Monday, June 22, 2009

The True End Of An Era...

This blog will take a new turn, away from watches and more towards photography, my first real love.

An era is coming to an end.

Let us go back, if we can, to an era where things were more ephemeral, where permanence was fleeting at best: to the early days of color photography.

Color negative films use dyes to make the color. Complex layers of emulsions allow light to be filtered to expose various layers, leaving after processing tiny dye clouds in primary colors to be enlarged and printed. Color prints were fundamentally the same.

Color slides came in two versions: Kodachrome and all the rest. Kodachrome is and was the only slide film that uses pigments, rather than dyes, to create its colors, and which retains its colors under all but the harshest of treatments. Kodachrome didn't contain the pigments, it caught them during the developing process, and was fundamentally a black-and-white film that was colored using pigments during the processing of the film.

Any other slide film? Dyes. Dyes are organic and, especially in the early days of slide films (until, say, the 1970s), they were sensitive to both xrays and temperatures: if your film had the bad luck of being xrayed at the airport more than a few times, fog would set in, ruining you photos; if you spent time in the desert, your colors would show strange and highly inappropriate color shifts, especially for films that were relatively high speed.

Hence Kodachrome was the cat's meow: it simply had the best colors. It was slow as heck - ISO 25 was the standard for a very long time - but simply gave the best results. Very few labs could process it, since it was a hideously complex process that was completely unforgiving of errors in time and temperature.

But had the most beautiful colors.

It got better: ISO 64 came along, then even ISO 200. I loved the ISO 200 for medium-format work, since grain wasn't quite the concern, and it was a joy to use.

But there was competition, especially as the dyes got better - azo metal-based dyes saved the day here - and the films became less and less temperature sensitive and less susceptible to color fogging via xrays.

Well, those days are gone.

Kodachrome is no more. Now, I'll admit I haven't shot a chemical shot in at least 3 years. What little film I had left over is expired, and I haven't shot Kodachrome in ages.

But loading your camera with Kodachrome was the penultimate challenge: it meant that you were entrusting your images to the best there was, and gave you the incentive to really work at getting the best.

Kodachrome. May it live forever, at least in our aspirations...

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