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Mama don't take my Kodachrome away
February 8, 2013 9:17 PM   Subscribe

An updated gallery of National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry's last roll of Kodachrome film.

Featured previously on Metafilter, Steve had only published a handful of exposures. The gallery now contains 30 of the final 36 frames.

NatGeo's bio of Steve McCurry. Wiki link about Steve.

Want some more Kodachrome goodness? Flickr's Kodachrome group.
posted by Doleful Creature (29 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice bright colors...
posted by ReeMonster at 9:21 PM on February 8, 2013


Its a selection nice images, overall. A few really nice ones. But really, the only thing remarkable is that it is the last set (officially, anyway) of images recorded on that film. I'm not really sure how meaningful that is. All in all, its not his best work.

I've shot film for decades and still shoot film when the client requires it and I'll shoot whatever format or type is needed, so I GET the appeal of film for people who like that look... but the nostalgia for this stuff feels odd to me. Its just a recording media - it almost feels like requiring that images be delivered on floppies or zip disks or something.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:34 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not really (ahem) analogous, since different films will indeed record different colors and tonalities differently. Certainly you wouldn't debate that 3-Strip Technicolor looks "the same" as modern day film?

Kodacrhome was very much distinctive, but "better" is certainly subjective. Nowadays it would probably be pretty easy to simulate it digitally, however.

(and let's face it, we're all viewing these images on different monitors, with different color spaces, calibrations, etc. to the point where there's really no way of getting everyone to agree on "what Kodachrome looks like")
posted by ShutterBun at 9:40 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


we're all viewing these images on different monitors, with different color spaces, calibrations, etc. to the point where there's really no way of getting everyone to agree on "what Kodachrome looks like")
posted by ShutterBun


I agree, although I've seen his work in print and have my own work on the same film to compare to, so its certainly possible to get a sense of what's what.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:23 PM on February 8, 2013


True indeed, and that distinction makes the analogy to digital delivery (i.e. floppies, etc.) even less appropriate, since there are discernible differences between Kodachrome and other media. A more apt comparison might be if a client asked for a video/image/song to be delivered via a specific compression scheme.

That being said, if a client specifically asked that a project be shot/delivered on film (vs. digital), you'd certainly be justified in asking them to explain why.

As far as the nostalgic appeal, I agree that it can be mystifying. (didn't they invent all this new technology so that we wouldn't have to deal with the shortcomings of the old stuff?)
posted by ShutterBun at 10:41 PM on February 8, 2013


ShutterBun, I view it as similar to the appeal of chiptunes. An aesthetic of limitations.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:16 PM on February 8, 2013


A more apt comparison might be recording music on tape instead of digitally, a la Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, or listening to an album on vinyl instead of MP3s.

I think viewing Kodachrome on a computer screen misses the point of Kodachrome, which was meant to be projected several feet wide.

I had never shot Kodachrome before they announced it was discontinued. I decided to shoot a roll while the processing was still available to see what all the fuss was about, and went to visit some friends in southern Oregon for a weekend. When I got the film back a month later and loaded it into a projector, I was astonished at how vivid and detailed it was blown up on the screen. I could link to a scan of the first shot on my first roll of Kodachrome (which I think is a nice picture), but the scans simply don't do it justice - even on a high-end, color-calibrated screen it loses the character that it has when you see it in person. Now I kick myself for not shooting bunches of Kodachrome while it was still around.

I realize that there's no way we would be seeing these pictures without scanning them to put them on the internet. I just felt the need to point out that it's easy to look at these images in a web gallery and say that there's not much special about them, when it's more than likely that they lost a lot of what's special about them when they were scanned to put them on the web.
posted by DanielK at 11:25 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of my problems with film nostalgia is the simple fact that I don't see much point in printing photos, generally speaking. (Never mind the beautiful calendars we give my inlaws at Christmas, featuring their grandchild, our nephew). I don't understand why it appears so many people like to take digital photos, then have them printed. Even less now folks have tablets.
posted by Goofyy at 11:48 PM on February 8, 2013


These are beautiful. Thanks for posting.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:06 AM on February 9, 2013


I don't understand why it appears so many people like to take digital photos, then have them printed. Even less now folks have tablets.

Because sitting down with a young child and telling stories and family history will never have the same impact swiping on a tablet as it will in a photo album.

I'm not a photographer and know little about shot composition, lighting, everything else that goes in to taking an image. I also have little nostalgia for film, being of an age where I shot on digital for most of my life (minus high school photography classes and disposable cameras). What I do value about film (especially when it comes to motion pictures) and printing digital images is the preservation aspect. I have thousands of photographs floating around on memory cards and hard drives and various computers. I suppose I could get hem all in one place and migrate them every few years when I get a new computer, but printing and compiling the good images gives me something to look at and handle and pass on that digital info can't emulate without a concereted effort on the part of the photographer/data recorder.
posted by edeezy at 12:11 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do people in these photos really sense how special the moment was? Does the photographer say something like "this is my last roll of Kodachrome"?

I don't think so.

Everybody just poses for a picture, right? Who knows what they were thinking.

