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T h e V illage Idio t

Kodach ro m e 1 9 3 5 - 2 0 0 9 Y ou will be missed

v. 1 I . 3


Ko d a c h r o m e 1 9 3 5 - 20 0 9 T h i s s p e c i a l e d ition of the Village Idiot is devoted to the passing of one o f t h e m o s t r evered films ever made. June, 2009 Kodak announced ces s a t i o n o f p r o d uction. This was not a suprise given the current climate o f a b a n d o n e m ent of film in favor of digital technology. The offering of f ew n e w f i l m s was a trend starting about 5 years ago followed by the l i m i t i n g o r d i s continuation of some formats of the traditional films. B ec a u s e t h e K-14 process used to develop Kodachrome is technically d i f f i c u l t , r e q u iring the use of a lengthy process with environmentally u n f r i en d l y c h e micals, the number of labs offering this service started to d w i n d l e y e a r s ago. As it turns out one of the last American labs offeri n g p r o c e s s i n g has anounced that they would suspend their K-14 line at t h e en d o f 20 1 0. There is now a rush for many photographers to obtain, s h o o t a n d p r o c ess modern Kodachrome before the end.

HIstory T h e h i s t o r y o f Kodachrome is really a traditional American success sto r y. Tw o p r o f e s sional musicians, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes s a w t h e m o v i e O u r N av y in 1918. The movie was one of the first in c o l o r. T h e t w o were very impressed with what they saw that they set o u t t o s e e i f t h ey could do the same with still photography. T h ey h a d a c h ance meeting with an investment banker, M r. Loeb who d e c i d ed t h a t he should bankroll their efforts. As they started to get c l o s e r t o t h e product we know as Kodachrome, Kodak offered the two l a b s p a c e t o p erfect their color process. Their first product was actually m o v i e f i l m w h i ch I would assume was because of their desire to replicate o r i m p r o v e o n what they saw back in 1918. After the introduction of the f i r s t Ko d a c h r o me product in 1935 they discovered that the film was not a s s t a b l e a s t h ey had hoped. It wasn’t until about 1938 did their product t a ke o n t h e c h aracteristics that we n ow attribute to Kodachrome - archi v a l l o n g ev i t y a nd true reproduction of colors. I t i s t h e s e c h a r acteristics that made Kodachrome such a success. All oth e r p r o c e s s e s t hat came before had n ot captured the essence of this new p r o d u c t . E v en Agfa the giant German chemical company couldn’t best Ko d a k w i t h t h eir Agfachrome. The r evelation of color photos of H itler ( m o r e b e l o w) w as exciting but they were all taken on Kodachrome rather t h a n t h e Ag f a product. If it weren’t for that, those photos are likely to h a v e f a d e d i n t o obscurity - literally. T he P r o c e s s K-1 2 n o w K-1 4 is the process by which the Kodachrome is produced. Un l i ke t h e n e w e r Kodak E-6 films, Kodachrome is a silver halide film simi l a r i n m a n y r es pects to traditional black and white film. The processing s t a r t s w i t h t h e addition of color couplers that attach to the silver halide 2


- ea c h o f t h e three colors cyan,magenta,yellow are processed seperately. T h e n t h e s i l v er h a l i d e i s washed away leavin g just the color. This is what gives the Kod a c h r o m e s u c h l o n g ev i t y. E-6 f i l m s h a v e all the dyes needed incorporated in the emulsion and goes t h r u o n l y o n e d ev e l o p ement stage. Herein l ies the problem for Kodachrome - while th e f i l m i ts e lf i s n o t h a rd to produce it required a dedicated lab and technicians to proc es s . T h e t u r n a r o un d t i me was measured in days. E-6 on the other hand is easy to prod u c e a n d p r o c e s s w i t h turn around time of hours. T r en d s T h e p o p u l a r i ty of slide film was ba sed on the interest in “ the Slide show� - it w a s p a r t o f t h e t r a d i t i on of gathering with others to view a show. The circus , the mo v i e t h e a t e r , a n d D a d’s trip to the West were all part of this tradition. The country st a r t ed t o a s k f o r m o r e - we want photographs that can be shared via the US mail. Po r t r a i t s i n t h e h o m e, i n lockets etc were also popular uses for photography. This of co u r s e w a s 3


