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Monday, December 27, 2010

Goodbye Kodachrome -- The End of A Generation

From the Kodachrome Slide Dating Guide

On 30 December 2010, the last  roll of Kodachrome will be processed. After that, no more rolls of Kodachrome will be shot or developed. It is the passing of an era, the passing of a generation defined in part by Paul Simon's 1973 song, "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," he sang. "... So Mama don't take my Kodachrome away." Yet Kodak stopped manufacturing Kodachrome on 22 June 2009 and at the end of this week, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, the last Kodachrome photo-processor in the world, will discontinue this service.

Unless you were a Kodachrome devotee or a Luddite against digital photography, what does this mean? Although Kodachrome was produced for 74 years (1935-2009), it came to the fore after World War II and was iconic of the Babyboom generation. Paul Simon's song, "Kodachrome," and Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah are two examples of this. The CBS Sunday Morning News program described Kodachrome likes this:
"It's a baby boom product," he said. "After World War II - availability of new automobiles, national parks were open - and people were able to have some time to travel and of course now there is a this new color film which you could use to document your family vacations and then of course come back and show your friends and neighbors your slides on your carousel or Kodak slide projector." ("Kodachrome: The Legendary Film's Last Days," CBS Sunday Morning News, 26 December 2010.)
The demise of Kodachrome is more than simply a change in technology or the move to digital photography. It marks the end of an era, the beginning of the end for a generation. Kodachrome, like the Babyboom generation, is unmatched and unsurpassed in some ways. Kodachrome reproduced color in a way no other film product or digital product has. The color was vivid, perhaps, exaggerated. Yet there was nothing quite like it.

Much the same could be said about the Babyboom generation: vivid, exaggerated, and nothing quite like it. Babyboomers regard themselves as special, unlike any generation that proceeded them. This notion that Babyboomers were unlike any human that came before them, led to the rejection of traditional values and the institutions that supported those values. The Babyboomers were the generation that made iconic sex without procreation, distrust of institutions, disklike for established religion, the liberalization of abortion and homosexuality (often seeing these issues in terms of race), and the "Me" generation. Ultimately, history will have to judge if there is any merit to the Babyboomers self-glorification.

The Babyboom generation has been described as being unwilling to plan for a time when others will take care of them. An article in the Milwaukee Business Journal wrote, "Many boomers, clinging to their youthful self-concepts, still avoid talking about death." There are studies "which shows that boomers have not saved for old age, even as census figures indicate theirs is the generation that will break the back of social security." In the political sphere some of the difficult decisions that need to be made regarding taxes, social security, et al. are directly related to the unwillingness to plan for the future by the Babyboomers. The cost of this will be borne by future generations, perhaps until the third or the fourth.

Not surprisingly, the story about the passing of Kodachrome was written by Babyboomers. Few Gen Xers and fewer Gen Ys even knew Kodachrome was passing out of existence. The Goodbye to Kodachrome does mark the end of an era. As a Gen Xer in his late 30s, I find it hard to imagine a product, let alone a particular brand, representing or lasting my entire generation. Maybe Facebook or Google! Every piece of technology is updated every six months to a year. There is little that endures. The transitory nature of this world, the lack of permanence, and the lack of anything reliable perhaps has made Gen X and Gen Y more "spiritual" but not really more connected to established religion. Those who are seek tradition and genuineness -- something that has existed through the ages but still connects with the present. This cultural trend presents a tremendous opportunity for the church -- to go back to what the church always has stood for and taught.

As a teenager, I started to get into photography because I joined newspaper and yearbook. In fact, it was my 8th grade junior high English teacher that first asked me to work on the year book. That year was my first experience with a SLR 35mm camera. I eventually got a Pentex K-1000, all manual SLR 35 mm camera. I used it for many years, but now fortunately have had just about every negative scanned into the computer. That first experience with a SLR 35 mm camera in junior high led to other photographic experiences such as developing black and white film in the dark room, etc. In 9th grade, the school got a Macintosh computer and an Apple Laserwriter printer. I knew I had seen the future. Once you could get the photograph into the computer, you didn't need pica grid paper for layout, darkroom cropping, or worry that someone would open the darkroom door before the photo was fixed. I have even shot a few rolls of Kodachrome. Fond memories. Good experiences. Perhaps formative in my life experience and development, but ... The yearbook / newspaper teacher was actually a newspaper guy, who had worked at several papers and still did freelance stuff. He was a babyboomer.

The passing of Kodachrome is bitter for some. The passing of the Babyboom generation will bring sadness and bitterness. Sadness over the loss of our parents and grandparents. Bitterness over the legacy left. Some (maybe all) the genies unleashed will not be able to be re-corked in the bottle. While the Babyboomers always believed the future would be brighter, those coming after the Boomers aren't so sure. The disillusionment of one generation is also opportunity. Opportunity for change.


  1. See the yahoo news article, "Baby boomers near 65 with retirements in jeopardy"

    "...The boomers, who in their youth revolutionized everything from music to race relations, are set to redefine retirement. But a generation that made its mark in the tumultuous 1960s now faces a crisis as it hits its own mid-60s...

    "The situation is extremely serious because baby boomers have not saved very effectively for retirement and are still retiring too early," says Olivia Mitchell, director of the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research at the University of Pennsylvania."

  2. Barry Soetero's Obamacare Death Panel will take care of the excess Babyboomer problem.

    Say goodbye to grandma, Suzie.

  3. My father who will be 93 in February, 2011 and is in excellent health by the way, worked for Kodak in Rochester, NY for 42 years. In fact, he beta-tested the Kodachrome film before the product was released. Kodak gave my family the ability to live the American dream.
    My father-in-law worked for IBM. The company who helped bring the computer to your home. I can remember when he said that someday there'll be computers in every home. I don't think I believed him at the time. IBM gave my wife's family the ability to live the American dream.
    My wife and I are baby-boomers. We didn't chose in what decade or century to be born. We had to deal with over-crowded schools, etc. and yet during the 1950's and '60's the LCMS Lutheran schools flourished and our nation did too! Yes, we were optimistic. We had every reason to be.
    I don't know what the future holds for my family or the nation, but I'm forever grateful to God to have been born in this country during this time.

  4. I've shot Kodachrome and it's a sad that it has gone away. But then again, it was about 7 years ago that I last used it. So I guess that says something as to the reason Kodak stopped selling the film and now development products.