About seven years ago, I used the iconic slide film Kodachrome in its last year that the film could be developed. I photographed bridges and trees and winter scenes and other cool images.
Then, in December 2010, the last processing plant in the world – the only one capable of handling the various chemicals used to develop Kodachrome film – announced they would stop development. And although some people have tried homebrew methods to develop Kodachrome, while others have developed the film in a black-and-white process … Kodachrome film was finished.
Spin forward to 2017 … and now there’s a film about the last days of Kodachrome.
Now what, do you ask, inspired this little blog headline?
Between 2009 and 2010, I shot with Kodachrome film. I photographed with whatever fresh (or sorta-fresh) Kodachrome I could get my mitts on, and got as much of it developed before Dwayne’s Photo (the last place that could develop the iconic film in color) stopped processing the film in December 2010.
I took dozens of great photos in that year; one of them (The Railsplitter) took an award at Altamont in 2011; and one of my old Kodachrome shots of the Hamilton College Chapel is part of my upcoming college reunion art show.
But there’s no way I can get those nice, bright colors or greens of summers with Kodachrome film today. The chemicals don’t exist any more. The processing is extremely labor-intensive. And although some labs will process the film as a black-and-white picture, that’s like watching a Blu-Ray DVD on a Sony Trinitron.
Be that as it may…
Earlier this week, the website Gear Patrol published a short thumbnail history on Kodachrome film. And within the article, they showcased dozens of Kodachrome photos, including shots from the Library of Congress and “Creative Commons” shots from flickr sites.
And as I’m looking through the pictures…
Two of my Kodachrome photos came up in the photo essay. They were two shots that I thought might have had some success when I originally shot them, but unfortunately they did not receive any love.
Those photos were, of all things…
… and …
Wow. Those photos sure bring back plenty of memories.
I remember taking that picture in the spring of 2010, along Rue St-Louis in Quebec City. The camera was on a tripod, and I was trying to get the streaks of light from automobile headlights and taillights into the frame. It was an early experimentation, and eventually I was able to create a successful light-painting photo series with Midnight at the Palace Theater and Jesus Saves and The Beat of Officer Harris. But this was my first try.
And the photo at the bottom… that was probably the coldest day in November, and I drove to Niagara Falls to photograph the tourist areas, as I surmised that generations of Niagara Falls visitors used Kodachrome film to chronicle their experiences. Which was all well and good for me. Ha. Over the years, I lost confidence in those Niagara Falls Kodachrome photos; in fact, I actually thought I had captured better pictures with a Rolleiflex filled with Kodak Ektar 120 film. But that’s just me.
So it was definitely a nice surprise to see those pictures again; at least someone out there still thinks they’re worth some appreciation. That, and it was also a moment of flashback for me. Which is awesome in and of itself.
Will I ever consider entering those pictures in competition again?
In July of 1981, I attended a five-week pre-freshman orientation program at Hamilton College. Between that summer and the late spring of 1985, I was a college student at one of the “Little Ivies.” There were days when I felt about as out of place as Willy Loman in a summer stock production of Spamalot; conversely, there were days when I felt that being part of Hamilton College was the best choice I could have ever made.
You know what? Hamilton College is as much a part of my life and legacy as everything else I’ve experienced. Therefore, the college deserves a Dream Window.
And for the Dream Window, I’m going to incorporate something very special. It will include imagery of the Hamilton College Chapel – the iconic structure that sits centrally in the “Stryker Side” of the campus. And if all goes well, it will get its debut in a very special place.
Now take a look at this window. This is a Queen Anne window that I snagged from Silver Fox Salvage in Albany. I made a deal with Jamie and Camille at Silver Fox – they could have the stained glass panels inside the window, I would take the frame itself. Yeah, it’s not the same as my usual “window-bashing” excursions, but I’m kinda in a hurry to build this.
In the past, I’ve had other people cut my panels of stained glass; this time, I decided it would be advantageous to start cutting my own stained glass panels. Look, if I really want this “Dream Window” to symbolize my craft, then it’s time I learned how to cut stained glass by myself.
