Friday, December 31, 2010

Technology takes another bite

In a few hours, the photography world will lose a significant part of its history.  Many will not even know it has happened.  Not even photographers....well the amateur ones.  Technology has pushed a giant player down and it will never recover.  Don't get me wrong.  I love technology.  I am the queen of it in my household.  I have an iPod, and iPad, and iPhone, and laptop and a desktop.  After finishing The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins last night, I wanted to read the sequel right away.  With a few clicks of a button and in less than five minutes time, I had the sequel and never had to leave my house.  So I'm not opposed to technology, but it's hard to let go of  the past.
Kodachrome has had a 75 year run as the go to film for photographers.  It's complex processing gives dimension and color to images that digital cannot.  Kodachrome was the single most influential film and it changed the way the printed image was viewed.

Paul Simon dedicated a whole song to the film....with lyrics that say....

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"

One professional photographer, Steve McCurry, shot an image that was featured on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic.  He shot the image with Kodachrome film.  When he returned years later and found her again, this time as a grown woman, he shot that image with Kodachrome as well.  Steve McCurry received a special privilege.  He was allowed to buy the last roll of Kodachrome film ever manufactured by Kodak.  The very last image shot on this roll of film was taken in Parsons, Kansas.  It was a picture taken of a civil war cemetery there.  A fitting setting for the last roll.  This roll was processed at Dwayne's Photo in July 2010 and took up residence at the George Eastman House.

You may ask why Parsons, Kansas.  The answer is that the last processing center in the world able to develop Kodachrome film is Dwayne's Photo, in Parsons Kansas. Since Eastman Kodak made the announcement on June 22, 2009 that it would no longer produce the Kodachrome film, Dwayne's Photo has been developing 700+ rolls a day from all over the world.  And tonight, at midnight, it will cease for good.  Even if you have an old roll, biding its time in the coolness of your fridge, after midnight tonight, no one in the world will have the capability of processing your film.  The process is so complex, that it cannot be done at home in your own darkroom.  The chemicals themselves will be extinct as well.

So, the last photograph on the last roll of Kodachrome film is a cemetery. Dramatic?  Perhaps.  But this is the end of an age.  Pushed out by the digital world.  Technology's latest victim.  Gone are the days of taking a roll of film and carefully feeding it over the teeth of the manual camera rollers. Looking through viewfinder and lining up a photograph worthy of an image on that celluloid, will no longer be the patient art it actually was.  You took the picture, hoped it was good one.  Trusted what you shot was good and then you waited for the images to be developed.  An act of faith really. 

As a very amateur photographer, I now take many photographs.  I have my older, manual, film taking camera tucked carefully away and use my digital camera all the time.  My grandchildren will never know the act of taking a photograph and having to wait to see the image.  They can see the image in the second or two after it's taken.  I don't know if they can truly appreciate the uniqueness of photographs the way I do. But it will be my job to teach them about the past so that can have a whole view of their future.

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