Kodachrome To Fade Away, Paul Simon Or No The film Kodachrome is known for its unique color and long-lasting durability — and for an iconic mention in a Paul Simon song. Today, Kodak announced that it will no longer manufacture the film.
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Kodachrome To Fade Away, Paul Simon Or No

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Kodachrome To Fade Away, Paul Simon Or No

Kodachrome To Fade Away, Paul Simon Or No

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block with a technological obituary.

(Soundbite of song, "Kodachrome")

Mr. PAUL SIMON (Musician): (Singing) Kodachrome, they give us those nice, bright colors, they give us the greens of summers, makes you think all the world's a sunny day. Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: Well, sorry, Paul Simon, they are, in fact, taking Kodachrome away. The Eastman Kodak Company announced today that it is retiring the film after 74 years. A difficult decision, Kodak said, explaining that Kodachrome now amounts to just a fraction of one percent of Kodak's total film sales.

Professional photographer Steve McCurry shot on Kodachrome for decades, and Kodak has involved McCurry in the company's farewell to Kodachrome. Mr. McCurry, what do you think Kodachrome could capture that other films just can't?

Mr. STEVE MCCURRY (Photographer): Kodachrome was a beautiful film. The tonal range was extraordinary. The vivid colors were legendary. And I have an archive with about 800,000 Kodachrome slides, and I can tell you they are as bright and vivid today as they were when I shot them.

I mean, that's one of the beautiful things about Kodachrome is the longevity. Pictures that are 50 years old are still as fresh, and the coloration is still as good as back when those pictures were first made.

BLOCK: Ironic that the film quality has life, but the film itself does not. The film is dying.

Mr. MCCURRY: Exactly. My heart goes out to Kodak because it's such an expensive film to produce and so few people are actually using it now that I just don't think the economics were there for it to continue. It's such a complicated chemical process to manufacture it. And it can't be processed by anybody other than a professional lab, and actually worldwide now, there's only one last lab in Kansas, which is processing this film, and that's it.

BLOCK: There's only one lab in the entire world that processes Kodachrome?

Mr. MCCURRY: Yes. Once that processing is finished in Kansas, it'll be - I think it's going to be impossible to get that film processed.

BLOCK: I'm looking at one of your most iconic images. This is the photo of a young Afghan girl at a refugee camp in Pakistan. It was on the cover of National Geographic back in 1985. She's wearing a brick red head scarf, and there's a green background and her eyes are just popping off the screen -bright, green eyes. Can you describe where you were and, sort of, the moment of that shot?

Mr. MCCURRY: I worked on a story for National Geographic in 1984 on the Afghan-Pakistan border. There were about three million refugees that had crossed into Pakistan. And one day, I photographed this young Afghan refugee girl, and I was particularly struck by these incredible eyes that she had. And I knew as soon as I saw her, this was going to make an incredible picture.

BLOCK: And is that the kind of shot that you know is made for Kodachrome, the contrast of the reds and the greens and the difference of textures, I mean, the fabric of the cloth and the shine of her eyes?

Mr. MCCURRY: This was like a perfect example of what you could achieve with Kodachrome - the way it rendered the colors. Individual eyelashes were so sharp.

BLOCK: Well, is this a sad day for you as a photographer who had spent many years enmeshed with Kodachrome film?

Mr. MCCURRY: Yeah, it's sort of like the - it's like a dear friend you're never going to see again or a relative that's passed away, or it's the kind of thing we'll sit around and talk about it in the future.

BLOCK: Well, Steve McCurry, thanks very much for talking to us about the end of Kodachrome film.

Mr. MCCURRY: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Photographer Steve McCurry's work frequently appears in National Geographic. And at our Web site, you can see a selection of National Geographic photos that were shot on Kodachrome - it's at npr.org.

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