Mama don't take my Kodachrome away!

Well, someone did!

The words of that classic Paul Simon song, referring to the archetypal transparancy film (that’s was around for nearly 75 years), came true in 2009 when Kodak announced that production of this wonderful film would cease.

It’s a real shame – many of the iconic colour images of the second half of the 20th century were captured on this fabulous  medium. Time Life, National Geographic and many others used shots from this fine grained film, with its unique tone and “feel”.

Mayrhofen 1937 - W. Robert Moore / National Geographic

In the Summer of 1937, National Geographic magazine photographer W. Robert Moore took the first Kodachrome shots for the publication whilst on assignment in Austria. For a world that was used to seeing “action” photographs in black and white this was a revelation, and National Geographic was quick off the blocks and soon most of its photographers had the film in their camera bags.

In the days before the travel industry catered for the masses, magazines like National Geographic brought the world into people’s homes – showing them wonderful places that they’d never heard about.

Although I use digital for the majority of my work, I still hanker after using analogue for landscapes and the demise of film is a sign of our unrelenting “progress” as a society. Only 7 or 8 years ago, digital cameras were so expensive and out of the reach of most consumers that everyone shot film. Kodachrome was readily available in three speeds (ISO 25, 64 and 200) and could be processed in a number of labs worldwide. By 2009 that had dwindled to just one speed (ISO 64) and one lab in the world – “Dwayne’s Photos” in Kansas (you’ve got to love that name!)!

Piccadilly Circus 1953

Piccadilly Circus 1953 - David Boyer / National Geographic

It’s easy with today’s computer-manipulated imagery to enhance colours and tweak exposure – with Kodachrome you had little margin for error and had to nail the exposure (with processing taking a couple of weeks it’s a far cry from checking the histogram and shooting again!), but if you got it right the results were almost magical!

It was hard work, but it was the best way to learn about getting the correct exposure – on a film that was incredibly fine-grained with a natural way of recording colour (something that I feel can’t be recreated digitally).

There’s something else – we know that film has a life of at least 100 years (it’s been proved) – we have no idea how long digital media will survive!

Kodachrome 1935-2010 – RIP


Dorset wedding and portrait photographer

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