s e r v e d b y t h e b l ack and white photo w hich was quick and relatively inexpensive. Af t e r t h e w a r t h e r e w a s a n up surge in the interest in color - I wonder if this was in part a res p o n s e t o t h e h o r r o r o f w a r w h ich came into A merican’s home and life with the Black and Whit e f i l m / p h o t o . We l l n o w t h a t o ur society had survived the latest world war we were now read y f o r t h e l i f e a f i r m i n g c o l o r s l ide or photograph. A t t h e s a m e t i m e that Kodachrome was placed into the market, Kodak and the ot h er f i l m m a ke r s s t a r t e d t o p r oduce print film - Kodacolor, etc. This produced a print which wa s p e r f ec t f o r h o m e u s e a n d f o r mailing to friends or for quick, impromptu showings without t h e b u r d e n o f a s l i d e p r o j e c t o r and screen. T h e f i r s t y e a r s o f Kodacolor produced films that were not stable for long term vie w i n g - s o m et h i n g t h a t i t ’s c l aimed that Kodak knew about. They ran longevity tests on all t h e i r p r o d u c t s b u t d i d n ’ t w a n t to reveal the data for Kodachrome ( which was very good) for f ea r o f h a v i n g q u e s t i o n s a s ke d of their other products. With more research and developement t h i s b e c a m e le s s o f a n i s s u e. Many of the original Kodacolor prints have however been lost t o t h e i m p e rfec t n a t u r e o f t h e early technology. F o r t u n a t el y m a n y of the famous events of WWII and after had been captured on Ko d a c h r o m e a n d s u r v i v e t o d ay in excellent shape. We have photos from Hiroshima, Yalta and ev en o f H i tle r a l l o n Ko d a c r home. This last bit of photographic history is due to one of Hitl e r ’s p e r s o n a l p h o t o g r a p h e r u s ing Kodachrome in the first place. A competing product Agfac h r o m e w a s a G er m a n p r o d u c t but it lacked the archival abilities of Kodachrome. Hugo Jaeger, H i t l e r ’s p h o t o g r a p h e r s h o t Kodachrome. At the end of the war Jaeger was attemtpting to le a v e G e r m a n y 4


wh e n h e r a n i n t o an American Army squad. He had with him all of his slides from t h e w a r. Fo r t u n a t el y h e a l so had a bottle of Cognac and this got the attention of the sol d i er s w h o nev e r l o o ked a t t he slides. Jaeger buried the slides outside of Munich. H e retrieve d t h e m i n 19 5 5 a n d p u t t h e m into a bank vault. 10 years later he took them out and sold the m t o Li f e, Inc . Ju st t h i s y e a r LIFE.com has published them. An amazing story which wouldn’t h a v e h a p pen ed s a v e f o r Kodachrome and some luck. As o ur s o c i e t y i n sisted upon instant everything the E-6 process took over as th e p o p ul a r sli d e f i l m . E -6 f i l ms came in a variety of styles and speeds. The initial Kodachro m e h a d a n AS A s p e ed o f o n l y 12. The ‘speed’ of a film refers to how fast a shutter speed one c a n us e o r ho w s ma l l a l en s aperture ( for better depth of field) one can use. E ven with speed s o f 25 , 6 4 an d ev e n t u a l l y 20 0 the E -6 films had an edge for most photographers. Soon a ‘li t t l e ’ c o m pa n y c a l l e d F uj i w as offering Velvia - a slow speed film ideally suited to nature and l a n d s c a p e ph o t o g r a p h y. F o r ideal skin tones there was their product Astia. With two hour tu r n a r o u n d on d ev el o p i n g a n d most magzine insisting on ‘chromes the E-6 product line started t o m a ke Ko d a c hr o m e s l e s s relevant. Th i s i s n o t t o s a y that no one was using Kodachrome. In the modern era we have s uc h i c o n i c ph o t o s a s S t ev e McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” printed 1984 in the National Geographic. I t i s p r e tty c l e a r t h a t t h e digital era is most responsible for the demise of many products f r o m t h e fil m e r a . T h e d e mise of Polaroid really was more of a financial mismanagement pr o b l em b ut it t o o m a y h a v e s ucumbed without the assistance or poor management.

