Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kodachrome: A celebration of a legend

Kodachrome was born in 1935 the product of two musicians Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes giving the phrase to Kodak employees 'Kodachrome made by God and Man'
Initially for 16mm movies with 35mm Stills following a year later. The film was the first really easy to use (no filters or glass plates) colour film which made it popular with serious amateurs and professionals especially with the then relatively new Leica cameras.
But the main reason for its success was its wonderful colours. Here courtesy of Simon97 are some images made before the second world war at the world fair in 1939:

Most peoples vision of the 1930's is a dull grey these wonderful images show otherwise rich bright colours and tones that would become part of the post war portrayal of the American dream
Kodachrome in the 1930's was expensive; the equivalent of about $50 per roll in todays money which meant that it was used mainly by enthusiasts for important subjects like weddings, travels abroad and family occasions.
Over the next few years the film cemented its position as the number one colour film also being used by National Geographic to bring the colourful Kodachrome world right into the homes of ordinary Americans and people worldwide.
During the 1950's and 60's Kodachrome was at its peak in popularity, used to record many of histories defining moments; The conquering of Everest, Kennedy's assassination (16mm cine film) pictures of stars like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot- Kodachrome was the colour of the 1950's and 60's.
During the 1960's the speed of the film was increased with the introduction of Kodachrome II the film became much easier to use for the average enthusiast 'snapper' of everyday family life, a Super 8 cine film was introduced at the same time.
By the late 1970's early 1980's people started to move away from slides and slide shows to the easier and faster colour print films for documenting family holidays; 1 hour mini-labs were starting to become common and professionals started using E-6 films like Ektachrome and Fujichrome.
As we moved into the 1990's Kodachrome had fallen out of favour, faster versions like the 200 ASA version and the introduction of 120 roll film versions aimed at professionals couldn't stem the tide and by 1998 Kodak started to close some Kodachrome labs and centralize their operations. Ten years later there was only one lab left to process the film and just a single speed in Kodaks product portfolio KR64.
The ultimate demise of Kodachrome was inevitable and started long ago, as a photographer I can only thank Kodak for keeping it going so long as I've been able to document my own children's early lives with a medium that has a proven longevity. I personally would have liked to see a '75 year birthday' but I expect Kodak are putting all their available efforts into the new modern 2 electron films they have recently introduced.
The end of an era, but I've a feeling that those slides will outlive most people reading this.
Kodachrome: born 1935 -expired 2009 aged 74 after a long and productive life. It leaves a treasure trove of social history and has touched the lives of millions of people worldwide.
All images and text © Mark Antony Smith 2009


bolas said...

One of my dreams was to try Kodachrome, unfortunately few years ago the last lab in Europe was closed, so i was not in hurry to buy, shoot and send it to US. Right it's to late. I've read that Kodachromes could be developed till january 2010. It's a pitty.

Photo–Smith said...

Well your dream can still happen :-) I think now is the time to try. Kodachrome is still common here (UK) in retail, some chemists still have a few rolls left.
Strangely enough it takes about the same time for me to get E-6 processed as it does Kodachrome.
Yesterday I took 2 rolls of Velvia to a big High St retailer to be quoted 14 working days, my last Kodachome took only about 3 days longer!!
Kodachrome is a unique film I'd have hated not to have at least tried it, and have hundreds of slides in yellow boxes going back 20+ years.

vl. said...

Have you seen this? Someone doing a 64 week project of K64.


Photo–Smith said...

Thanks yes I did see it, I think loads of people will do some nice projects over the next year or so.
I have just a few rolls, my dilemma is I don't shoot much 35mm colour work so can't think of a worthy project. I may shoot some in the spring and then again in the autumn, I have the long dark nights to establish exactly what subject.....