Essays

Mama, Don't Take My Kodachrome Away

Paul Simon didn't want his mama to take his Kodachrome away back in 1973, when he penned the hit song Kodachrome. I don't know if his mama took his Kodachrome away in 1973, but Eastman Kodak is taking it away now. On June 22, 2009 Kodak announced that they will not make any more production runs of the famous slide film. The supply is expected to run out this fall, unless users stock up on the film. Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas is the only processor of Kodachrome in the world, and they will continue to process the film through 2010. Parson's, Kansas? Who would have thought that the last processor of Kodachrome would be in Kansas? You've got to be kidding! Is Dorothy processing the film, or what? One would think New York or LA would be the last place for processing; go figure.

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It is ironic that a couple of months ago I started using the following quote from the song in my email signature:

"Kodachrome has those nice bright colors,
It shows the greens of summer,
Makes you think all the world is a sunny day.
I've got a Canon camera,
I love to take photographs.
Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away."

Ok, I did alter the lyric a little since I own Canon cameras. I guess I had a sense that the death of Kodachrome couldn't be too far in the future. Also, that song is the perfect marriage of my two main interests: Paul Simon's music and photography. I'm sure Kodachrome was kept going this long only because it was such a symbol of Eastman Kodak. Nonetheless, it has been a great film, and still my favorite in many ways. I think it has the most realistic color of any slide film for most subjects. One exception would be blue flowers, which often came out pink on Kodachrome because of its infrared sensitivity. I have never liked Velvia, which looks like someone has run amuk with the saturation slider in Photoshop. The contrast was more manageable than many other slide films as well. However, I stopped using Kodachrome sometime in the mid to late '90s. A big drawback for Kodachrome was that it didn't push as well in processing. Fujichrome 100 and Provia were exceptional in this respect, and very sharp. You could push process those films to ISO 200 and hardly tell the difference from normal processing.

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Ed and Eve 1945

This is an unretouched Kodachrome slide from 1945. It looks like it could have been taken yesterday, except that I look somewhat younger. So far Kodachrome is the undisputed stability champion for color film. All we have for the various Fuji films is data from accelerated aging studies, which mean almost nothing. That's why the FDA doesn't allow pharmaceutical companies to use them.

So goodbye, Kodachrome. Generations of photographers will miss you, and perhaps even shed a tear or two.