Daily Picture Show

Goodbye (Again) To The Last Rolls Of Kodachrome Film

Last week when I was home for the holidays, my father surprised us all with something special. Taped to the cabinet above the coffee maker was a hand-scrawled sign that read: "O'Neill family slideshow Tonight @ 7." Upstairs, he had brushed the dust from an old projector, and neatly stacked 12 boxes of Kodachrome and Ektachrome slide film that none of us children had ever seen.

We gathered around a blank wall and watched the first image flicker: My parents in their 20s, young and relaxed. It was probably the first photo taken during what my father describes as his "slide phase," which lasted about six years.

Slide projection

I must note that my family is not one for attention span, but during this particularly sentimental three-hour viewing, there was hardly a budge. We watched the many wild incarnations of my mother's hair. Distant relatives enter and exit the frame. Grandparents looking more like parents. Travels, dinners, their first house. Their wedding day, which we'd never seen before (the photographer my father hired that day was a no-show). My sister's big 1979 debut.

For various reasons it was probably the most bittersweet thing we've ever done as a family, completely drenched in nostalgia. That's the paradox of slide film: It has a hefty permanence and tangibility to it, but is almost by definition a nostalgic experience. You only haul those boxes out on special occasions but when you do, it really is a special occasion.

A saleswoman holds a box of Kodachrome film June 22, 2009 in an electronics shop in lower Manhattan in New York City. i i

hide captionA saleswoman holds a box of Kodachrome film June 22, 2009 in an electronics shop in lower Manhattan in New York City.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
A saleswoman holds a box of Kodachrome film June 22, 2009 in an electronics shop in lower Manhattan in New York City.

A saleswoman holds a box of Kodachrome film June 22, 2009 in an electronics shop in lower Manhattan in New York City.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Today that nostalgia is writ-large as amateur and professional photographers around the world issue a final farewell to Kodachrome. The darling slide film was retired by Kodak in 2009. And for the past year, countless "last rolls" have been shot and sent to a small lab for processing. Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan., has been the last remaining photo lab in the world to process the color slide film. But today Dwayne's is closing the proverbial Kodachrome door and officially ending its processing service.

I asked Dwayne Steinle, owner of the photo lab, to recall some of the more remarkable imagery that he'd seen and processed over the years. "Everything on Kodachrome seems to be remarkable for the person who took it," he says.

Which gets to the heart of this goodbye. It's not all about the National Geographic cover images or the Kodak ads shot on the film. It's about your past and mine, sitting in boxes, waiting to be projected. The photo of my mother in a green raincoat will never rival the green eyes of the Afghan girl. But it will always be iconic in our house.

So there are three "last rolls" of Kodachrome. There's the last roll ever produced by Kodak. That roll was given to photographer Steve McCurry, who shot half of it in New York City, and half of it in India, where many of his iconic images were made. There's the last roll ever processed; the photos on that roll are by Dwayne Steinle, the last of which will be taken today. And there's everyone else's last roll. Mine is currently somewhere in transit from Kansas.

"It's what some people like to call progress," Dwayne Steinle says. "But it's very disappointing that we have this particular film at the end of its run." As for Dwayne's: Business will continue — as will photography. It's not the end of the world, but is certainly the end of an era.

Share your Kodachrome memories in our Flickr group pool.

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