Kodachrome in its heyday as Big Yellow ponders revival
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about these pictures except their age and the use of an extinct but magisterial film. It was Kodachrome, discontinued in 2009 but now, in 2017 there is a glimmer of hope that it will be revived.
A couple of weeks ago Kodak announced that they are resurrecting Ektachrome colour slide film and that they will be launching a Super 8 film camera to use Ektachrome Super 8 film.
They also announced that they are investigating the feasibility of manufacturing Kodachrome again. Behind these announcements is the big upswing in demand for film among younger enthusiasts. They are turning to film in droves, in much the same way that young music enthusiasts are dusting off vinyl records. Also many movie studios want to shoot on film for the specific ”look". It seems as if everything old is new again.
Fuji have been trying very hard to drive their remaining film business into the ground by repeatedly jacking up prices and discontinuing emulsions. Maybe Kodak's move will cause them to reappraise this strategy.
Not an easy task
Starting Kodachrome again will not be easy. Most of the complex coating equipment will have been scrapped. Also much of the hands-on know-how will have been lost when the technicians left. There is also the question of processing as Kodachrome requires a complex regime. There was only one Kodachrome processing lab left operating when Kodak discontinued manufacture of the film, Dwayne's Photo Service in Parsons, Kansas, USA. It was there that the "last" roll of Kodachrome, shot by Steve McCurry in 2010, ended the line.
If Kodachrome does reappear I would be tempted to run a few rolls through my Hasselblad. Big 6x6 Kodachrome slides — magic but surely very expensive.
The news of the possibility in a revival of Kodachrome set me sniffing around the old shoeboxes and I came across these pictures. Both were taken by me in 1960 with my first camera — a Halina 35X.
The Halina was apparently made in China — although it was marked "Made in Hong Kong" — and had a resemblance to a Leica. Yet Leica themselves had not adopted the red dot at that time. Perhaps the Leica resemblance and a few favourable reviews, not to mention the price, attracted me.
As it happens I have fond memories of that camera and its surprisingly good results. Of course it had no exposure metering so I used a newly acquired and quite reliable little hand held Hanimex Sekonic lightmeter. The Halina had a metal body and you had to manually cock the shutter as well as advance the film after each shot. I do remember that the focusing was always very stiff and I found out this was a characteristic of the model, not just of my example.
Soon after I received the camera as my 14th birthday present from my parents I took it and a much-prized cassette of the — to me — incredibly expensive Kodachrome film on our family holiday to North Devon in the England. The Kodachrome was the original 10 ASA (now known as ISO) emulsion. Hand-held shots were really only possible in bright sunlight — often a rare experience in the UK but not, luckily, on that holiday. The film had almost no exposure latitude and it was very contrasty. But it was sharp and the colours were bright as you would expect from Kodachrome. Of course, the last thing you need with a contrasty film is bright sunlight; but with only 10 ISO and a maximum aperture on the camera of f/3.5 you really had no choice.
Kodachrome could at that time be processed only by Kodak themselves and the processing was included in the price of the film. When you purchased the film there was a small envelope in the box and you put the cassette of exposed film into it, stuck on some stamps and posted it back to Kodak — in my case to their laboratory in the UK. A week or so later a little yellow box of 36 mounted slides popped through the letterbox. The films were identified by Kodak with numbers on labels which were stapled on the leader of the films as they were put into the processing machine.
It seems these labels often became detached and I received the incorrect slides on a number of occasions. It must have been very harrowing for someone waiting for slides of the big wedding or whatever to receive someone else's great work. I heard that at that time Kodak had a department wholly devoted to chasing up incorrectly directed slides.
The top photo is the first slide I have ever scanned from that little very basic camera and I am still very surprised by the quality. I have not manipulated it at all. This is just how it came out of the camera. The slide is now 57 years old — from a completely different era. Since then everything has changed and improved so much. including — hopefully — my photographic skills.
But this story just took another turn for on a Monday morning it was pouring with rain (at last) and I spent time clearing out a cupboard and found a slide numbered "1" on the cardboard mount from that first film. It was, not perhaps surprisingly, a photo of my home at that time in Station Avenue, Ewell, Surrey. There was a little fogging into the lip of the cassette which is visible on the right hand edge. I did search in Lightroom for some detail in the shadows but there is none — they are black. That's how it was. So there it is: My first colour photo, the first of tens of thousands as it turned out.