Kodachrome, or why I like being a photographer

Kodachrome may be gone, but the spirit embodied by the legendary transparency film lives on.

For years, Kodachrome represented the standard in professional slide photography. Being notoriously hard to shoot and tricky to process, competency in this medium was earned and respected.

I never considered myself to be a good enough photographer to shoot Kodachrome, spending my time on Kodacolor, Ektachrome, tri-x, plus-x and other more pedestrian mass-market filmstock. The Kodacolor was, at times, interchangeable with Fujicolor, but when I wanted to treat myself to something special, I’d pick up a roll of Ilford black and white film. That’s about as fancy as I ever got.

A decade ago when my job changed and I was no longer carrying an SLR as part of my work, I felt a little removed from the world of film photography. I began to forget what it was all about. Having since made the switch to digital, I feel even further removed from the medium. To me, film had become an oddity, an anachronism, a forgotten or lost technology. That is, until a couple of months ago, when our 15-year-old daughter discovered our 18-year-old Nikon SLR stuffed away in a closet. Her fascination with film began.

She has since taken a shine to a mid-80’s Minolta SLR (the Nikon was not “vintage enough”), a Brownie box, a folding Agfa Billy, and an old Kodak rangefinder camera. Her discovery of film and my rediscovery of the medium has been an interesting event for me. Still somewhat of an anachronism, 35mm and 120 roll film are again part of my daily thoughts.  

On the way home from work one recent day, Paul Simon’s Kodachrome spooled up on the mp3 player. While I’ve never loaded a roll of Kodachrome in a camera, I recognize the unique place in the collective American Consciousness the brand, and the song, occupies.

In the song, Paul Simon proclaims that Kodachrome gives us the nice bright colors and the greens of summer that makes you think all the world’s a sunny day (Oh Yeah). He’s got a Nikon camera and he loves to take a photograph, so Mama don’t take his Kodachrome away.

When I think of Kodachrome, I see in my mind the white square with the red lettering framing the transparency, but at the same time I see baseball games. Barbecues. River rafting. African Safaris. Smiles. The word “Kodachrome” equates to photography more than any other brand. But to me, it’s more about the subjects in front of the camera than the film or the people behind the camera or the camera itself.

In today’s cold-war of megapixels, you can visit any photography website and see the fanboys ranting about what camera takes better pictures. People focus so intently on the latest and greatest. Superlatives rule. But if you take a side in that argument, you’ve already missed the point.

When I read the story of the last rolls of Kodachrome being processed, I felt like I missed out on something. I felt like I was not a part of this passing era of Kodachrome. My mistake in not shooting Kodachrome was in thinking that the film made the image. That’s completely backwards. It’s the photographer who makes the image. I’ve been telling people this for some time when talking about digital cameras, but never thought to apply it to film. My loss for not realizing it sooner.

Take a minute and think of the world Simon so vividly paints in his song. Yes, the song brings specific brands (Nikon and Kodachrome) to front and center, but it’s more about the moments you capture than it is the tools. If you’re not shooting something, life is passing you by a fraction of a second at a time.

So grab your camera and go shoot. Go capture the nice bright colors and the greens of summer. It can make you think all the world’s a sunny day.

Oh Yeah.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s