A Fitting End To An Era: Kodachrome Is Dead

- - The Future

When Kodak stopped producing the film last year they gave Steve McCurry the last roll. He hand delivered that roll to Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas the last lab on the planet to process Kodachrome. On December 30 they discontinued the processing forever. Here’s a frame from that last roll and more can be found on McCurry’s blog:

Picture 3

There’s a fitting tribute to the Kodachrome Generation over on David Burnett’s blog (here).

Truth be told, the last ten or 15 years were not easy for anyone what actually WANTED to shoot KR. Kodak slowly closed labs around the world, and the mere act of getting your film souped became Herculean. (Actually, Hercules shot tri-x.) So when the marketing people at Kodak (this actually happened ten years ago at a dinner in DC) would say that “there is no demand for the film anymore… no one wants to use it..” I had to remind him that at some point anyone using the film — or any film — actually wants to be able to SEE WHAT THE HELL THEY SHOT! You can’t expect people to wait a week to see their work. The technology existed to create small mini Kodachrome processing machines which could reasonably be installed at any good sized one-hour lab in the country. But for reasons known only to the geniuses at Kodak’s planning department, no serious consideration was ever given to supporting that project. They sure could have sold a lot of film if only we’d been able to see it in a timely manner. Perhaps it’s a parable for what technology is doing to our society.

There Are 36 Comments On This Article.

  1. Hell if they can install a coffee shop in a (fill-in-the-blank) they sure as hell could have done so as you mentioned. I personally didn’t shoot much of it but for those who did it would have been a great thing indeed. RIP Kodachrome.

  2. Who would pay for the developing machines to be installed – and for one film that was already niche? Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean its worth spending millions pursuing when the writing was already on the wall with digital.

    Professionals don’t drive the market. Pro products for mainstream camera and film manufacturers have generally been flagship loss leaders.

  3. I’m all for embracing technology and use a digital workflow myself, but there really is something to be said for the organic and tangible quality of images shot on film. It really does evoke a feeling that doesn’t always come through with of the best digital images. Just my humble opinion…

  4. KR 25 was my favorite.
    Been a while since they made that.

    As a Kodak sales rep. let slip in conversation a year ago:
    “…we look at what wedding photographers, school portrait photographers and amateurs say they want. Were not interested in what the commercial pro’s want because we make almost no money from that end of the market.”

  5. I seriously doubt that a “mini lab” version of Kodachrome processing existed. If it did, I would dare say, I’d bet the quality was not up to snuff. It’s a very complex and lethal process. Very very few labs ever processed it. I think in it’s hay day, there were less than 5 labs in the US. Only 2 on the East Coast, one in Rochester and one in Fairlawn, NJ.
    A lot of pros stopped with Kodachome when they did make the process more ecologically friendly. It was “new” Kodachrome much as it was “new” Coke. And was about as successful for many longtime users.
    If that was part of how they developed a “mini lab” version of the process, altering the process, odds are it would have failed because of the quality.
    Nothing beat the quality of old time Kodachome and Kodachrome processing. Lots beat the “new” Kodachome when they changed the processing formula.
    E-6 processing of Ektachrome can be done in a home darkroom. Not Kodachrome. Too deadly.

  6. Happy New Year! Happy New decade! Goodbye Kodachrome and probably film in general.
    Lets face it film is dirty . Chemicals used to develop film pollute,fact. I have been around for a while and remember old-timers with black finger nails. I also had health issues with the stuff.
    I loved film it made photographers Gods. The general public never really figured it out so we had the upper hand now everybody thinks they are photographers. I also loved the randomness of film especially under editorial conditions.
    I sometimes have a longing to do a job in film but then I ask myself why? It may have been great back in the day but now? Film is not today what it was then.
    Goodbye film ,goodbye Kodachrome I will miss you.

    • Donnar Party

      @Kevin York, I shoot all editorials on film and any commercial work that requires only a handful of images. I’ll go all digi when they have an affordable 6×7 sensor. Until then, I’ll stick with my yellow boxes.

      • @Donnar Party, That’s cool do what feels good. If your gonna stick with film great. I am trying to do my part for the environment. I believe the chemical process to develop images is very dirty. Digital does relieve some of the pollutants we are dumping into drains and water tables. If you must use film then you do what you do. Please consider the next time you use film the trash you create with your yellow boxes, plastic film containers and chemicals in our water. Nothing against you but film is a thing of the past.

