So yes, this is another of those poignant retrospectives that crop up on the Internet whenever an iconic American company goes bust. First Hostess and now this. I guess they’re not making Pontiacs anymore either. I’m starting to feel old.
If you’ve ever shot something in Tri-X and were lucky enough to nail the focus and exposure and then printed it yourself in a homemade darkroom, you know why Kodak products became something of a drug for certain amateur photographers in the 70s and 80s. There was really no feeling quite like it. You were able to dip into the rushing waters of time and bring out something that defied time — a unique moment that wasn’t so much captured as it was made. The photographs were never masterpieces, but so much time went into them that each one felt like a work of art.
I shot a lot of Kodachrome, too. At ASA 25 you had to have good light or a good tripod, but every image seemed almost better than life. It had to do with the color, and the exquisite detail, and the way you could actually see the image in relief on the emulsion side of the slide. I’m not exaggerating when I say it seemed like magic. Seeing those slides projected in a darkened room — using a Kodak projector — was in some ways more fun than the actual events they depicted. At least I thought so. Good photographs don’t stop time, really. They just sometimes make sense of it.
I have thousands of Kodachrome slides, most which I painstakingly scanned and now reside on my computer. You’ve heard about certain primitive societies where they think taking a person’s picture is stealing a piece of that person’s soul. When you scan Kodachrome, the effect is the same. It somehow robs the image of the very thing that gave it life.
My cameras are all digital now, of course. I wouldn’t go back to film even if Kodak were as hip and sleek as Apple. Where would I put the darkroom? I wouldn’t go back to vinyl records either, no matter how chic it becomes to do so. But every technological advance has its downside. With digital photography it’s so easy to snatch moments out of the air that no single one of them has much significance. Our flash memory and hard drives happily store it all and become easy to ignore. With film, you couldn’t shoot everything. So you tried to shoot only the best.