Posted on June 23rd, 2009 No comments
Every so often you come across something outside of the normal run of the blog and its focus on privacy, data retention and Internet regulation. One of those moments came today with the announcement from Eastman Kodak that it is to cease production of the iconic Kodachrome film stock. Kodak will not be producing any more Kodachrome stock and estimates that current stocks will last until late autumn 2009.
Kodachrome is 74 years old - it first appeared in 1935 and has survived through to 2009 as a result of its unparalled near achival stability and its minimal grain - you really could project a Kodachrome image across the side of a building and still not see the grain. Through the 1960s Kodachrome was the film of choice for many families - with processing included in the price you shot the film, loaded it into the yellow mailer and popped it in the post. A few days later a yellow box arrived with the mounted slides ready for viewing. Quality was superb, in good sunlight the colour rendition was outstanding.
Kodachrome was a difficult film to produce and required processing that was quite different to the ’standard’ E6 slide and C41 colour negative stocks. But this was the key to its longevity - Kodachrome film did not contain the colour dye couplers that were required to create the colour dyes in the 3 layer subtractive matrix. The colour dye couplers were introduced as part of the processing and were removed in that processing before final drying and mounting. It is the colour dye couplers that are particularly sensitive to oxidation and it is their presence in other film stocks, both before exposure and after processing, that has caused substantial problems, reducing stock shelf life and promoting subsequent image fade over time. Ektachrome and other similar stock shots from the 1970s and 80s are often now unusable whereas Kodachrome remain fresh and vibrant.
There will be many images that are remembered - but one will be Steve McCurry’s Afghan girl that stared out of the cover of National Geographic on countless bookstalls in 1985. Set to music, Paul Simon wrote:
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
In the UK, Kodachrome K-14 processing was carried out by Kodak at their Hemel Hempstead plant. That closed some years ago exposed film sent for processing in Europe. Today their is just one remaining Kodachrome processing plant in the world - Dwaynes Photos of Parsons, Kansas, USA - Dwaynes have confirmed that they will continue processing Kodachrome until the end of 2010. Just check out the processing steps with its multi stage re-exposure with specific colours to carry out the reversal process perhaps to realise the complexity and cost in the modern age.
Visit the Kodak web site for the company release and stunning examples of the output - there is an online slideshow and further discussion at A thousand words -a tribute to Kodachrome and at The Kodachrome Project.
Undoubtedly the demise of Kodachrome is partly the result of the wholesale switch to digital imaging. Digital is fast, clean and effective - but there remains more than a sentimental memory of a film stock that recorded so much of the 20th century - and remains to display in vibrant colours.
RIP Kodachrome - I suspect we will still see your images in another 75 years time.