RIP Kodachrome: 1935-2010

Photo courtesy of flickr.com member Kevin Dooley

In his 1973 hit, Paul Simon sang, “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.” Unfortunately for Paul, and many other photography buffs, Kodachrome was taken away on December 30, 2010. Kodak officially discontinued the film in June of 2009 but supplied enough materials to Dwayne’s Photo, a small, family-run business in Kansas, to develop the film until the end of 2010—the last place in the world equipped to do so.

So how did Kodachrome come to be? In 1935 two scientists working at Kodak’s research center in New York, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes,  created a new and more effective technique for capturing colored images in both film and photography. Instead of printing the dye directly onto the film stock, as most color films do, Kodachrome added the color during the processing. This unique method gave Kodachrome images sharp, saturated colors and the ability to last upwards of 100 years if stored properly. While a roll of the film was pricey when it was first introduced, it hit its popularity beginning in the 1960s and continued into the ’80s. Kodachrome is responsible for countless iconic photographs including Steve McCurry’s “The Afghan Girl”, published on the cover of National Geographic in 1984. It was also the film used by Abraham Zapruder, the man who inadvertently filmed Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. But besides providing images recognizable by the masses, we can thank Kodachrome for the birth of beautifully awkward home-videos of holidays  and birthdays, for pictures taken at the family reunion in Leadville, Colorado. It made capturing the moment affordable and accessible and people used it to their full advantage.

But like all good things, they must come to an end; technology advanced and times changed. Enter the One Hour Photo. Kodachrome simply couldn’t keep up with our demand for the quick and easy. The film was too much of a hassle to develop. Things didn’t get any better for Kodachrome with the arrival of digital cameras early in the 2000s. With the film becoming increasingly obsolete, Kodak ended its 74 year run on June 22, 2009. When word got out the the only place left developing Kodachrome, Dwayne’s Photo, would open its last canister of dye in December 2010, people from all over the world traveled to Parsons, Kansas. One artist came from London to meet the deadline of its demise. One man spent over $15,000 to develop over 1,500 rolls of film. The last roll of Kodachrome developed belongs to Dwayne Steinle, owner of Dwayne’s Photo.

This truly is the end of an era. Digital photography, while obviously able to produce incredible images, will never achieve that saturated color and longevity Kodachrome gave us. It’s an ingrained part of human history and identity. Sure, we understand things can’t last forever and we should come to expect and accept change, but dammit! Sometimes it’s hard. Kodachrome, you will be missed.

Allison Nonko

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