Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome Away. Last Roll Processed

last kodachrome processed photo

Photo credit: Dwayne's Photo

Paul Simon echoed the sentiments of many photographers when he sang "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away." But for the 75 year old iconic slide transparency film, time is finally up. On 30 December 2010 Dwayne's Photo studio in Kansas processed the world's last roll of Kodak Kodachrome film.

The film first appeared back in 1935, taking stills photography market by storm with its long lasting, saturated colours. However Kodachrome's many decades of dominance eventually succumbed to pressure from even more vibrant slide films, like Fuji Velvia, and from consumers moving to the more accessible print film, and eventually to the tsunami which is digital photography.
On the 22nd of June 2009, Eastman Kodak Company announced they were retiring Kodachrome. Steve McCurry, the photographer who shot the famous National Geographic cover of the Afghan Girl (with Kodachrome) was given the last roll of 36 images by Kodak.

Kodachrome box photo

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Interviewed for The Wichita Eagle, McCurry said, "I like having something to hold in my hand."

"With digital photography, it's just a hard drive. With Kodachrome, the film is real. You can touch it, put it in a drawer, and come back to it later. It's tangible. It's an object. With digital, the pictures only exist in a hard drive, in a memory chip."

Ironically though NPR reports that Steve also had a digital camera along for his final Kodachrome assignment:

'"Every one of the 36 frames on that final roll was precious. "Am I getting the right moment?" he wonders. "Is it in focus? Is the exposure right?" So before he took one of those shots, he used a digital camera to hone in on the perfect exposure.'

Wikipedia have more on the history of Kodachrome, as does the Kodachrome Project.

Other Reversal or Slide films have simpler processing methods to Kodachrome and are currently still available. Most of these are based on E-6 processing, also developed by Kodak. But one wonders just how long these films will remain commercial.

Slide transparency film verses digital photography was the subject of a debate we had when Lloyd led a discussion here five years ago, on the End of an Era: Nikon Stops Making Film Cameras.

Half a decade on, the issues of long term archiving of photographs remain. And the product churn of people endlessly replacing their digital cameras for the next new model with more megapixels persists.

Yes, the chemicals used for film processing are nasty, but so too are the minerals used to run digital electronics such as cameras. For example, Coltran, or Tantalum, is used in digital cameras, and has been sourced from countries riven by conflict, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the mineral is considered in a similar vein to blood diamonds. The Congo is considered to be home to 70% of world's reserves of Tantalum.

As with many issues of better environmental stewardship, the debate is rarely black and white. It's more the case of carefully selecting the lesser of two evils. We should Ask Pablo to run the numbers for us.

Dwayne's Photo, via ABC
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