In my quest to understand what makes Kodachrome so special, and while I wait for my own roll to return from processing, I’ve asked my friends for their thoughts, opinions, and memories about the film...
Christopher Chen -
I have no real memories associated w/Kodachrome because its heyday was before I was even a photographer & I didn't start using it until about 4 years ago. What I loved about Kodachrome was that because it was based on B&W film, it had the beautiful grain of B&W film, only w/nice, not over-the-top, color. Modern slide (E6) films are just as archival as Kodachrome was, but since they're based on dyes, they don't have that grain. I shot & shipped out approximately 65 rolls in November & December of last year, leaving 3 rolls unshot to be processed should it be revived, Jurassic Park-style.
I took my first formal photography class in college in the mid 1980s and, when we shot in color, we used slide film. With slide film you got the image as you exposed it, not the interpretation of the person processing the negatives at the photo lab. Thanks to an uncle and great-uncle that were professional photographers I had already been encouraged to shoot with Kodachrome since I was a child. Those gorgeously-saturated colors were so very appealing. It continued to be my film of choice until Fuji Velvia was introduced in the early 1990s. I admit a lot of the reason I switched to Velvia was price and convenience - E6 processing was just so much cheaper and faster.
I would still return to Kodachrome from time to time until I switched over to mainly digital for color in 2006 - it just felt more special than other films. I was thrilled when an Internet photographer connection located a freezer full of somewhat outdated Kodachrome late in 2010 and offered to share. It gave me a chance to have one last fling with Kodachrome during a trip to Paris this December and just make it under the developing deadline.
Notre Dame and Locks, Paris, France, 2010, photo by Karon Flage
Kerrin Kastorf -
Kodachrome came with built in nostalgia. Even if you had never used it before (I hadn't until I bought my first and last ever rolls off eBay last year) you felt like you were somehow connected to the past, to the thousands of other photographers that had used it throughout it's 75 year history. For me the specialness came from getting to shoot a couple rolls in Europe. My mental images of Europe had always appeared in Kodachrome color - the warm red tile roofs, sunny yellow dresses, and deep blue skies - so it was necessary that I capture it on that very film when I had the chance. I'm very glad I got to use it but do wish I had tried it long before I did. At least I was able to experience a little bit of that history and can now attach my own nostalgia when I look at the slides it produced. :)
Milan, Italy, photo by Kerrin Kastorf
Duomo, Milan, Italy, photo by Kerrin Kastorf
Missy Leone -
I had never used it prior to obtaining two rolls in late August of 2010. I decided to try Kodachrome because I'd heard it was this amazing film that had great color, particularly reds and oranges, and was really good for portraits. I love taking photos of my son, who is 6, but otherwise was never really into portrait photography. In a way, I hoped that shooting with the Kodachrome would encourage me that much more to take portraits of friends and family. I expected it to be exceptional, to surpass any gaps in my photography abilities. Obviously, no film is that good.
I was first introduced to it via the Paul Simon song and McCurry's famous "Afghan Girl" photo. My parents had just helped clean my grandmother's house and she had decades of National Geographic magazines and that issue was one of the most recent at the time. That was the first photo I ever remember thinking, "WOW, I wish I could shoot photos that well!". Obviously, I wasn't thinking, back then, "I sure love that Kodachrome film", but the image is indelibly etched into my brain, even now.
I wish I could say my short-lived experience with it was phenomenal. It isn't. I think it's about as good as Kodak's Portra NC films in rendering skin tones and natural color. But I know that it's a film with staying power and that even as other film negatives turn odd colors and age as fast as we do, for some reason Kodachrome stays true. And I hope that the memories I've caught of my friends and family will be as sharp in 50 years as they are today.
I shot exactly one roll of Kodachrome, on October 21, 2010. I hopped a bus to New York, got off at Penn Station and walked down 6th Avenue with an eye toward the mid-day sun, hoping it was strong enough to expose a roll that expired in 1977. I'd been hoarding it for a year, and then, finally, I loaded it. I tried to shoot things that felt, to me anyway, like timeless New York City, things that were respectful of the age of the film and the fact that I'd only get to do this once. I got the Empire State building. I got street vendors. I got people going about their lives. And I spent at least a third of the roll on the Flatiron, that gorgeous building that is my favorite in the world. Shooting that roll felt bittersweet, like falling in love with someone who is about to leave the country. I'm sorry I never got a chance to really know it as well as others have, but I'm grateful for the one roll that I shot.
People have thrown out the phrase "end of an era" a lot when talking about Kodachrome. Collectively, for decades, our photographic memories have been shot in Kodachrome--those gorgeous tones immediately spring to mind when we think back on familiar images. Kodachrome was the best, and the best used Kodachrome, and we've lost that now.