The plan was to have the swirls of stained glass blend from panel to panel. I’ve done this before, but it often involved having someone else cut the panels. This time, I bought some swirled Hobby Lobby stained glass, and after careful measurement of each piece…
I scored the glass with a carbide wheeled glass cutter. And then… deep breath… close my eyes…
Two pieces of glass, with a break perfectly along the score line.
Whew. Okay. I can do this.
Each glass pane had to create three panels – one corner and the adjoining panels. If done properly, the swirls would match through three panels.
First try. Hobby Lobby white-burgundy swirled glass. Things worked well. I went back to Hobby Lobby and bought more swirled glass – blue-clear, green-clear, red-clear. Went and purchased a second blue-clear because I messed up on a score line. Oh well. Stuff happens.
And when it was finished… looky here.
In the past, I’ve had my stained glass either pre-cut or trimmed by someone else. This is the first Dream Window in which I’ve made the cuts myself. And thankfully, only a small loss of blood. All fingers remained intact. Hee.
Now all I need to do is caulk the panes into place, and I’m all set. Nice Dream Window, isn’t it?
Oh wait… I need something for the center pane. And for that, I want a picture of the Hamilton College Chapel.
The Chapel was erected in 1827, and one of the architects involved in its construction was Albany architect Philip Hooker. It has hosted countless weddings and religious services, and several of the College’s presidents – including the founder, Samuel Kirkland – were ministers. Here’s a link to the history of the Chapel.
Okay, I have to go back and find a good picture of the Hamilton College Chapel. I know I’ve taken dozens of photos of it over time, I’ve used nearly every camera in my arsenal to capture the simple beauty of that house of worship.
Eventually I settled on this picture. It was a Kodachrome photo from August 2010, while I was on a trip through the Utica-Clinton Mohawk Valley area.
By the way, do you know how difficult it is to create THIS digital image at left, to show you the Kodachrome border AND the image itself? Yeah. Tres difficult. In fact, a true Hamiltonian will notice that the picture is horizontally flipped. The statue of Alexander Hamilton holds a cane in his right hand, not in his left. But how else can I show you that this was a Kodachrome slide?
Also, I needed a narrow photograph that encompassed the chapel and the statue. You see how narrow that center panel is? It better be at least as narrow as 8 inches wide by almost 17 inches long.
Digital scan. Digital crop. Just fits. A quick edit job later, and the digital photo was couriered to my print lab of choice, McGreevy Pro Lab. Okay, McGreevy, do your best.
And sure enough, a few days later, McGreevy Pro Lab produced my print – nicely foam-boarded and cropped, 8 inches wide, 17 inches long.
Now I need a pane of glass for the center. No way am I putting unprotected artwork into that panel.
A quick stop at Lowe’s, where they will cut glass and plexiglass to my specific dimensional requests.
On Friday night, I stopped at Lowe’s with the specific dimensions. 8 inches wide, 17 3/4 inches tall.
The difference between Lowe’s and Home Depot is that Home Depot doesn’t custom-cut glass or plexiglass, and Lowe’s does. But when I brought the pane of glass home and put it in the Dream Window frame… I discovered that the pane of glass was 8 1/2 inches wide. 8 1/2 inches won’t fit in an 8-inch opening. In other words, 8 1/2 inches was just too big. Please refrain from any 6th grade bathroom giggling after reading that previous sentence.
Saturday morning, I return to Lowe’s – this time the one in Northway Mall. I asked them to cut the pane of glass for me. They got it right this time. I guess somewhere in Lowe’s, the memo of “measure twice, cut once” is only in half of the employee handbooks.
I was able to get the pane inserted… the artwork inserted… and as soon as the glazier’s points and silicone caulking do their job…
Okay, you want to see it, right?
Here it is. My thirteenth Dream Window creation.
You like? Yeah, I kinda like it, too.
Okay… now for the big news. This Dream Window is getting displayed in a very special place this summer.
This Dream Window, along with Dream Window 11: Saratoga’s Healing Waters, and four framed photo artworks – The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake, The Three-Two Pitch, Star Trails of Brown Tract Pondand Jesus Saves – will be part of an alumni art show this June, as part of my 30th reunion at Hamilton College.
How super-swank is that?
