I was reminded to write about my experience photographing with Kodachrome slide film the other day when Paul Simon’s Kodachrome played on the radio while I was driving my car. It has been three years or so since I started dabbling with photography and one of the memorable moments that I vividly remember was photographing with Kodachrome.
I first heard about Kodachrome when I searched about film photography on Google. I somehow ended up on the Film Photography Podcast. The podcast was in its inception and had its first few episodes. During that time, they were doing free giveaways and I happen to love free stuff. So I emailed the podcast and they sent me a roll of Kodachrome 64 in the mail. At first, I did not know what Kodachrome was all about so I did a couple of test shots and sent the roll to Dwayne’s Photo. Dwayne’s was the last to ever process Kodachrome slide film. They were very professional and timely when it came to developing that very first roll. A few days later, I received my first yellow box of developed Kodachrome slide film. I could not believe how vivid the colors of Kodachrome were as I enthusiastically held the slides up in the sun one by one. No wonder Kodachrome was the preferred film of photography professionals and especially of National Geographic. Just to give you an idea, picture in your mind the Afghan Girl of Steve McCurry. Imagine how the light hits the girl's face, the clothes that she was in and those famous striking green eyes. The Afghan Girl is really one iconic picture that only Kodachrome can deliver and I could have not have imagine any other film that would do it justice.
I was hungry for more and I heard that Kodachrome’s processing was ending that year. I know you are probably thinking “Well, can’t you just develop it in your basement darkroom?” The answer is no, Kodachrome was actually a black and white film and the color dye was applied after processing the film. Developing Kodachrome was a different process that Kodak only knew how to make.
So I sent my Leica M6 to DAG Camera for repairs and then bought a Nokton 35mm f1.4 since that is the only lens that I could afford at that time. While waiting for repairs, I decided to buy twenty more rolls of Kodachrome since I knew that it will probably be the last few rolls of Kodachrome that I will be photographing in my lifetime. I also heard that John G. Meadows was doing the last ever Kodachrome photo walk so I said “why not?” and bought a plane ticket to Canada. I did all of this also since it was going to be my birthday during that time.
I was ready to go and set out my journey to Toronto, a place that I have never been before. Luckily, I have family members in Canada so I stayed with them for a week or so. I walked down the streets of Toronto doing some street photography and scenic pictures on a trip to Niagara. One of the memorable moments during my trip was taking a picture of a man passing out flyers. I did a candid shot of him but I don’t think he was too happy to have his photo taken. I gave the person that “I know you from somewhere look” and stared at him for a few seconds. To my surprise, I recognized that I ended up taking a picture of Tom Green. Now that I look at the slides, he looks kind of pissed but I did however have decent picture of me and him through my cellphone’s camera. I also have met some wonderful film photographers during John G. Meadow’s photo walk. We went to Scarborough Park to photograph the colors of maple leaves which was very fitting since Kodachrome was dying out. After spending a week or so in Canada, I was down to one roll of Kodachrome slide film.
So I went home from Toronto and really thought of the last thirty six pictures that I was going to take. It was one of the hardest things that I had to do photographically and the pressure was on to make amazing photographs. I remember writing to Peter Turnley at that time to ask him a few questions and it really dawned to me when he said; “Most Importantly, follow your heart, and photograph moments that are meaningful to you.” So for my last thirty six frames of Kodachrome, I photographed pictures of family and friends. They have been there for me and stuck with me through thick and thin. And there are no other people I would love to photograph over and over and over. When I was done, I sent all twenty of my last Kodachrome rolls to Dwayne’s Photo to be processed for the very last time and got them back that late January.
I am at peace that Kodachrome might not ever come back in my lifetime even though there is an interest and resurgence in film photography. (Kodak if you are reading this…hint hint) Looking back, whenever Paul Simon’s Kodachrome plays on the radio, I remember the trip that I took to Toronto, the people that I’ve met during the very last Kodachrome photo walk and a reminder to photograph moments that are meaningful to you. I thank John G. Meadows for doing the last Kodachrome photo walk, Michael Rasso of The Film Photography Podcast for sending me that first roll that peaked my interest, Dwayne’s Photo for successfully processing my films during that last month of waiting and crossing my fingers and to my friends and family that were brave enough not to shy away from the camera after explaining to them that they were the very last Kodachrome slide films that I will ever take. Looking back, I could not have it done any other way.
Here are pictures from the trip: