Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kodachrome: 1935-2010 RIP

Eastman Kodak Kodachrome 64 FilmsImage via WikipediaToday, Thursday December 30, 2010, the last roll of Kodachrome film will come off the processing machine at Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, marking the end of the longest running color film in history. Kodachrome wasn't just any color film, it was the color transparency film of choice, making slides of incredible color and sharpness that were projected larger than life on screens all over the world for most of the 20th century. National Geographic would never have been National Geographic without this film.

It was my favorite color film for almost 20 years, until I stopped shooting film altogether in favor of digital. Digital was never better, but it was far more convenient. I remember when we moved to Palo Alto, CA in 1984 there was a Kodak film processing lab on Oregon Expressway just a mile from my house. I used to stop in on my way to work to drop off my Kodachrome slides to be developed. I was one of the lucky few who had a Kodachrome processing lab around the corner from my house. The old guys there would talk about film with reverence, all of us oblivious to the digital revolution that would blow film away in just 20 years. I used to experiment with getting the saturation of colors as deep as possible by decreasing the exposure 1/3rd stop in numerous increments. I will never forget the series of slides I took of a red fire hydrant in a California sunset in which the color just gets deeper and deeper as the exposure decreased until it was too low and the film blocked up. That last hydrant was a breathtaking, blazing red.

One thing I will never fully comprehend about this most popular color film of all time is its seemingly impossible origins: it was invented by two Jewish polymaths, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr., who would go on to distinguished careers as American classical musicians, Mannes after studying physics at Harvard and who would become the head of the Mannes Institue of Music, founded by his parents. They invented it in their bathroom after studying color chemistry for many years on their own.

Thank G-d for the Jews.

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