"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kodachrome, alas

"Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colours
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So mama dont take my kodachrome away...."

That Simon and Garfunkle song is what I'd play the opening day of my beginning photography classes a few years back,

And I loved the line: "everything looks better in black and white."

As an old newspaper photographer who loved Tri-X, I wasn't all that thrilled about T-Max, cause it had less "latitude" (room for mistakes), and in my print days, I had to have a lot of room for mistakes. On a weekly paper, I'd always reserve two hours on Tuesday afternoons to go to the darkroom, soup the film, let it dry, and then select the photos to print on the enlarger. If I was lucky, I'd get them all done by 3:30 or so, time to go back and start laying out the paper, pasting up the columns, trying not to be there till midnight so we could leave for the printing plant in Wichita Falls or Duncan, or Gainesville, early the next morning.

I loved time in the darkroom, the smell of the chemicals, the thrill of seeing a good print come up in the developer under the safelight. I hated the time in there when a scratch on the negative, or a dust spot, or bad chemicals meant you had to start over, and take up precious deadline time.

And it was all black and white--color was an expense we just couldn't afford on the press. So I learned how to look, how to see, in black and white, to get the best compositions, to bring life to an ordinary world. Color, Kodachrome, was reserved for the slides I'd take of my family, my kids, as we were growing up. Then I bought a medium format camera for freelance work, and that big negative also inspired some color landscape photography.

But I learned to see, to compose, as an artist, through the lens of a 35mm camera using black and white film. And Simon and Garfunkle's song spoke to me.

About a month ago, I took the Facebook quiz about what film are you, and the answer was Kodachrome. Fitting I thought, but I expected Tri-X. Even today, I value black and white--certain movies are better with it (Good Night and Good Luck). Too much color, or incorrect color, can lose its value (Like all these movies with super-duper special effects, but no story and no acting). This isn't a rant against digital photography, which I wish I'd had as a journalist years ago because it'd have made my life so much easier. But then, I'd missed the darkroom. My watercolor painting is influenced every day by what I learned dealing with black and white film, and from Ansel Adams' zone system!

And then Kodak announced that it is no longer going to make Kodachrome. What does that say about me? Talk about terminal! There's this movie, "Pleasantville," where the characters' mundane world is black and white until they gradually are transformed into color, the colors of vibrancy in experience and living. True, much of life seems black and white, if you haven't been taught to see, and then certain events and people happen to you that bring color to existence, giving flavor and excitement and quality to life.

That's why I mourn the passing of Kodachrome. It's not just a film, but a way of seeing.

That's what's brewing in my coffee pot.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting take on color.

    I saw "Public Enemies" (the new movie with Johnny Depp) on Friday and my first reaction was that it would have been better in black and white.

    There is a certain clarity in B&W that we don't find in color. It's as if color robs us of some level of imagination.

    In the movie "Jezabel," Bette Davis' character went to a ball in a red dress -- a shocking statement in those times. In order to create the feeling of the red dress for the B&W movie, the costumer tried a number of colors, including red. The one that created to mental image of this shocking red dress was a deep brown. Our imaginations did the rest of the work.

    I still have my old Nikon SLR. Maybe I need to invest in some Kodachrome just for old times sake. I took some mighty good photos with that film.

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