The Last Kodachrome in Elm Park
I like pretty much every technology that you can use to take a photograph and have tried quite a few. I had not, however, unlike most people my age, ever shot a single roll of Kodachrome. Even if you know nothing about photography per se, you know about Kodachrome. Kodachrome was one of the first color films (hitting the market around 75 years ago). Much of our history has been documented on Kodachrome in the form of iconic images such as Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl. When I read that this historic product was slated to be discontinued I reacted predictably: I have to try that stuff! So, I checked in with the folks at Wheaton’s Camera, an historic store itself, in operation since 1895, and sure enough, they had one last brick (twelve rolls). But I didn’t seem to get around to shooting with it. Time went by, and in this case, my Kodachrome project became a race against the clock. There was only one place on planet Earth that developed Kodachrome by this time, Dwayne’s in Kansas City (Which by the way is not closing and is a great place to get slide film processed. For color negative film, I’d recommend Wheaton’s in Worcester.) Dwayne’s made it crystal clear on their web site that if the rolls were not in their lab by noon on December 30, 2010, they weren’t going to be developed. Ever. Anywhere. Yikes.
On December 28, I loaded by my Nikon F6 and off to Elm Park in Worcester I went. I am always experimenting with new ways of creating portraits of trees, and this seemed the best, and quickest way to try out and/or pay a tribute to this passing film. After a couple of hours there, the fruits of the shoot were loaded into a Fed Ex envelope and sent off to KC. (Click on the images for a better view.)
You’ll note that it has something of a blueish color cast. (Tech note: These images are pretty much what came back from Dwayne’s. They were scanned in a Nikon 5000 film scanner and then processed in Lightroom. There, I cropped and straightened, applied just a bit of noise reduction to tone down the grain, and added a bit of sharpening. These images never made it to Photoshop. Everything else in the scanner and the computer was done at the default settings. The color you see is pretty close to what you’d see if you looked at the slides.)
You’ll also note that this film is really contrasty! Slide film has far less room to maneuver between the highlights and the shadows than you can now find on a high end digital camera from Nikon or Canon. Great for capturing the interplay between the subject and the shadow. You don’t need to have detail in everything.
The exercise gave me a lot to think about. Not the least was the assumption that given the photogenic nature of this location, and it’s history, maybe over 1,000,000 exposures of Kodachrome had been shot in Elm Park in the past 75 years. (If you don’t know the Park, don’t judge it by tree portraits taken in the dead of winter. While I love it this time of year, everyone would agree I think that it is quite lovely in the other three seasons. It is a favorite spot for wedding pictures.) I couldn’t help but think that these were the last Kodachrome exposures to ever be made here. (I was shooting at around 11AM on the 28th. If I’m wrong, please correct me.)
The point is, that there’s a lot of history here, natural, photographic and human.
It would be very disingenuous to leave you with the impression that I’m a major film shooter. My first serious camera in adulthood was a NIkon D100. That’s with a “D.” I started shooting film after I learned to create pictures digitally and then it was largely black and white film. But one of the nicest things about photography is the plethora of techniques available to the artist. Now, there is one less which is understandable, but too bad. Paul, sad to say, Momma really has taken your Kodachrome away.
Before leaving Kodachrome though I think it’s so important to pay tribute to the photographic company and its employees that have given us all so much, Eastman Kodak. Yes, they are in trouble now, understandably. Digital photography did not just create competition for film, it “disrupted” as we business school types say, the industry. Kodak needed to do more than improve, and make their products “better, faster cheaper.” Kodak had to learn to do something completely different. Ironically, the digital camera was invented at Kodak. Kodak of course stumbled when it came to capitalizing on that invention as great companies sometimes do. Success can actually undermine a company’s ability to innovate. But, Kodak did give us so much that we still treasure. In particular, a variety of Kodak innovations and inventions made it possible for the average individual to independently, pretty much, create memorable images that last far beyond one life span. Thank you Kodak.
Post script: I should also clarify that Kodachrome was also not the most environmentally friendly of films, by a long shot. That being said, Kodak did “clean up it’s act” in the past twenty or so years from an environmental standpoint. Unfortunately, no means of image making is without the potential to degrade the environment. Digital is certainly not. Do a search on “what happens to recycled computers” and you will find that too many high tech electronic devices end up in the developing world while being recycled, and are often taken through a scrap process that can be quite environmentally and socially problematic. Once again we find that we will always need to monitor our impact and should never assume that a particular type of human activity is environmentally neutral.