For me, this is a personal triumph. When I started the Dream Window project nearly three years ago, I never imagined that I’d put together more than one or two of these artworks. Now they’ve helped raise money in charitable auctions, they’ve landed on the walls in new homes and new establishments, and the creation of these treasures has helped me channel many of my emotions – both positive and negative – into something with visual appeal.
Not bad fora guy who only a few years ago wouldn’t know how to cut glass, caulk a window, or mix multi-media materials into an artwork like this.
Sometimes the paths we take can surprise us. I know that Hamilton College guided me on a pathway that I never imagined.
Yes, I am fully aware that getting those nice bright colors and greens of summers with Kodachrome film is currently impossible. The last rolls were developed in December 2010 by Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas. Kodak’s not making the developing chemicals any more. And even if they did, you can’t develop the stuff at home. Many have tried. None have succeeded. I know. I know. It’s the current photographic equivalent of developing a perpetual motion engine, convincing FOX to bring Dollhouse back, or finding a left-handed pitcher than can win 30 games and hit 30 homers.
Even with all these barriers … as you will see in this blog post … not only was I able to successfully shoot a roll of Kodachrome film, I was able to produce color images with it that are, at least in its first step, an attempt to recreate the color of that iconic slide film.
Yeah, I figured you’d all call me a liar. And verily, I telleth thee to taketh a five-mile walk off a three-mile pier.
It’s April 25, 2012. Thanks to an eBay auction, I have an unused roll of Kodachrome 64 35mm film in my possession. The film has an expiration date of I have no freakin’ idea. I can certainly get 36 shots off of this roll without any trouble – well, if nothing else, at least I can expose the film.
I packed the Kodachrome in my Nikon F100; and for all photos that were taken with this roll, I used my Nikkor E-series 28mm f/2.8 manual focus wide-angle lens.
I took each picture using shutter priority on the camera, and shot the film as if it was an ISO of 50, rather than its printed ISO of 64. Snap. First picture taken.
Then, I put a red Bower 2 filter on the camera and took another picture. Then I swapped out the red filter with a green Tiffen 58 filter. Another picture taken. And then I swapped out the green filter with a blue Tiffen 47 filter. Another shot taken.
Yep. I knew that Prokudin-Gorskii Technique would come in handy at some point in time. Moscow, meet Rochester. Рочестер, встретиться Москве.
There are some companies that can develop Kodachrome film as a black-and-white negative product. One such company is Film Rescue International, a respected photo developing company that specializes in pulling pictures from vintage film. Did you find an undeveloped roll of film in an old camera in an attic? Send it to Film Rescue International and they’ll pull something off of it.
At the beginning of May, I sent the roll of Kodachrome to FRI; on May 8, they sent me an e-mail that the film had been received, and although they can’t develop Kodachrome as Kodachrome film, they could in fact develop it as a black-and-white film, and would do so on the next print run. To develop it as a black-and-white film, FRI has to carefully remove the Kodachrome film’s remjet backing. Then they can dip the film in the proper chemicals. It won’t be “slide” film any more, but it should produce acceptable images.
On July 12, 2012, the developed film arrived in my mailbox.
If nothing else, Kodachrome is a decent B&W analogue film. But with all the work one would do to create images as B&W – especially when there’s Ilford and efke and Svema and Kodak BW400CN film – using Kodachrome as a B&W medium is like asking John Force to take his dragster for a grocery store run.
Still, if I did nothing else with this film, I could get some halfway decent B&W shots, like this picture of the sign up at Saratoga Race Course.
Now if I show you the entire scan of the picture – including the sprocket holes… look here.
As you can see, it includes information regarding the Saratoga Race Course’s dates of operations for the 2012 racing season – July 20 to September 3. And if you look at the top of the film strip, right next to the sprocket holes, is the designation “KR 64” – the abbreviation for consumer-grade Kodachrome 64 ISO film.
I show this piece of evidence to prove that these pictures below were not hand-colored, hand-tinted or manipulated by any Photoshop filters or other types of “trickery.” I did not use an Instagram filter to create these images, nor did I take color pictures with another film and try to “trick” you into thinking I used Kodachrome. All negatives used for this project are readily available for in-person verification. You just have to come to Albany. And bring cookies. If I have to show you these negatives as proof, the least you can do is bring me some cookies.