        • Donnar Party

          @Kevin York, Its not what feels good, its what looks good.

          I’d also look at the relative harm caused by the production fabs for chips, flash memory, the acres and acres of harddrives, and computers and plastic cameras that get replaced/updated every 18 months or so. I’m serious not being argumentative. The amount of film shot is minuscule in camparison to the landfills full of heavy metals (not the good kind, like DIO) and un-recycleable plastics etc. as to render the pollution caused by the production and use of film merely marginal, at best. B

          • @Donnar Party, No doubt film looks good in fact great, but so does digital. The digital vs film argument has been decided and film lost, sorry. The death of Kodachome is just another nail in the coffin. Your right about miniscule use of film today most people are digital. So yes the pollution caused by film is less and will be even less in the future. Plastics will always be around so nothing we can really do there, but we don’t need to dump photo chemicals in our environment when you have an alternative.

          • I agree with you! I love film. Today I looked at 30 years of my life in photography delegated to Film: My archive of prints; boxes of Negatives and Contact Sheets. I don’t think digital allows us to be thoughtful with our editing and image making.

    • @Kevin York, Not saying you’re wrong, but I’m pretty sure all of the computers used for digital photography that will eventually end up in a landfill along with all of the fossil fuels needed to power the computers are equally bad for the environment. One of those lesser of two evils things.

      • @Terence Patrick, In my county (Montgomery, PA) the trashman will not take a computer. I can not put it in the trash. I guess I can hide it somehow but it is against the law, here. I believe that there is something called solar power which if not mistaken can power quite a few computers and cameras. Solar is especially good for these types of appliances. So to say it is a choice between two evils is not true.

        • Donnar Party

          @Kevin York, Where is this solar power? Maybe one day, but surely not now, or in the medium term for anyone not in a few limited areas. So now, right now, five years from now,it is a choice between the two evils. No amount of smug moralizing can build the infrastructure to make it a reality, only a commitment from the government can do it. Now that the lunatics are in charge of Congress, give a big hello to FRAK and “Clean Coal”!

          • @Donnar Party, Solar is out there you just need to be willing to see it. I don’t need any commitment from the government to be environmentally friendly. Needing commitments /help /handouts from the government is an old idea, just like film. People need to make the commitment to a cleaner environment not government. If you or anyone else wants to shoot film/defend its impact on the environment be my guest. The bottom line is film is the past . I chose the future.
            Today a photographer is being born. That person will have no idea or experience with film. They may want to know what film was but the tool the future photog will use is the tool I want to be using too. I have been making Images since 1976. I have done and seen all film can do and it’s good but digital is more. Digital is beyond film and it is the future.

            • Donnar Party

              @Kevin York, OK OK I get it. Its the future and all that. I have two Leaf backs, a few Canons, an M8 and 12 terrabytes of storage. My partnes and I have a Red One, which has its attendant batteries/computers and storage. So I do think digital is part of the future.

              If you or anyone else wants to shoot digital/defend its impact on the environment be my guest. I applaud your efforts, and your county/township in PA that worn’t take computers in the trash. That is great, seriously. What really is happening with digital is that the pollution is dumped at distant plants in the third world and landfills that increasingly send their electronic waste to the thrid world to be reprocessed, often by kids and women. I think the limited amount of film and chemicals used in the states, subject to regulations on their disposal, does far less harm than electronic waste.

              Infrastructure isn’t a handout, its a public good. Individual solar/renewable cogeneration is more of an ego project than world changing, a sort of bragging rights that allows, again, smug moralizing.

              • @Donnar Party, I don’t know what smug moralizing is and don’t care. I’m going to do my best to help the environment any way I can . Digital seems to be a way to go. I’m not choosing the best of two evils. I’m not defending anything. The chemical process has been polluting for a long long time. I have no experience in third world countries and how electronic waste is processed. I’m sure you can find anyone in any industry taking advantage of someone,somewhere.
                In theory and with some people the electronic process can be very clean. Obviously you don’t think so . In fact I think if I told you the sky was blue you would tell me I’m wrong?
                If you don’t or won’t try to find common ground then this conversation over ,take care thanks

                • Donnar Party

                  @Kevin York, I don’t object to your points, its your tone. Seriously, I dig your environmentalism and agree to an extent, its just things aren’t as black and white (no pun) as you present them! No offense intended, other than a little poke!

    • @Kevin York, There are more environmentally friendly process when it comes to developing. I’m new to this thing, I’ve only discovered that film is not dead via The impossible Project and Lomography, but there are manufacturers, such as ECO-PRO that make environmentally friendly developing fluids. There is a site called digital truth that sells this stuff. Even more environmentally friendly is Caffenol, which is instant coffee, vitamin C powder, and soda ash, Fixer is simple hypo, I’ve even heard you can fix your film by dropping it in a swimming pool. In other words, you are wrong.

      • @rookie, It is fine there is a such thing as environmentally friendly film developing.

        The main argument that I think that film is the best is that film exists in the physical realm, and at least lasts for a century. Digital is too risky, too fragile, all your happy snaps would be inaccessible because of eventual obsolescence, or either you storage crashing. Digital is a parable to our modern, sanitized life we have let it to happen over the last decade, digital photos last, but not for long. Big corporations do this constant obsolescence to make you buy more stuff, make you unable to record history (which film, books, vinyl, reel-to-reel does at least), and keep you distracted of what is really going on; corruption and greed. Motion picture over the last couple of years have been like that as well, sanitized, lack of story, boring. It is because of CGI, and then bloody Avatar!, as well as film getting replaced by digital, which looks well…crap!

      • @rookie, Yo Dude,this is a two month old conversation,where have you been? The thing I find most interesting is that you felt the need to tell me I’m wrong. Ok I am so what ,who cares. I see what’s going on maybe you don’t,maybe your wrong who cares?
        I’ve been processing film since 1976. I’m very happy at this time not to be in a darkroom. I know I am much healthier not working around chemicals,maybe you are? Go for it! Process your film in the swimming pool,whatever.
        The point of this website is to have an exchange of ideas not to piss people off and insult.

        • @Kevin York, I’m truly sorry that I hit a nerve there. But I agree with Donnar Party et al, I do not like your tone one bit. “The point of this website is to have an exchange of ideas not to piss people off and insult.” – I was just showing you that there are alternatives, and that film is going to be there for a long time yet, by the way the forums and blog over the past year have shown. I think I am wrong here on this part, but it seems that people have realised that technology has advanced to the point where it seems that obsolescence has become obsolete itself, everything on earth seems to be invented already, and we are kidding ourselves by simply making frivolous tech like the friggin’ Ipad (its an oversized Iphone for heck’s sake!). People have realised that in order to save something they love, they need to get involved, just like how vinyl has risen back to its prominence, it was a grass roots campaign by a bunch of New York teens. With the inter web nowadays, anything is possible, that’s the only good and bad invention of the digital revolution, a double edged sword.

          I’m more worried with all this digital technology, we have no idea on how to archive it. It seems that most of this technology is made for profit and not for artistic or archival use, therefore all those snaps we have taken over the last decade would simply not exist in 20 years time. This gives an advantage to all those corporations and corrupt “democratic” governments, they can invade our liberties and free speech, simply because all the digital methods of recording history are perishable, all the truth and opinion will be deleted and changed, for indoctrination of the youth (This is sounding really crazy now, I better stop) All I’m sayin’ is that you all better be careful, otherwise we are all going to end up in a world like Adolus Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’

          Film is going to be around for a long time, it will outlive the impending “apocalypse” (sic), and climate change, by then we will be using glass plates or even going back to painting.

          Still, I am sorry about that, and I am also sorry about getting rather angry back there.I know I am a massive newb, but a passionate one none the least.

          “I think people mistake my passion for anger.” – Charlie Sheen, amazingly.

          • @rookie, My last response on this issue will be this. Take all the passion and effort you put into proving me wrong and go shoot some film. I’m one guy with one opinion. My advice to you is let your work speak. Prove your point through your work not on chat boards. I only get on these things to improve my SEO or to share some expirence/opinion. If you or anyone else does not like my tone or what I have to say ignore me,it’s that easy.

            • @Kevin York, I’m planning to shoot film, in the future, I don’t know when, but I know it is soon, I can feel it. I may as well take advantage of the labs that are open, make hay while the sun shines. I am a patient man.

              Anyway, I am just a bystander just commenting on the changes of the community and attitude towards a subject or technology, as well as venting my social and political anger; the current technology that we have now to record events and allow artistic visions to become reality seems to show all our failings as human beings, unable to learn or emulate from the past, we can either manipulate it to our advantage, or simply deny the events that have happened, this is why we have such a miserable world we live in now.

