Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mama Kodak Brings Back Ektachrome

Three retro boxes of Kodak Ektachrome E200 film.
When it comes to being retro, I’ve always been ahead of my time.

And this month, I feel vindicated.

Those familiar with this blog know I’m a photographer. What many don't know is that I continue to shoot film in the ever-evolving world of digital photography. 

Sure, I own a digital camera. (I have several, in fact.) But I also own a few film cameras, which neither wild horses nor pixel-peeping gear snobs will pry from my fingers.

So you can image my elation earlier this month when Kodak announced it would re-introduce Ektachrome into its ever-dwindling film line. For me, it was as if Time Inc. was bringing back LIFE Magazine to newsstands, or that NBC was returning Cheers to its weekly lineup, or that Chrysler would once again roll out the Cordoba and its seats made of rich Corinthian leather.

For the uninitiated, Ektachrome was once to color photography what the selfie is to narcissism today – it was the height of its craft.

Kodak has made some of the best color film in history, including its legendary Kodachrome. But Ektachrome was special; it was Kodachrome with 12 cylinders under its hood. Its sudden demise in 2012 didn’t get the obit cousin Kodachrome got three years earlier. After all, Paul Simon wrote a top-10 ode to the latter.

When National Geographic photographers needed a little more speed in their film back in the day, they reached into their bags for Ektachrome 200. What they got was Kodachrome’s saturated colors and ultra-fine grain with a more light-sensitive film that allowed for faster shutter speeds.

Flip through some old Nat Geo’s, especially the ones from the 1960s. Take a look at the credit line under many of the photos. More often than not you’ll see EKTACHROME printed beneath the picture.

I haven’t shot Ektachrome in years. But soon I’ll be making some extra room in my crowded refrigerator for a roll or two. I’ve got boxes of Kodak Ultramax 400 stored away in the deli meats drawer. I like to keep my film next to the salami, capocollo and spreadable cheddar; they add a little flavor to my work.

I’ll run some rolls through my Nikon F and F3, two cameras that are a joy to operate.  They’re lookers, too. Recently, I was out shooting with my F and guy around 60 approached me. He was an army veteran who shot film in the 1980s. He asked me about my camera, staring at it all the time, as if it were a Victoria Secret model.

“I used to shoot with a Nikkormat,” he said. “I still have it at the house. Maybe I’ll dig it out and shoot a few rolls.”

No one ever asks me about my iPhone.

I’m sure a pro or two will read this piece and conclude that I live in the past. No matter. The present isn’t what it used to be and that past wasn’t all that bad. But maybe there’s hope for the future. Film is making a comeback in the Snapchat world of instant gratification. Ektachrome’s re-release is proof of that.

Even Millennials are taking to film. YouTube is filled with homemade videos of 20-somethings crowing about the used film cameras they bought on the cheap. They know they have to wait for the results of their labor. But it seems the creative magic of doing something by hand, like loading a camera with film, or advancing a frame with a level, is too much for them to resist.

Maybe patience is making a comeback, too. 

For now, I await Ektachrome’s return. Indeed, my DSLR gives nice, bright colors and the greens of summer, and makes my viewers think all the world’s a sunny day. So what. In 10 years my RAW files could become unreadable. Film is forever.

So rejoice, Mr. Simon. Mama Kodak may have taken our Kodachome away, but she’s bringing back Ektachrome. The future is retro. I’m so happy it’s a wonder I can think at all.

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