New York City Street, photo by Erin McCann
Expired in 1975. Shot in October 2010.
Pat Padua -
I used Kodachrome for the color and stability - I probably shot a roll or two in the 80's but forgot about it until I took up photography again about ten years ago. I'll remember the trips I took shooting Kodachrome. I've taken it on trips to New York and Florida, but I think I'll best remember it in places like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which I had never even heard of two weeks before I went there.
I've also picked up some amazing Kodachromes at flea markets and on eBay - my best find was in an antique shop in the Ozarks, where I found three boxes that still had the original postmark from the lab - April 1942 - and were addressed to a little town in Virginia called Hopewell.
Wish you were here
From a batch of assorted Florida slides I got on eBay. this is dated March '63. breathtaking. Photographer unknown.
Katherine Ray -
I've only actually shot one roll of Kodachrome - I bought five, but only shot one (gave some away, and still have half a roll in my Pentax...).
Ad Surveys Her Kingdom, photo by Katherine Ray
It was when I drove across the country last year - I knew I was going to be at the Grand Canyon, and thought that, of all films, I absolutely HAD to use Kodachrome. As much as I love Velvia, I think Kodachrome was the right film to use on this trip - because it could pick up the browns and reds of the canyon and give me natural colors instead of Fuji's over-saturated blues.
Grand Canyon 3, photo by Katherine Ray
Barry Schmetter -
I started using Kodachrome when I was a kid in the 70's. At that time, if you were serious about color photography, you shot Kodachrome. Unlike today, when you can easily manipulate the color palette of an image digitally--the type of film you shot had a big influence on how your image looked. Kodachrome had a great look, a beautiful palette. With a little underexposure, you could really saturate the colors. It's so easy today to get a saturated vivid look, we take it for granted, but back then Kodachrome did the job and no other film came close. Popular photographers at the time, like Pete Turner and Jay Maisel and the shooters for National Geographic, all shot Kodachrome for the rich colors.
Growing up, most of our family vacation photos were taken on Kodachrome. Post-vacation depression would disappear instantly when we lowered the lights and started projecting our trip slides. The rich brilliant images usually looked better than the actual trip. We'd linger over the little details we missed.
Because Kodachrome required special processing there were never many processing plants, but there was one in Rockville, Maryland. I used to drop my film off and pick it up the next day. You never knew which well-known photographer you were going to run into - everyone came to get their Kodachrome processed there. Opening up a freshly processed and mounted roll of Kodachrome was always a great experience. The film had a certain smell when the box was opened - I'll never forget that, it was a great smell. I couldn't wait until I got home to look at my slides, so I opened the box in my car and sat in the parking lot, holding my slides up to the window to see if I'd nailed my shots.
Kodachrome had a pretty good run, starting in the 1930's to today. Kodak used to run it's Kodachrome production line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's hard to imagine the volume of Kodachrome they used to sell, but the production runs became so infrequent, the economics didn't work anymore. Kodachrome may be gone, but the pictures are very much alive.
I didn't truly appreciate it until I saw an Exhibit at the LOC a few years ago of very early color photos. It was at that point when I started to realize how pervasive the stuff has been and how I had taken it for granted growing up seeing it in stacks of National Geographic, and that's why I jumped on the chance to buy up a bunch when they announced it was going away, I guess I wanted to add to the story before it was gone.
I bought 15 rolls when I heard it was discontinued and shot 14, the last six of them two days before the deadline -- hopefully they made it to Dwayne's in time.
John’s Kodachrome and SLR ready to shoot
Jennifer Wade -
I was first introduced to Kodachrome as a kid, watching my grandpa show me slides from his various trips around the world, and of my mom and her brothers. I fell in love with slide format at that point, that you could take this tiny see-though picture and project it on the wall in beautiful color. As I got older, I started to recognize the difference in the richness of color of the Kodachrome compared to everything else. The reds are so deep, the yellows like nothing I've ever seen. As an adult, what I most love about the Kodachrome is how it captures (err, capturED) light. The dynamic range of the highlights and shadows are unreal, without sacrificing or washing out color, so the richness just adds to the beauty of the light, even in dim places. This is especially great for portraits, I think:
My mom in 1959, bright sun (taken by my grandfather Alan Wade):
James Darling in 2010, dim restaurant at dusk (taken by me):
What I am finding is that, as I look through the photos taken by my friends and elsewhere online as I learn about its characteristics, I do in fact recognize the “look” of Kodachrome - it simply has a look that is familiar to me. Although I did not use it myself, I did have a National Geographic subscription and I did read photography books, studying the photos of Europe and other countries I wanted to visit and photograph someday. I simply did not know it was Kodachrome on which these images were captured, and I feel a little sad that I never thought more about it and missed the opportunity.
I hope you like this series, because I’m not finished. Part three is next week!