AUDIE CORNISH, host:
Now, to the dreamlike images of photojournalist Steve McCurry. McCurry is best known for an iconic 1984 portrait he captured at an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. He followed the sound of young voices to a tent and a group of girls in a makeshift classroom.
Mr. STEVE MCCURRY (Photojournalist): And I noticed this one little girl that had this incredible set of eyes that kind of seemed almost kind of haunted, very piercing.
CORNISH: That photograph, now known as The Afghan Girl, ended up on the cover of National Geographic and became one of the magazine's most widely recognized. To get that shot, McCurry used an icon in its own right: Kodak's Kodachrome slide film. Last year, Kodak discontinued Kodachrome and gave the last roll ever produced to McCurry. He crossed the globe for those final shots and he came into our New York bureau to talk about them.
When he got the assignment, he says, he had one big question.
Mr. MCCURRY: What do you photograph? What do you shoot when you have the last manufactured roll of Kodachrome? And I thought, yeah, I need to photograph where I live. I need to go back to where I've done most of my important work, which was South Asia. And I need to find iconic situations and iconic people that are going to be kind of a great celebration of this last roll of film and kind of, you know, going home for the last time.
CORNISH: So, Steve, my husband shoots hundreds of pictures with his digital camera just to get a few good shots. I mean, what was the pressure like to have just essentially 36 frames and the last 36 frames?
Mr. MCCURRY: The pressure, it was really nerve-wracking because, you know, you load it in and, heaven forbid, somebody opens the back by mistake. You know, going through security, I was so worried that the X-ray machine in Istanbul, in Italy, all these airports that I went through, I was worried sick that there was going to be X-ray damage, or, you know - and then, you know, the right moment - am I getting the right moment? And then, is it in focus, is the exposure right? You know, I missed a couple...
CORNISH: I have to say, you're making me feel so much better that you were stressed about what to do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MCCURRY: Yeah. Oh, my God. It was crazy.
CORNISH: And you said you missed a couple. I mean, what does that mean?
Mr. MCCURRY: Well, there was really only one exposure that I think I was a little bit off on. So, I'm actually quite pleased with what we came back with.
CORNISH: And when - at what point do you think we may actually see some of these pictures?
Mr. MCCURRY: I've been working on a National Geographic documentary. That's scheduled to be out next spring.
CORNISH: Now, Steve, what's the big deal about Kodachrome?
Mr. MCCURRY: It was the best look, the best color. It was the truest, you know, look of reality that you could really have in film. And now, there's only one lab left on the planet that is processing Kodachrome. So there's only one lab. If you want your Kodachrome film processed, you've got to go to Dwayne Photo in Parsons, Kansas - that's it. And after December this year, they'll no longer be processing it.
CORNISH: Lastly, most of our listeners know your Afghan Girl shot. But I want to ask if that's actually your favorite picture?
Mr. MCCURRY: You like different pictures for different reasons, so I would be hesitant to - reluctant to say which one. I mean, maybe a picture I took in -also in 1984 of a dust storm in Rajasthan, India with, you know, all this dust and wind and heat and these women were kind of huddled together. I think that's probably - if I had to choose one picture - I think that would probably be my favorite.
CORNISH: Well, we look forward to see what else you come up with, especially with this last roll of Kodachrome.
Mr. MCCURRY: Well, thank you very much.
CORNISH: Steve McCurry is the photographer who shot the last roll of Kodachrome film ever produced. You can't see those photos yet, but you can see a gallery of his greatest hits on our blog, The Picture Show. It's at npr.org.