I like this photo of seven Nobel laureates taken on March 7, 1969 (reference). I've framed a copy in my home, and when visitors ask me about it, I point to one after another of the subjects, making up stories as I go along. "The one on the left is my uncle Owen, and he was into anti-protons. Next to him is my cousin Edwin, who was into transuranium elements."

The camera captures a special moment with special people, and who knows what they were really thinking.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:13 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I GET the appeal of film for people who like that look... but the nostalgia for this stuff feels odd to me. Its just a recording media - it almost feels like requiring that images be delivered on floppies or zip disks or something.

Some of us feel nostalgic about floppies and get caught up in the "no one will ever use this format again" aspect of a medium's retirement. I saw a caddy of someone's 5.25" floppies at Savers the other day and I had to stop and ponder the fact that whatever data they contained is likely lost forever because it's not worth the effort to dig a drive out and read them. The only film photography I've ever done was with a 35mm point and shoot, but even I feel a slight twinge of emotion pondering the fate of images stored on those Kodakrome rolls still extant that will (probably) never be developed.


I feel nothing for Zip disks though. They know what they did.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:08 AM on February 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


All in all, its not his best work.

If you look at any particular single roll of film from any professional film photographer you would get this impression, because back in the days of film it was a rule of thumb that you were doing well to get one usable picture per roll.
posted by localroger at 5:44 AM on February 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel a slight twinge of emotion pondering the fate of images stored on those Kodakrome rolls still extant that will (probably) never be developed.

While that's an issue it's likely to be a small one; on the other hand, the existing library kazillions of developed and fixed Kodachrome negatives will be readable for centuries even if all the other technology around the process is lost. Meanwhile the media formats and communication protocols for getting data off of digital media get increasingly byzantine and proprietary.

It's still possible to read and write SD cards with a relatively simple SPI protocol that can be bit-banged by a microcontroller, but that's no longer part of the microSD spec and it's likely that the uSD cards I've tried have only all worked because they share controller chips with regular SD, which do still have SPI as part of the spec.

It requires a considerable amount of documentation and coding, precise timing, and processor power (at least at the hobby uC level) to establish high speed USB comms. While you can bit-bang the low-speed USB protocols for things like keyboards and mice with something like a Parallax Propeller, USB memory devices are specifically exempt from supporting that. It is pretty much impossible to do high-speed USB without dedicated hardware (which is how those hobby uC's that manage do it).

Sure USB is everywhere now, but once upon a time so were bit-bangable parallel ports and for years I used an IoMega SyQuest external drive for backup and I was able to connect it to just about any PC-compatible computer in the world in a pinch. If I still had that drive today I'd be hard pressed to find a computer that could read it at all. One day, probably within the lifetimes of people reading this, the same will be true of USB.

Where will your digital pictures be then?
posted by localroger at 5:58 AM on February 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm oddly pleased that there's an image of Stephen Colbert in the roll, even if it's not a great shot in and of itself.

The one of the two kids in Central Park having a heart-to-heart feels almost like they were caught up in a moment and had no idea that McCurry was there capturing it. Of course, the bush in the foreground adds to the effect.
posted by droplet at 6:15 AM on February 9, 2013


I shot a lot of Kodachrome in the 90's. It was the choice for cave photography for a couple reasons, but mainly its archival qualities. A Kodachrome slide properly preserved will still look good in 100 years, but E6 starts to fade pretty quickly. I have some Fuji I shot back then that's already losing its color, and I had to make a kind of mad dash to scan about 1000 slides over the last couple years.

Kodachrome had a finer grain & better detail, and tended to accent the reds, browns & oranges, which was optimal for caves, because ther's not much green or blue. It's also very dense though, & not too forgiving of under-exposure, and even though I bracketed heavily, I never learned, and would always come out with a bracketed set of 4 under-exposed shots & hopefully 1 good one.

Scanning Kodachrome is definitely hard. My Nikon Coolscan imparts a strong red cast to the shadows, & I can always see some shadow detail in the slides that it can't discern. Comment above about projecting the real thing is spot-on. I really had to work over my scans in Photoshop to get them back to what the slide looked like.

Velvia is definitely better for accurate daylight color, as it really saturates greens & blues well, & I'm happy to be shooting it still, (Velvia 100 in my AE-1 still gets slightly beter detail per inch than my Nikon D-80) but I'll always miss Kodachrome.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


i also shot a lot of kodachrome in the '90s and agree with you on the saturated warm colours. even after i switched to velvia and provia, because there were more labs available for processing, and found they were great, there was something about the reds in kodochrome that i've missed ever since. just reading the headline of this post made me think of mongolian silk robes and tibetan jewelry.
posted by ecourbanist at 7:13 AM on February 9, 2013


Where will your digital pictures be then?

http://photos.lieman.net ?
posted by mikelieman at 7:25 AM on February 9, 2013


> As far as the nostalgic appeal, I agree that it can be mystifying. (didn't they invent all this new technology so
> that we wouldn't have to deal with the shortcomings of the old stuff?)

