Kodachrome Taken Away: Last Photo Lab Processing Landmark Film to Stop

Film documented 20th century, used by pro photographers and baby boom parents.

December 30, 2010, 2:02 PM

Dec. 30, 2010 — -- They really are taking Kodachrome away, this time for good.

The film, given a famous shout out in Paul Simon's 1973 song and used by countless photographers to document the late 20th century, won't be accepted for processing after today.

Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan., is the last company in the world developing Kodachrome film, and today is the final day it's taking film. The last roll probably will be processed sometime next week, the company said.

Photographers had until noon today to get their film into the lab, according to the company, and people from all over the world rushed in their final rolls. One woman flew in from England to drop off film in-person, and Dwayne's received 500 packages from FedEx and 18 bags from the Post Office, almost all containing Kodachrome.

"I'm very surprised and maybe a little bit in shock," said Grant Steinle, vice president of operations for Dwayne's Photo and son of owner Dwayne Steinle. "It was really an icon of photography."

The photo lab even had special Kodak-yellow t-shirts printed up to mark the occasion, declaring, "The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired."

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Kodachrome certainly had a long and remarkable run. Introduced in 1935 as a motion picture film, Kodachrome came of age with the baby-boomers. It's best known as the slide film that chronicled the iconic post-WWII decades in families' carousel projectors.

The popularity of Kodachrome was "the sort of thing that goes along with the beginning of the post-war prosperity, baby-boom concept," said Todd Gustavson, curator of technology at the George Eastman House Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. "After the war, people had some money in their pockets. ... They were starting to travel."

Sales of the product peaked in the 1960s and '70s before steadily declining as more modern films allowed easy prints for photographers. In 2009, when Kodak stopped making the film, it amounted to a fraction of one percent of the company's sales.

Kodachrome captured some key moments in our history. The film was in Abraham Zapruder's home-movie camera when he recorded the assassination of President Kennedy, and Edmund Hillary took Kodachrome along to document his history-making Mount Everest ascent in 1953.

Kodachrome the Choice of Photographers for Decades

In addition to hobbyists and families, Kodachrome was used by the best professional photographers in the world. One of the most famous Kodachrome images is surely Steve McCurry's picture of a green-eyed Afghan refugee girl featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985.

Click here for a slide show of Kodachrome images.

McCurry also shot the final roll of Kodachrome film ever produced, already developed at Dwayne's Photo. A National Geographic Channel documentary slated for release in 2011 will follow McCurry's round-the-world journey as he composed Kodachrome's final frames.

Kodachrome isn't the kind of product that can be developed by a hobbyist or even at the drug store.

"Unlike all the other color films, it's actually a black-and-white film. ... The color is added to it in processing," said Gustavson. "You can't do this at home. It's just not possible. And it was never really a mini-lab process."

As development of the film comes to a halt, so will Kodachrome's distinctive look. Gustavson describes the film's look as "laser-edged," and even a casual observer is struck by the film's vibrant colors.

"Kodachrome, you give us those nice bright colors, you give us the greens of summers," Paul Simon sang. "Makes you think all the world's a sunny day."

Those colors are part of the reason the film has been so popular with photographers, who've rushed to get their final rolls to Dwayne's Photo for processing.

"Anybody who's looked at Life magazine or National Geographic for the last 20 years definitely has seen the vibrant colors of Kodachrome, because everyone has shot it," said New York-based photographer Kent Miller.

Miller hadn't shot Kodachrome in more than 10 years, but he wanted to make sure to use the last five rolls he had tucked away in a special way. He photographed a friend of his who's an accomplished triathlete, posing on his road bike by New York's George Washington Bridge.

"The colors of it are just amazing. Blues are super-vibrant blue, and reds just pop off the page. It's just an amazing color film," Miller said.

ABC's Catherine Cole and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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