Sunday, July 25, 2010


These images date from 1978 through 1982: starting from the upper left and moving in a circle: Across Cook Inlet, Mt. Redoubt, Alaska; Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend Nat'l Park, TX; Hot Springs Canyon, Big Bend Nat'l Park, TX; Along coastal highway, southern CA; Highway 89, Sierra Mts. CA; Taylor, TX.


News came last week that the last roll of Kodachrome will be processed at the end of December. This very last roll manufactured by Kodak in 2009 was given to photojournalist, Steve McCurry, who had shot almost nothing else during his 35 year career. And to honor him, that last roll processed by Dwayne's was that last roll made by Kodak

There has been a lot of noise -- yes, I'm calling it noise -- about the demise of Kodachrome. It was first manufactured and marketed in 1935. The first color film meant for the general public. The first broad field test were done by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) by such noted photographers as Russell Lee. I have seen a number of images shot by Lee in Pie Town, New Mexico, in the late 1930's and early 1940's. Many of these early images are published on the Library of Congress' website. In those days, films were assigned their light sensitivity ratings by the American Standards Association (ASA), and the first Kodachrome was ASA 10. In the brightest sunlight for front lighted subjects, that translates to about 1/50 at f/8.

I began shooting when Kodachrome was still ASA 10. I was in the Navy and stationed in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska when I exposed my first few rolls. (I have always loved that sign on the east Waco loop: ASA 10 -- Asa being a community 10 miles to the southeast.). Sometime in the 1960's, Kodak introduced the "improved" Kodachrome 25, with an ASA 25. Later in the 1970's came Kodachrome 64, ISO 64, and still later, Kodachrome 200, (gasp) ISO 200. I remember in those early years owning an Argus C3 that had presets for ASA 10 on its dials--a yellow dot on the shutter speed dial, and a red dot on the f/stop scale.

Kodachrome had an extremely narrow latitude -- 4.5 to 5 stops. You always had to expose the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may. What I'm trying to say, the film was very contrasty and was best suited where shadow detail was not important to the image. Strong back lighting without fill was almost impossible. But in the right lighting conditions, it was grand. Probably more good sunset images have been shot on Kodachrome than any other film.

These films were always the best, in my estimation, when projected. Printing them was a bitch. And they do not scan well, either. But as I watched the Youtube video, I was reminded that the beauties of Kodachrome do not translate through the digital medium to my monitor. The files look no better than good digital files. Great things come and go. I'm happy to have my up-scale digital camera and its ability to produce beautiful color images where no Kodachrome could ever go. I've never been married to any process/material/equipment so much so that I would morn it passing given alternatives. And in this day and age we have tremendous alternatives. Most of all I'm thankful I can still make images just a meaningful as I did with a beautiful film.

Goodbye Kodachrome, you lived a good life. You where the first over-the-counter color film, most certainly the first color film for many generations of photographers, and you taught us well.


Molly said...

mama don't take my kodachrome awaaaaaaay

Mike said...

Well said, Frank. I used K-64 exclusively as my color medium for over 20 years and got so used to it that I rarely used a meter. The things I loved about it (reds and blacks) were why printers hated it.

But like B&W, the reason I loved it was that it allowed me to capture the world the way I wanted to see it.

Now, digitally, I can still get that look, but I already know when I shoot that I can do it. Back then, it was always a magic moment to open that yellow box and spread those chromes out on a light table.

I do miss that.

elizabethm522 said...

I am shocked, are these your photos?! I haven't ever seen you take photos of nature and landscapes. They are breathtaking, I love them! I want to travel to cool places too

pitchertaker said...

Yes, Liz, these are my images.... all from a long time ago. In all the years I was toting my 8x10 or 4x5 for b&w, I had a 35mm Nikon around my neck shooting color slides at the same time. One day I'll get around to scanning them, too.

Pat Tillett said...

The old days! I always have to laugh when I think about all the "equipment" that had to be lugged around. I was reluctant to switch to digital, but I'm glad I did. Now it seems like I'm getting more and more digital equipment and lenses to "lug" around....
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

great post!

pitchertaker said...

I have no regrets switching to digital for color. And I carry no more equipment with me now than I did when using film. Besides, CF cards are a lot smaller than boxes of film. Generally I only have my Canon 5D2 and the 24-105 L with me. I can do 98% of everything I photograph with that.

Sam said...

I do regret never having gotten to shoot some "K". I have shot a lot of Velvia but I just recently have been trying Ektachrome E100G thanks to being inspired by Steve McCurry's work. It seems capable of some nice natural earthy tones.

I think we photographers all get a case of "sweet lemon" when looking back at major platform decisions. I feel the same way about my decision to embrace film as my main medium as many of you old timers seem to feel about your decision to abandon it.


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