Thursday, 23 September 2010

Sliding Into Memory

Some weeks ago, a small package containing a solitary roll of film found its way from England to a laboratory in Switzerland. Just the other day, a sleek little box came back. Why send a roll of film all the way to Switzerland just to get it processed? Well, because this wasn't just any old roll of ordinary film; this was colour slide film by Kodak, otherwise known as Kodakchrome. In a truly digital age, I know it might seem odd to some that this much trouble and time was gone to in order to get a few images, but believe me when I say, this was worth it. Kodachrome film was finally discontinued last year after spending 74 years on the Kodak product list. In a way, I can see why. The film really is a bit of a dinosaur, especially given the fact that it has to be sent to Kodak directly in order to be processed (due to the complex nature of the film). Other slide films have been developed that give beautiful results without the long waiting time, but perhaps more than that, film as a medium of photography is being used much less.

It's sad, but it doesn't mean that we still can't enjoy the inimitable qualities of film. Lately, I've been experimenting with different types in a way that I never have before. My boyfriend has been more than experimenting for years now, and has been teaching me all about its subtle complexities and nuances, both in colour and black and white. I'm very happy to learn through the view finder of my brother's Nikon film SLR (on a laid-back, long term loan period!) and now that the slides from my first roll of Kodachrome have returned, I'm even happier to see the results. (We managed to buy three rolls a few months back in Boots, but I think it would be virtually impossible to find now).

Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.
So what makes Kodachrome such a wonder? In the words of my boyfriend, it has "just right saturation, fine grain and smoothness over the whole dynamic range." The richness of colour renders that view you captured even more impressive. Bursts of colour all but explode from the little slides as you hold them up to the light. Over the months that I've been shooting away onto Kodachrome, I captured mist and snow on the moorlands in Yorkshire, gardens in the last throes of summer; dahlias, box hedges, golden sunlight. There are blue skies, grey skies, even inbetween skies and texture of amazing depth.

Now all that remains is to find a high-resolution scanner that will do these slides justice and to keep on shooting until the rolls are spent. This final dance with Kodachrome will be a lot of fun...

Image shot on Kodakchrome by Steve McCurry, courtesy of the Kodak 1000 Words Tribute.


  1. I hope you find a scanner soon so that you can share your images with us. You are brave to go back to film. I used to do a lot of photography with film, but when things went digital, I stopped. I am only now getting back into photography after being inspired by Lillian Bassman, a New York fashion photographer who learned Photoshop in her 80s. I shot 500 photos last Sunday - something I never would have permitted myself to do with film - because of the processing expense.
    I'm not arguing for digital. Each has its advantages and there is incredible beauty with a film based image. Good luck!

  2. Thanks Ingrid, me too! I think one of the key things about going back to film is that I really have to think carefully about the composition and what I want to shoot. I need to transfer that thinking to my digital camera in some cases. But then in others, a digital camera is a million times easier in terms of results/expense etc, so I'm very much on the fence with this one. Each can create beautiful images. I want to know more about Lilian Bassman now, she sounds great!

  3. Memories, memories. I have two cameras here loaded with film (120) and have been trying to find the time to use them. I love the immediacy of digital...just as I loved Poloroids, but I miss film. I think you will find Lillian Bassman images on Google Images. She's a favorite of mine, too.


  4. I'm not sure I agree, I think film photography has already become a very fashionable vintage thing to do, my other bloggy friends use film a lot because it requires a very different creative process which many of them find really appealing... Kodakchrome will now become extremely expensive because it's unique though

  5. Catherine- I would love to own a Polaroid camera. They have such an interesting quality. I loved the old photos you posted on your blog a little while ago.

    Polly- I think film photography has always had a loyal following, and now, as you say, it's a more fashionable thing to do. But, I do think it's a bit of a niche market, which is a shame. I wonder if you can still buy Kodachrome. I keep looking but can't find it anymore, so I guess not...

  6. Have you tried eBay? I know of people (Julochka) who bought Kodak film that expired 12 years ago on eBay...

  7. Ah, no! Thanks! I always forget about eBay but will certainly take a look!

  8. It seems that you have opened up a can of worms with this post and it's great to see that so many of your readers have an opinion on photographic film! To throw my own two-cents into the mix, I have to completely disagree with Polly about film-photography becoming a "vintage" art form. In the busy life of a commercial photographer (fashion, journalism, advertising) where clients expect their images the same day (or hour or even minute!) that they were created, digital has become the obvious medium of choice. In world of fine art photography however where deadlines are more forgiving, film remains a very popular medium and is anything but vintage or passé. In fact, for black and white work film is essentially the status quo. The professional line of color-reversal films from Kodak and Fuji remain in constant use as well and until digital cameras can reproduce the subtle variations in personality inherent to the various film types the demand for film will remain alive and well.

    As a side issue, I would argue too that the excitement from waiting for those little yellow boxes to arrive in the mail is sorely missed since the advent of the “instant-gratification” from digital cameras...

  9. Killer B- It really is a can of worms and it's a really interesting argument. Digital photography can certainly cope with the rigours of business much better, but I agree that fine art will always gravitate towards the qualities of film. I can appreciate both and am very much enjoying being taught more about film than I ever thought possible :)