they would look as fresh as the day you got 'em back from the lab. Can we honestly say that today's digital media will last as long? And if they do, will we have the tools to read them?

I cut my photographic teeth on Kodachrome. For instance, here's a shot I took back in the 1980s, possibly in Montreal:

Note that I modified the image digitally -- after scanning it, of course. :-) For instance, the bird looked uncomfortably close to the tower, so I cloned it and moved it to improve the composition. But you know, if you told me back in the 1980s that I would someday scan this image and digitally enhance it with a computer, I would have looked at you as if you had six heads.

BTW, here's something you probably didn't know: Unprocessed Kodachrome is, in fact, a black and white emulsion. The colors are inserted during the development process.

How cool is that?


Malte said...

It's a very good photo. I'm a different generation so it's the first time I hear 'Kodachrome', however I know exactly what it feels like to witness its EOL, because I have seen other things go away...

Paul N. Leroux said...

Thanks for the comment, Malte. Back in the early 1980s, Kodachrome was still *the* film for people who were serious about color photography. Personally, I preferred the look of Fujichrome, but stock photo agencies preferred Kodachrome, because it enlarged well, with little grain.

Many people used Kodachrome 64, which, true to its name, had an ISO speed of 64. However, if you were *really* serious, you used Kodachrome 25, which, as you can guess, had a very low ISO speed of 25 -- Kodachrome users usually kept a tripod handy!

Anonymous said...

Yep a sad day indeed. I too cut my colour photography teeth on Kodachrome. Poor Paul Simon's song finally comes true :(

Paul N. Leroux said...

Yup, I plan to shoot one last role, for old time's sake. Who knows, I might even end up with a usable image or two!

- Paul