You’ve seen the original B&W picture. I then scanned in each of the three filtered images into the computer, and lined up as many common points on each image as I could. Since my art graphics program can split a color image into three “red-green-blue” channels, I set it up to do the opposite – create a color image from three “red-green-blue” originals.
And with that in mind… here’s what I came up with.
Kodachrome 2012 Project
All photos taken with Nikon F100 camera, Nikkor f/2.8 28mm E series lens.
Four shots were taken of each object – in sequence: clear white filter, red Bower #2 filter, green Tiffen 58 filter; blue Tiffen 47 filter.
RGB photos were then lined up and combined by Prokudin-Gorskii technique.
Photos by Chuck Miller.
ORIGINAL B&W IMAGE
COMBINED KODACHROME IMAGE
Look, it’s the Jericho Drive-In marquee. And see the films on the marquee? “American Reunion” and “21 Jump Street.” Proof enough?
Here’s another angle of the Jericho sign. The owners were kind enough to turn on the marquee neon lights for this picture.
And here’s a vintage sign from a long-ago shuttered 1950’s-era convenience store on Second Avenue in Albany.
I also drove to Saratoga Springs and took this picture from the intersection of Funny Cide and Bird Town, right at the entrance of the Saratoga Race Course.
Yep… all of these are Kodachrome shots. They were not created by that Kodak EasyShare camera that has a “Kodachrome” setting on it. I didn’t sit there and digitally hand-paint these pictures. This is not some other brand of film that I’m calling “Kodachrome” just for laughs and snickers.
And in showing you how I did this, I explained the techniques used to create these final pictures. Yeah, the description sounds almost like turning left three times because you wanted to make a right turn – but the fact is, I achieved my goal.
I’m going to work on this technique some more – I would have had more pictures to show you, but they were under-exposed. Next time I’ll open the throat up on these images an extra step or two. And I’ll try to avoid shooting on a cloudy day, unless I specifically want “cotton candy” clouds in the sky. But if nothing else…
This should be another photo discipline for which I can have a lot of fun.
It was December 2010. I was shooting my final rolls of Kodachrome film, and in the brutal, bitter, icy winter – a winter that was so cold, my frozen breath spelled out my curse words in cursive – I tried to capture some images. This was taken with decade-past-its-prime Kodachrome 25 film, a film that at that time was so slow it could have been clocked with a sundial. If I could have found a sun anywhere. All I could find was this.
I shot this image in Cohoes, just a mile or two up from the Cohoes Falls. The exposure in this picture is way off, the colors were unbalanced, the picture was on overly expired film. it wasn’t a great photo. I admit it.
But it served an alternative purpose.
We now move forward to February 2011. I was in the middle of a very painful breakup and divorce, my health was out of whack, my car was in the repair shop, and some people that I thought were my friends eventually conspired to do some very hurtful “knife-stabby-in-the-backky” things to me. I was in a dark place in my life.
I felt like I didn’t want to be anywhere or be near anyone.
And back in February 2011, Facebook didn’t have its “timeline” feature – and I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to talk to anyone on Facebook.
And the picture looked as depressing as I felt. So I simply made the purple sunrise picture my profile picture. It’s not like I would have entered it in any photo competitions; this was just a statement of how I felt at that time.
There’s no rule regarding Facebook that you have to have YOUR face as your profile picture. Heck, you want to put Alice Cooper as your profile picture? Go right ahead, it’s not like Mark Zuckerberg’s going to care. There are others that use the timeline feature to put up a picture – any picture – and suddenly everyone’s wondering if all is well with that person, if they need help or they need comfort or they need space.
But it does bring up a very interesting question. Do people put pictures up on their social media accounts that aren’t photos of themselves for a specific reason? Do they put them up to provide any sort of hidden message – as in, “I’m depressed and you’re the reason why,” or “I really need to look at something tranquil when I visit my FB page, and I hope you feel tranquil when you visit my page as well”?
