Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saying goodbye to Kodachrome

I read this story with great interest and a bit of sadness:
An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

Kodachrome was a "reversal" film, i.e. once it was fully developed, it produced a positive image, rather than the negative film images used for making prints. Kodachrome was used for slides and, although the article does not really mention it, Super 8 movie film.

As an amateur Super 8 filmmaker, I've sent many a cartridge of Kodachrome K40 to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas for developing. In the early 2000s they would process a 50-foot cartridge for $9 and ship it back for another $3. They were always quick and reliable, and I especially enjoyed the richness of color (especially the red hues) that Kodachrome produced - something that digital photography has never been able to fully replicate.

Unfortunately, my filmmaking exploits came a pause when Kirby was born, and Kodak discontinued manufacturing Kodachrome for Super 8 movie cameras in 2005. Even if I do one day resume my Super 8 movie-making hobby, I sadly won't be sending cartridges to Dwayne's anymore. As technology marches ahead, Dywane's is moving on:
Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.
Kodak ended production of 35mm slide film last year; Dywane's processed the last roll of slides earlier today:
In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."
Pictures of Dwayne's from the New York Times here. Parsons, incidentally, was my mother's father's birthplace.

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