Frustrated and angry due to the prolonged lockdown, and unable to get out for bird photography, I was obliged to look for some other way to enjoy photography.
And I found it. In the form of my late father’s collection of Kodachrome slides. He had stashed away a box of his slides, somewhere in the attic, and after a prolonged search, I located it.
Most of these slides were shot on his Voigtlander Vitessa camera. The Vitessa is a rangefinder camera, with a 50mm, f/2 Ultron lens. More about rangefinder cameras in a future blogpost (some day in the future!).
The Voigtlander Vitessa was one of the finest cameras of its time, and in modern terms, as expensive as the Nikon D750 full-frame camera that I own. In 1959, my father was a young spectroscopist, and a post-doctoral fellow, living on a meager monthly stipend in Washington. That Voigtlander Vitessa must have cost him a bomb. I still have that camera, by the way.
Being a spectroscopist and an expert in optics, Dad was quite a photographer. And he didn’t spare any expense in his choice of film, Kodachrome.
Perhaps the best photographic film ever. Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935, Kodachrome became the medium of choice for both professional and amateur photographers through most of the 20th century. Not that they had a choice anyway.
Let me be frank. I am not an admirer of Eastman Kodak. Frequently accused, and rightly so, of technology theft, corporate aggression and unfair practices, Kodak’s grip on the global photography market was vice-like – and ruthless.
However, there’s no denying that as a photographic medium, Kodachrome was in a class by itself. Rich colors, strong contrast, wide dynamic range and near-perfect in its rendering, Kodachrome was remarkable.
Six decades after my father shot his Kodachrome slides, the colors are still rich, and images are still stunning in their detail. Of course, in spite of careful storage, dust and mold have affected many of Dad’s slides, but I know how to restore them and how to digitise them for sharing with the world.
Kodachrome is a color reversal film, also called a diapositive film. A color reversal film produces a color positive image on a transparent base, as opposed to a color negative that has to be again developed into a positive print.
Color reversal films produce transparencies or slides that can be viewed through a viewer or projected on to a screen with a white-light projector. These transparencies also can be used to obtain sharp and richly colored positive prints.
For example, that famous image, Afghan Girl, was created by Steve McCurry on Kodachrome. Kodachrome was extensively used to document the Second World War and many other major events of the 20th century.
There’s no need to bore you about the technical details and history of Kodachrome, that you can read up anyway on the Net. What I can do as a photographer myself, is to give you a taste of Kodachrome, by sharing some of my father’s slides, as restored by me. Mind you, these slides are at least fifty years old. Many of them were created long before I was born.
It takes me quite a while to restore them and create high-resolution JPEG’s that can be shared, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
What a great pity that Kodachrome was discontinued by Kodak in 2009. The company itself almost went broke, due to the advent of digital photography. Which is ironic, when you learn that the world’s first digital camera was in fact invented in Kodak, but deliberately crushed, in order to protect their film business.
I’m not unhappy about what happened to Eastman Kodak, but I do grieve over the demise of Kodachrome.
Well, at least I can still restore Dad’s old Kodachrome slides and share these priceless little moments of history with my friends and family.
Cheers …. Srini.