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve put other non-face pictures up on FB as my profile pic – mostly photos I’ve taken that have been successful images and photographic techniques. That being said, photos like the Purple Sunrise are still handy if I ever need to show that my mood is sour, my outlook is bleak, and all I want to do is lock the door, sit in my recliner, and watch a double feature of The Iron Giant and City Lights, broken up only by a How It’s Made marathon.
I get through moments like this. We all do. The fact is, we have to get through them.
The alternative, as you can imagine, isn’t very pleasant.
One of my favorite photographic websites is PetaPixel, it’s where I can get a ton of news about digital and film photography.
And yesterday, they provided a link to a Kodachrome film documentary – a documentary that talks about the last time, in December of 2010, that the iconic slide film could be developed. The documentary, directed by Xander Robin of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts, includes an interview with Grant Steinle of Dwayne’s Photo, the last developing plant in the world that could handle Kodachrome film.
Yeah, I still wish I could play with Kodachrome, and I kinda wish someone could figure out a homebrew method of developing that magical slide film. But I am thankful that I did get to shoot with it for a year – its final year of existence – and that I now have several other films to play with in my photographic arsenal.
My TU blog buddy Teri Conroy suggested I enter this competition, and you know what I always say… bloggers support bloggers.
I was allowed to enter a maximum of five images in the upcoming New York Sheep and Wool Festival Photography Contest, and I submitted all five in the “objects” category. Even though it is technically the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, I did not have any pictures of sheep, rams, lambs or ewes. So I went with my strengths, and promised at some point in my life I would photograph enough mutton to make Shari Lewis happy.
And now the guardian angel on my shoulder is whispering… “Chuck, did you follow the rules on this one? We don’t want another Big E situation, now do we?”
No we do not. So I made sure that I confirmed that yes, all photographs must be matted. And the part about there being no sizes larger than 8×12. I double-checked everything. Then I double-double checked everything. Each of my photos was printed in a 5×7 size, then matted to a width and height of 8×10. All the photos were printed with Ritz; all the photos were matted with off-the-rack Hobby Lobby mattes.
With that in mind, I entered the following five photographs.
MIDNIGHT AT THE PALACE THEATER
Yep, I entered it one more time. I think this is officially the last contest in which I can enter this picture.
I did get a third place for this photo at Altamont… maybe it will work better in another rural competition?
STAR TRAILS ALONG THE GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE
Okay, this one is new to competition. It’s a star trails shot I took last month. Let’s see if it has some luck.
THE PORTRA BRIDGE
This would have been half of a picture called “The Portra-Verichrome Bridge,” in which I would have mixed 35mm Kodak Portra film with 616 vintage Kodak Verichrome film. That concept later became my award-winning “The Agfa Bridge Over Ansco Lake.” But I kept this photo around… maybe it has some luck.
BARN VERSUS WEEDS
One final Kodachrome shot, of an abandoned barn in Greenfield Center, N.Y.
I sent all five images, along with a check, an image CD, and my application forms, to the receiver in charge of the Fair.
Last Saturday, I received a Facebook message from Teri Conroy, asking if I had made it to Rhinebeck yet. Well, no, I was busy with this Hall of Fame thing and watching Albany High get their heads handed to them ONCE AGAIN in high school football… hmm…
So Saturday afternoon, I drove down to Rhinebeck, to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds and the Sheep and Wool Festival. Riding shotgun with me were my Nikon D700 and my Ansco Cadet, the Cadet loaded with a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan and two rolls of Efke 100 film. Figured I’d get some film shots while I was there.
I got to the Fairgrounds, and although conventional wisdom dictates that I go find my photos and see how I did, I thought I’d wait a bit – and go see Teri Conroy and her llamas. They were over in Barn 27, with all the other llamas and alpacas.
And yes, Teri was there, along with her llamas Lisel and Tank. Tank was purchased at last year’s Big E, so this is really Tank’s first year of full competition. Apparently llamas have competition names, just as dogs from the Westminster Kennel Club do, so “Tank” is officially known as “LILCO Bells and Whistles.” Yeah, “Tank” makes more sense for a name.
Teri had plenty of visitors at her location, she handed out baby pictures of Lisel and talked about Wunsapana Farm. Lots of kids came over. They loved seeing the llamas.
“Chuck, have you seen your pictures yet?” she asked.
