Goodbye Kodachrome, You Inspired Generations Of Travel Photographers

Today is a sad day for photographers and anyone who has been inspired to see the world through photography.  Today, the 30th of December 2010 is the last day Kodachrome film will ever be processed anywhere in the world.

Kodachrome plays a large role in my history as a photographer. As a kid my fascination with photographer was largely inspired by the photos Larry Burrows‘ during the Vietnam war, the colour images shot on Kodachrome captured my sense of what photojournalism was. My sense of the world beyond the edge of my neighbourhood and the different cultures and landscapes were captivated by the work of travel photographer Bob Krist and you guessed it, most the images he shot that inspired me were shot on Kodachrome.

When I received my first real Nikon camera it came with a few rolls of Kodachrome 200 (PKL). My first photographs were so poorly exposed, because I had no idea how to use an SLR camera … especially one that had no built in light meter … that I was determined to learn how to expose my images properly. Eventually I used Kodachrome as my benchmark to test my skills at properly exposing images in tricky light situations.

Kodachrome brought the world vivid colours and warm tones for 75 years. Kodachrome captured the imagination of photographers around the world living vicariously through the pages of National Geographic and the film was eventually one of the inspirations for the creation of National Geographic Traveler magazine in the early 1980s.

As I ventured from film to digital in the mid-90s, and shifted to shooting all my work digitally in 1999 I have been after one look continually … the look of Kodachrome. I have yet to find that look, I’ve come close at times, but there is a certain look I have in my mind of a perfectly exposed Kodachrome 200 slide in the back of my mind and I have yet to recreate it shooting digitally.

I think about the patience it took to shoot Kodachrome as I learned to be a photographer. As Kodachrome wasn’t processed at any local photo labs (well Duggal did in Manhattan), I had to deliberately think about what I was shooting and the technical aspects of how I was shooting it. When the film was done, I’d drop it in an envelope at the local lab and send it off to be processed … getting the film back in about a week.

This process of learning photography with Kodachrome was slow, but it caused me to become technically proficient and deliberate. Since Kodachrome had essentially no tolerance for exposure errors, and no instant preview as with current digital cameras (my first digital cameras in the 1990s did not have an LCD screen for instant preview either), I learned a lot about exposing photos correctly in-camera rather than saying “I’ll fix that in Photoshop,” which is a prevalent mind set of many photographers today.

Its hard to not ponder about a world where coming generations of photographers won’t be required to have a sense of patience about learning there craft in the same way the generations of photographers before me learned.  A piece of my childhood was steeped in anxiously awaiting a yellow box with thirty six white bordered slides with “Kodachrome” in vivid red stamped on each and every one of them.

Before I prattle on even longer I will leave you with this … all day long the lyrics of Paul Simon’s classic song Kodachrome” have been playing through my head … I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph, So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

So much of the song of Kodachrome is a reflection of my life …below is Simon & Garfunkel performing Kodakchrome live at Central Park in New York City … a place where I shot countless rolls of Kodakchrome.

Happy Flying!


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