Eastman Kodak announced this morning that it will cease the manufacture of Kodachrome this year.
Celebrated in song (literally!) and story, Kodachrome is the oldest film in production and the longest-lived film product in the entire history of photography. Developed by Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes (known as "God and Man" within Kodak) in 1935, Kodachrome had exceptionally low contrast (a good thing in a transparency film) and an inimitably rich, beautiful color palette. For decades it was by far the best color material extant. Among other things, for many years around mid-century it relegated families to long sessions in darkened rooms with a slide projector and a screen, the best way people had of showing each other their vacation and birthday party pictures. Many leading photographers even today, including Sam Abell, William Albert Allard, and Steve McCurry, did much of their important early work on Kodachrome.
However, it is inherently slow and very difficult to manufacture, and devilishly intricate to process. Only one lab in the world is currently processing it—Dwayne's in Kansas, USA. The best article about Kodachrome was published in Popular Photography and reprinted in the book The Best of Popular Photography. (I should be able to provide issue and page number, but I can't seem to put my hands on it.) Many film users—including avowed Kodachrome fans—have moved away from it in recent years. It currently accounts for less than 1% of Kodak's shrinking film sales.
It might have been '97 or '98 that I first wrote about the coming demise of Kodachrome, in the pages of Photo Techniques, at the time Kodak suspended in-house processing services. If memory serves, however, Kodak promised back then to continue manufacturing the film for at least ten more years. It kept that promise.
This end was inevitable, but it was certainly a fine long run! Not for nothing is the press around the world this morning calling Kodachrome "one of the iconic products of the 20th century."
Bravo to God, Man, Kodachrome, Kodak, and "those nice, bright colors." R.I.P.