On Monday, June 22, 2009, Kodak announced the unthinkable. They’ve killed Kodachrome, the color film of the 20th century.
On Monday, June 22, 2009, Kodak announced the unthinkable. They’ve killed Kodachrome, the color film of the 20th century. This 74-year workhorse will be gone by the end of the year.
While this will no doubt be little more than a footnote in the week’s news stream, it’s unthinkable in the expansive view of photographic history. Kodachrome was not only the first commercially available color film, it’s arguably the best color film ever made. More than anything, what killed Kodachrome was today’s “gotta have it now” mentality, with digital photography being the ultimate manifestation.
Kodachrome required the user to do the unthinkable: wait. The film itself lacks the final dyes seen in the finished product. They have to be added during the development process, and were available through Kodak and only Kodak. Kodak was the only facility that possessed the complex processors that ran the film through assorted dye tanks. This was quite different from the later day E-6 processed slide film that simply needed to be developed at any photo lab in the country.
Modern E-6 films can be processed in an hour if need be. Kodachrome, however, required at least a week to be shipped off to one of its processing plants around the country. In the 1990s, Kodak attempted to give Kodachrome a shot in the arm and offered rush service in the D.C. area. Eventually, Kodak gave up the effort and dropped the rush service. Now, the lone surviving processing plant is in Kansas. Sometime in 2010 it won’t be in Kansas anymore either.
Armed with a pair of all manual cameras, and two films – Kodachrome 64, and Kodak’s Tri-X 400 black and white film – a photojournalist could shoot virtually anything, anytime, anywhere. Kodachrome still had its uses even after the 1970s advent of the ubiquitous E-6 color films.
E-6 films were notoriously sensitive to color temperature of assorted light sources. Shoot a nocturnal street scene with E-6 and the resulting image would come out in a psychedelic swirl of colors. Sodium vapor street lights come out red, mercury vapor florescent light comes out green and incandescent tungsten lighting comes out yellow. Mix all those light sources together, and you’ve got a color-correction nightmare on your hands. Ignoring the results, the time-pressed shooter would use E-6 anyway.
When the going got tough, the tough reached for Kodachrome. You couldn’t force Kodachrome to color shift. It was impervious to anything but impatience. Kodachrome would take anything you asked it to do in stride without fuss or muss.
Alongside its legendary warm, saturated look, Kodachrome remains one of the most archival color films of all time. To my knowledge, no other color film has surpassed its dark storage life span. E-6 images would live longer under repeated viewing in a slide projector, but its dark storage life span is a good bit shorter.
The average color film materials survive 20 years or so, if you’re lucky, depending on printing paper, films, etc., and of course storage conditions. Kodachrome would just keep on going. I have photos of my parents taken in the 1950s that are as color-saturated today as the day they were shot.
Kodak without Kodachrome. It’s like Coca-Cola without Coke. McDonald’s without fries. GM without the Corvette. What’s the world coming to? Shoot a brick of Kodachrome 64 for old time’s sake. Underexpose it a third of a stop for extra color saturation, get them developed by next year… and 50 years from now, show your grandchildren what real film looked like back in the day.
Kodachrome b.1935 d. 2009. It served us well.
The 19th Annual Rosebud Film Festival – Nominee Showcase, in the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre (1611 N. Kent St., Arlington) from 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 27. The entire 20 film (five-hour) slate of nominees will be screened beginning at 12:30 p.m. Admission is $8. For more details, call 703-524-2388.
The Rosebud Awards Ceremony, in the Clarendon Ballroom (3185 Wilson Blvd, Arlington), runs from 7 – 10 p.m. Clips from the winning films will be shown, with free admission.
Artomatic, at 55 M St. SE,Washington, D.C. It runs through July 5, and is open Friday and Saturday, noon – 1 a.m.; Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon – 10 p.m.
Only two more weekends remain for this year’s Artomatic. We’re flagging but two special events in a jam-packed schedule. See www.artomatic.org for complete listings.
Philippa Hughes’s Pink Line Project sponsors the Pink Panel: the passionate collector and how to you can begin to collect art. As Washington Glass School principal and artist Tim Tate recently suggested in a TV interview, there is no better place to start collecting art than Artomatic. A full spectrum of price points and wide variety of work available, it’s guaranteed that there’s something for everyone here. The Pink Panel wants to help you along in the process by talking about young artists they’ve discovered and give you tips on how to start collecting art, as well as how to participate in the art world as a supporter and patron.
The discussion runs from 8 – 10 p.m. in the fourth floor education room.
The 2008 Rosebud Film Festival Screenings takes place in the third floor screening room, on Friday June 26, 7 – 9 p.m. Like all Artomatic events admission here, this should be free. Random screenings of some Rosebud entries from last year will be played. See the Artomatic schedule for additional times. For more details, call 703-524-2388.