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Re t u r n i n g t o t h e theme of longevity, it is known that even digital storage as o p p o s e d t o n e g a t i v e o r s l i d e storage is not archival past 5-10 years. The computer age has o n c e a g a i n g i v e n t h e c a s u a l photographer the sense that storage is infinite and that it’s secu r e f o r y e a r s t o c o m e. T h o s e who have been in the field since the days of mainframes und e r s t a n d t h e f a l a c y o f t h i s . Just look at removable media - tape, 5 1/2” and 3 1/4” discs - very d i f f i c u l t t o g et d a t a o f f t h o se machines with those media. S h o o t i n g s l i d es and film if stored in the dark provide longevity figures markes i n t e r m s o f d e c a d es a n d ev en centuries. In the vein of truth it is to be mentioned that Koda c h r o m e a n d t h e K-1 4 5 p r o c ess have E -6 slides beat if you are talking about dark storage lon g ev i t y. E -6 i s a c tu a l l y b et t er for projected longevity. So kiddies remember that if you are a c t u a l l y p r oj e c t i n g y o u r s l i des ( what an odd thought :) that don’t keep your Kodachromes i n t h e s l i d e m a c h i n e t o o l o ng.

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W h y s h o o t film an y way ? A f a i r q u e s t i on. We are now at a point where the top of the line digital SL R c a me r a s w i t h f u l l frame sensors come close to and beat the abilities of their film c o u nt er p a r t s . We even have software programs that will take the digital photo a n d p u t a “ f i l m ” s p i n on it. Shoot a digital picture but want it to look like black and w h i t e Tr i -X f i l m - n o problem. There is a “filter ” for that look now. On the other ha n d w e

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h a v e n u m e r o u s examples of photojournalists getting in to trouble by just d o i n g a l i t t l e p hotoshoping here and there - problem is that it’s not what h a p p en e d . T h e re is some happines to be had knowing that if you get that p er f ec t s h o t t h at it was your genius that got it. Ha v i n g b ee n t a ught traditional darkroom technique by my Father I don’t h a v e a p r o b l em with waiting till I get the film back from the lab or out of t h e f i l m d ev el o per when I do it mysel f. We are such an instant society that w e h a v e a v er y hard time waiting for anything. As a child of the 50’s ( the n e x t i n s t a l l m en t of The Village Idiot) I loved to wait for things in the mail. I s i t g o i n g t o b e there when I got home from school? They said 4-6 weeks a n d w h en i t s h o wed in 2 weeks it still felt like a lifetime. T h e r e f o r e I s h o ot film and Kodachrome not because I have to but because I w a n t t o . On c e Kodachrome is gone us analog shooters will do what we’ve a l w a y s d o n e - move on to the next s hot with whatever film we happen to h a v e i n t h e c a m era.

E. N i t k a

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Re s o u r c e s

Dwayne’s P h o t o 415 S 32nd S t Parsons, KS 67 3 5 7 Phone: (620 ) 4 2 1 -3 9 4 0 To l l - f r e e : 8 0 0 - 5 22 - 3 9 4 0 O n e o f t h e o n l y l a b s s t i l l p r o c e s s i n g K- 1 4 films at lea s t un t i l e n d o f 20 1 0

ROCKY MOU N TA I N F I LM LA B DEPT K14 Sl i d e 560 G ENEVA S TREE T A URORA, CO 8 0 0 1 0 Known for y e a r s f o r t h ei r a b i l i t y t o g e t a n i m age out of almost any outdated fi l m . Refe r en c e s

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New York Times, B y T HE AS SOC IATED P RES S P u b l i s h e d : Ju n e 22 , 20 0 9

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Kodachrome: The Am e r i c a n I n v en t i o n o f Ou r Wo r l d , 1 9 3 9 -1 9 5 9 ,

Els Rijper, 2002

3 H i t l e r i n C o l o r h t t p : / / w w w. l i f e . c o m / i m a g e / u g c 1 0 0 0272 / i n - g a l l e r y / 27 022 / adolf-hitler-up-clo s e 4

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The Kodachrome P r o j e c t : h t t p : / / w w w. ko d a c h r o m e p r o j e c t . c o m / p a g es / c o n tents.html Kodachrome D atin g G ui d e h t t p : / / w w w. h i s t o r i c p h o t o a r c h i v e. c o m / f 2 / ko d a chrome.html

Editor E. Nitka enitka.com charcot@comcast.net Photos and Text copyright by e. nitka ( estate of CB Nitka for CB Nitka photos) Please look for e. nitka’s upcomming book Kodachrome 1935-2009 on www.blurb.com due in October, 2009 Additional copies of this or previous issues of Village Idiot are available at http://charcot. magcloud.com/ Upcomming issue: Being 50 growing up in the 50’s.

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