The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Recently, Kodak announced it was discontinuing production of Kodachrome products. Known for its vibrant color, Kodachrome, was a child of the Depression, a process invented by two musicians—violinist Leopold Godowski Jr. and pianist Leopold Mannes—whose names fueled the photo-industry joke that Kodachrome was created by God and Man.
Seventy-four years ago, Kodachrome was introduced as a 16mm movie film, around the same time that Technicolor was aggressively marketing its 3-strip color process for motion pictures. As the economy and the nation’s spirit faltered, there was a deep need and a growing market for bright, colorful pictures. By 1936, Kodachrome’s vivid color palette was made available in a 8mm movie film format for amateur film makers and in the 35mm slide format that—by mid-century, when fortunes and moods were rising once again—encouraged snapshooters to create and star in slideshows about their everyday lives. Kodachrome color was unique and beloved because it captured and intensified life. It spawned a love song (Paul Simon’s 1973 hit, Kodachrome) and a park in Utah (Kodachrome Basin State Park) was named after it. But, Kodachrome was a complex product to manufacture and process. And as consumer taste shifted toward hand-sized prints and instant photography, and once digital photography was introduced and widely marketed, Kodachrome sales tanked.
And now it’s gone. We’ll miss it, because while Kodachrome’s demise doesn’t mean that all the color’s been drained from our lives and pictures, if we want "those nice bright colors" and the "greens of summers" that Paul Simon sang about we’ll have to make them for ourselves by fiddling with software on our laptops and desktops. R.I.P photo magic. And one more thing to add to our "To-Do" lists . . .