In 2009, Kodak stopped making their slide film, Kodachrome. All around the world, photo junkies scrambled for coveted last rolls and bemoaned the end of an era. Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” likely got more airplay in a single week than it had in the entire previous decade. Kodachrome photo essays appeared in national publications of all stripes.
Last month, a second, and more final marker passed in the death of Kodachrome, although with less fan fair: The last photo lab in America to process the film ceased offering its services. This means that while Kodachrome can still be used, there is no longer any place to have those images developed. Any pictures taken with Kodachrome from here on out will, therefore, never be seen by anyone.
For those who don’t know much about photography, or who’ve only gotten into photography in the digital age, let me back up the truck for a minute and explain what we’re talking about here. With regard to still cameras, there are two kinds of film: slide film and print film. If you shoot print film, what you end up with when you take the film to the lab is something you can put in a photo album or frame and hang on the wall. Print film remains pretty easy to come by since a lot of folks, even in this era of digital everything, still use film cameras. The other kind of film, slide film, results in slides (duh), which have to be projected onto something. They’re a lot more effort and because taking a digital photo and putting it into iPhoto is so so so much easier than shooting film, dealing with tiny individual slides, sorting them (upside-down) into a projection carousel, etc., this medium has pretty much been replaced. Hence Kodak’s decision to stop making Kodachrome.
It was a practical business move to be sure. But for a lot of people for years and years, Kodachrome was the vehicle that made their art possible. Kodachrome was the film of choice for many of the world’s top photographers for a longtime. And now that style of photography can never be practiced again. Granted, most serious photographers made the switch to digital quite sometime ago. And those who haven’t (like Clyde Butcher who shoots amazing black and white large format scenes of the American landscape) do their own film processing. Still, it’s interesting to think that an art form – a mode of creativity, a way of thinking about personal expression – can be discontinued.
Shooting with Kodachrome is very different than shooting digital. With a digital camera, you can see right a way if you got the shot you want. With Kodachrome (or any film), you have to wait until the film is developed to see what the picture looks like. This means the photographer has to be a lot more deliberate in his or her shooting. You have to bracket your shots, overexpose some slightly, underexpose others, in hopes of getting the light just right. You end up shooting the same picture a number of times. Or, if you can only shoot it once, you just have to hope it comes out.
This makes me wonder, what other forms of art have been radically altered, or ceased to exist entirely, do to changes in technology? Right off the bat, I think about the way Microsoft Word changed they way we write. (I don’t think I could do this if I had to use a typewriter.) What else?