“No,” I replied. “I came to see you first, and see how you were doing.”
“No, you need to go see your pictures,” Teri sweetly insisted.
The pictures are hanging up already. I can wait a few minutes. They’re not going anywhere.
As I struck up a conversation with Teri’s friend Helena, I noticed that a young girl, maybe in her early teens, was taking a picture of the llamas – and was using a Minolta 35mm SLR film camera. Not a camera phone or a point-and-shoot camera like a Nikon CoolPix or a Kodak EasyShare, but a real Minolta 35mm shooter.
Okay, I’m impressed. I asked the girl if she normally shot film.
“I do,” she replied, “and I’m taking a photography class. But the camera I was going to use – it broke, and now I have to use the school’s camera until mine is repaired.”
“Oh,” I said. “Do you like shooting with film?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I do.”
And I’m standing there, thinking to myself… I wish I still had my Kiev-19 or my Nikkormat FTn, I would have handed one of them over to the girl in a second. Those cameras gave me a lot of love in the past, surely they could work for her. As for film cameras, all I’ve got is my Ansco Cadet and a couple of rolls of black-and-white vest pocket film…
Wait a minute.
“You really want to try new things with film?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
I asked her if she could bring her parents over. Her mother arrived. I explained who I was and that I was impressed with the girl’s desire to shoot with film. So many kids are using digital these days, it’s nice to see someone actually starting out with analogue photography.
“Abby really likes using film,” her mother said. “But the camera she was going to use – it broke, and it’s getting repaired now. We have to use the school camera until we get hers back.”
I took the Ansco Cadet from around my neck, and pulled the two rolls of Efke 100 out of my back pocket. Without hesitation, I handed the camera and the film to Abby.
“Take care of this camera,” I said. “It’s brought me a lot of good luck. You can get 127 film through B&H Photo Video, you can get the film developed at Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas, or at any decent photo lab, and the yellow filter on the front of the camera will help you get more detail with cloud and landscape shots. Just remember to shoot with the sun at your back, and you’ll get some amazing photos with this little treasure.”
“Thank you so much,” Abby replied. “You don’t know how much this means.”
“Just take good pictures with it,” I said. “That’s all the thanks I need.”
See, sometimes Chuck could use a little good karma in his life. Do right by others, and good fortune will return to you threefold. Okay, this does not mean I’m going to start listening to the 37-minute version of “Sugar Magnolia” from the last time the Grateful Dead played the Knickerbocker Arena…
Okay, back to the Sheep and Wool Festival.
I walked through the various buildings and displays, I ate some food, I walked around some more. I saw a demonstration of sheep-shearing, I bet the sheep wasn’t happy to lose his fleece on such a windy day…
Okay, now the suspense is killing me. I gotta go see how the pics turned out.
The photos are displayed in an area called Building E. I walked over, and amidst all the food vendors and craft vendors in the building – there was a wall of photographs, all nicely arranged and displayed.
And look what took first place in the “objects” division.
That’s right, this little bad boy has taken two second-place ribbons – at Altamont and at The Big E – and now it has a blue ribbon to go with the reds! Awesome!!
Then I looked around to see if any of my other photos had picked up ribbons. Railsplitter – nothing. The Star Trails shot – nothing. The sprocket-holed film one… nothing. And my last-minute “toss in the mix” picture, Barn Versus Weeds…
And another ribbon for my Kodachrome photography!
So that’s why Teri was so revved up about me seeing my pictures. She knew I had won, and wanted me to know also! How great is that?
All in all, this year’s fair season has been beneficial for both us TU bloggers. Teri picked up her first blue ribbons at the New York State Fair, and earned the Herdsman Award at the Big E. Totally amazing, her best showing with her llamas! And I’ve got some new silks and satins to hang up in my place. Can’t beat that with a baseball bat.
I’ve got one more contest to enter this year – no, it’s not involving the Palace or the Railsplitter or Agfa-Ansco or anything like that. It’s a picture that hasn’t been entered in any other competition.
The upcoming competition, however, is a chance to return to the scene of last year’s biggest photo win for the Chuckster.
And the results of that competition will be posted in this blog on Thursday.