New technology has advantages in some areas, overwhelming advantages sometimes, that can turn the old tech into museum antiques. But not necessarily in all areas, (e.g. in the case of Kodachrome, color and grain.)

It's easier to toss the babies with the bathwater if only specialists and otaku were ever particularly aware of the babies. I have an mp3 player and I listen with earbuds when I'm out walking. But I don't use the player for music, just spoken word (language lessons and talking books).
posted by jfuller at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2013


Digital is great -- I love being able to look at cave pictures on my laptop around the campfire the day I took 'em, but it's not all a net positive, as localroger notes.

Take a box & put a bunch Kodachrome slides in it alongside a DVD of digital photos, seal it up nice & tight, bury it for 100 years, dig it back up & see which ones you can still look at.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:46 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where will your digital pictures be then?

I have lots of digital photos taken nearly 20 years ago that were originally stored on all kinds of crazy formats which are now unsupported. Fortunately, I've been able to periodically move them to new media as it emerges, with literally no loss of information.

Granted, if I had waited 20 years before deciding to do anything about it, I'd be facing a much tougher challenge.

Right now, my pictures are on hard drives and DVD ROMs. Someday, they'll migrate to solid state storage, then nanobubbles or whatever comes next. And when "they" make the announcement that JPEG will no longer be supported by any existing technology, I'll be sure to buy whatever "JPEG to JPEG14 converter" software is available.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:57 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


ShutterBun, that's great if you're being proactive about conversions but what about archives that sit around for years? NASA has already had to go to heroic lengths to rescue data from early space missions which were stored only on ancient mainframe tapes; nobody thought of converting them until it was too late.

The framing device for Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale included a bit about how the cassette tapes telling the main story were discovered in an attic, and the researchers had to build a custom machine to recover the recordings. The implication was that they were analog cassette tapes. But suppose the medium had been a USB thumb drive and those things were as obsolete as 8-tracks are now? In the future it's going to suck to be a historian of this era.
posted by localroger at 9:13 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


So long as you keep up with the migration process you're all good, I suppose, but an awful lot of data will be lost as people simply fail to do so in a timely manner. That's all a lot more involved, and takes a lot more technical understanding of the issues of digital archiving, that simply placing a box of slides in a cool, dark closet. Digital photos will get irretrievably lost at a higher rate than Kodachrome slides over the next coming 100 or so years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scanning Kodachrome is definitely hard. My Nikon Coolscan imparts a strong red cast to the shadows, & I can always see some shadow detail in the slides that it can't discern. Comment above about projecting the real thing is spot-on. I really had to work over my scans in Photoshop to get them back to what the slide looked like.

Definitely a challenge, as Kodachrome (being a slide film) is intended to be viewed at contrast ratios that are way, WAY beyond what any print or even monitor can duplicate. (high end monitors have about a 3000:1 static contrast ratio at best; Kodachrome is over 6000:1) You'd probably want to do a multi-exposure scan and do a sort of HDRI treatment in order to bring the shadow detail into something more closely approximating the projected image.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2013


nobody thought of converting them until it was too late.

That's true, although the data in question was highly proprietary and deemed (by some) to be of little further value. I certainly wouldn't recommend relying on an archival system predicated on the existence of a single highly specialized piece of equipment. Archiving ought to be an ongoing process, as opposed to the notion of "burying it in a vault and forgetting about it for 30 years." Even so called "hard copy" media should be periodically reviewed for deterioration or improper storage. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

As for future archaeologists, given that there are already efforts underway to archive things like Twitter, I have a feeling the real challenge will be separating the wheat from the chaff.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:54 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Velvia is definitely better for accurate daylight color, as it really saturates greens & blues well, & I'm happy to
> be shooting it still, (Velvia 100 in my AE-1 still gets slightly beter detail per inch than my Nikon D-80) but I'll
> always miss Kodachrome.

I kind of look forward to the day when the sensor arrays of SLRs become interchangeable just like the lenses, and people argue about the merits and characteristics of original arrays vs. same-vendor upgrades vs. aftermarket replacements.
posted by jfuller at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You'd probably want to do a multi-exposure scan and do a sort of HDRI treatment in order to bring the shadow detail into something more closely approximating the projected image.

You know, I might go back and try that on some of the more problematic shots. It seems as though trying to jack the exposure up too much makes the shadows noisy, but it's worth a tinker. Maybe if I wasn't relying on a particular scan for highlight detail, I could crank up the noise reduction, which I usually avoid.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:59 AM on February 9, 2013


If you look at any particular single roll of film from any professional film photographer you would get this impression, because back in the days of film it was a rule of thumb that you were doing well to get one usable picture per roll.
posted by localroger


Ha, yes... I'm quite familar with this concept. I was shooting 50 to 100 rolls a week for years, at one point... its how I did (and do still) earn a living.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:43 AM on February 9, 2013


Absolutely brilliant pictures. All of the people in the Mumbai set are Bollywood / television celebrities; amazing to see them in de-glamourized, but elegant, shots.
posted by the cydonian at 10:29 PM on February 9, 2013


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