              Anyhoo, sorry for being such an ass.


  7. I loved K25. It was my film of choice for everything except birds and aerials. Then it was K64 or K200 to the rescue.

    In 2009 I wrote a blog entry on how Kodachrome influenced my life. http://www.camerondavidson.com/blog/2009/07/05/how-kodachrome-influenced-my-life

    My favorite shooters growing up knew how to milk the most out of KII and K25 – Ernst Haas and William Albert Allard, the masters of the moment and low light.

    A few years back, I wrote a piece on the 4×5 Kodachrome collection at Shorpey’s. That blog is toast but the Shorpey’s collection is well worth visiting.


    I’ll miss Kodachrome, but the last time I shot it was two years ago.

    Dan Bayer spent all of last year shooting Kodachrome for his Kodachrome project. http://www.kodachromeproject.com/

  8. Kodachrome changed my life and made my love of photography deeper than would have been if I had just stuck with b/w films like other young art photographers when I started out and certainly shaped my vision like no other film could have. Like William Allard I love “shooting at the hail mary range of exposure” so Kodachrome 200 was always in my camera. I blogged about my love here with samples of my favorite personal images: http://bit.ly/apuuUb. Thank you, Kodachrome.

  9. When I first started shooting slides in my early teens, K64 was my first film of choice. So even though it was inevitabable that most film, especially a “hard to find a lab that would develop Kodachrome” film, was eventually going to go the way of the Dodo bird, it’s still a sad day. I too have joined the digital photography revolution mainly for it’s instant results, but still, I will miss the anticipation of waiting days (or sometimes weeks) to see my freshly developed rolls of Kodachrome when they came back from the lab!

  10. Say good-by to the film Kodachrome but don’t forget…..

    Just to set the record strait…my teacher and mentor The photographer Ernst Haas was very important in the development of seeing with a poet’s eye using the film Kodachrome… While others were stuck in old photographic traditions Haas broke new ground in photographing. He got the first one man color photographic show at MOMA in 1962. His work has influence photographers and creative people worldwide.

    I remember one time when I was speaking to Jay Maisel ” I know we all use the same camera’s and Kodachrome but why does Ernst Haas picture’s look different…. For Ernst the Kodachrome 35mm slide was the image. He love seeing them projected…….

  11. I am sure there will be an underground market running the stuff for the next 20 years (specially in third-world countries, like Medellin, Colombia, where I live), and then when digital has forgotten its beginnings, and it starts to misrepresent what human beings actually look like on a print, you will see some boutiqued return to “old ways.” Mediums never die. They go out of fad, then make tiny, gallant comebacks, managing to remain in the evolutionary process of things.

  12. Film Will Never Die. The only problem is Kodachrome was killed off by Eco-terrorists. Just kidding about the Eco-terrorists. It is a shame that is has been killed though.

    Those who have never shot film and talk about digital being superior have no idea of what they have missed. To many digital is like some gang bangers running around with a tech nine and spraying down everything that moves. Film shooters were mindful of the image they wanted to create. Digital has the mindset of one, plus one over and under. Not much skill in that.

    I still shoot film and now I look for the cheapest I can find for the randomness and for art sake. Oh by the way everything is recyclable.

  13. Kodachrome on CBS.
    I had a great time shooting Kodachrome. It will be missed.Thanks to CBS for allowing me to say good by in a big way.

  14. Kodachrome will be missed, but I doubt it is gone forever. Just look at the Impossible Project bringing back Polaroid.

    An enterprising young entrepreneur will buy the process/formula from Kodak and start fresh. And do it right. With modern marketing and distribution.

    Many people are already tiring of digital and it’s ‘too-perfect’ look. Why else would Lightroom 3 now include a ‘grain filter’? Simple. Many are trying to re-capture the look of film.

    Both digital and film have their place. And as more amateurs get into photography, film will be a great way to differentiate yourself in your art.

    The environmental argument to all of this is ridiculous. When did the process of making art ever get tangled up with what is right for the environment?

    BTW – LOVE the tones in McCurry’s photos. Gorgeous.

  15. Paul Simon’s lyrics “Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away” turns out to be very profound and ahead of it’s time.

    My kids will grow up without the these words in their vocabulary, Kodachrome, Cibachrome, Polaroid etc amazing how quickly imagery is advancing.