Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE END OF AN ERA IN PHOTOGRAPHY


"There was a pall, a certain sadness because
you know an era was coming to an end."  
Randy Moore

"If it comes to an end, I'll be the first to cry."
Ann Curry

     Thursday, December 31st, 2010, history was made in the small prairie city of Parsons, Kansas.  At the end of the day, when the doors closed at the family business of Dwayne's Photo an era in photography officially came to an end.  The last operating machine left in the world for processing colour slide film was shut down and scheduled to be sold for scrap. 
     "It's more than a film, it's a pop culture icon," said Todd Gustavson, a curator from the George Eastman House, a photography museum in Rochester, New York housed in the former residence of the Kodak Company's founder.  "If you were in the postwar baby boom it was THE color film, no doubt about it."
     Requiring accuracy to both shoot and develop, Kodachrome gave skilled users a richness of colour and a unique treatment of light that many described as uncomparable as they make the shift to digital cameras.
     "Makes you think all the world's a sunny day," Paul Simon sang in his 1973 hit "Kodachrome" which pleaded, "Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away.  But, take it away they did. 
      Created in 1935, Kodachrome was an instant hit as the first film to effectively render accurate colour.  Even when it stopped being the primary film for chronicling daily life----as a result of the move from slides to prints---it continued to be the film of choice for hobbyists, medical professionals and particularly photographers submitting images to National Geographic. 
     Steve McCurry, one such photographer who's work has appeared for decades in National Geographic Magazine, including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of the Afghan girl with the piercing eyes, that highlights what he describes as the "sublime quality" of the film.  When Kodak stopped producing the film last year the company gave McCurry the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Dwayne's Photo to be processed.
     "I wasn't going to take any chances," he explained. 
     With the film previously discontinued, Kodak then stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop it, only providing Dwayne's Photo with enough to continue processing until the end of 2010.  Right on schedule, on the last week of the year, the lab opened up the last remaining canister of blue dye.
     As news media around the world heralded December 31st, 2010 as the end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in drawers, sometimes for decades, flooded into Dwayne's Photo from six continents.
     In the last weeks of the year dozens of visitors and thousands of packages raced to the lab and, for a moment in time, transformed his small city into the center of nostalgic history. 
     Railroad worker, Jim DeNike, loaded nearly fifty thousand developed slides from one thousand five hundred and eighty rolls of film into his older model maroon Pontiac explaining that every picture was of railroad trains (another vanishing piece of history) and that he had borrowed from his father's retirement fund to pay for developing the images.  Total cost for processing....$15,798.00.
     When Dwayne Steinle transformed his mainstream photography studio to specialty niche imaging he was warned more than once by a Kodak representative that his area was too sparsely populated for such a studio to succeed.  Now celebrating a seventy-five year span in business Dwayne's Photo proved one for the history books by specialties like black and white and print to print developing, culminating with the processing of Kodachrome. 
     One of the toughest decisions for the lab was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to be the one who provided the last roll of film to be processed. 
In the end, it was determined that the roll belonging to the owner, Dwayne Steinle, would be the last.
     It took three tries to locate a camera that operated, but shot of the Steinle house, family and scenes of downtown Parsons were all recorded.  For posterity, the last frame was planned for Thursday, December 31st, 2010 to be a photo of all the employees of Dwayne's Photo wearing specially printed shirts which proudly boasted the following message: 
The best slide and movie film
in history is now retired
KODACHROME:  1935-2010
     My personal Kodachrome collection spans three generations of family photographic history, world travels, and educational materials and programs prepared for teaching.  Over sixty years of transparent colour and priceless information forever recorded on, not the pixilated reflection of a computer screen or in a stack of flimsy prints recently pushed out of the home computer, but viewed in the warm glow of a projector pulling vivid images one after another from a carousel of
slides. 

     "If it comes to an end, I'll be the first to cry," wrote Ann Curry.  Hand me a tissue, please, I have to blot my tears as I say my own goodbye to another piece of photographic history.