PARSONS In 1935 Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky Jr. created a color 16mm film they called Kodachrome.
The following year, Eastman Kodak introduced the film to the general public in 35mm and changed the course of photography forever.
For nearly 75 years, Kodachrome was — and for many, still is — the gold standard of color photography.
Many photographers say that the range of color recorded on Kodachrome cannot be matched by other slide films and will never be reproduced digitally.
“It’s the magic of Kodachrome,” said Grant Steinle, vice president of operations for Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons.
The photo lab in southeast Kansas is the only place where the magic still happens. Dwayne’s Photo is the lone lab in the world that processes the film.
Battered by competitors over the years and currently engaged in a perhaps-fatal bout with digital technology, Kodachrome maintains its pre-eminence in ever-shrinking discriminating circles.
For years Kodachrome was the only color film used by National Geographic magazine and other photography-oriented publications. Around the world, millions of news photos, family photos and vacation snapshots are stored in shoe boxes or slide projector carousels, with colors as rich as the day they were taken.
“Kodachrome is special for a couple reasons,” said Steinle, the son of Dwayne Steinle, who founded the business in 1956.
“It’s made differently than all other color film. In every other film, the dye couplers are coated onto the film when the film is manufactured, so the emulsion layers are thicker. Kodachrome has only the silver in it; there are no dyes manufactured into the film.
“The dyes are added to the film when it’s processed. That’s why Kodachrome film is sharper and lasts longer.”
Dwayne’s Photo is the last Kodachrome lab, due mostly to being economically situated in the right place at the right time.
“Kodak has had a real presence in Kodachrome in the U.S. and Europe, and seeing their business evolve from film to digital, it made more sense for them to outsource than to do it (themselves),” Steinle said. “And as the film volume declined it became less and less profitable for them to do it at many locations.”
Dwayne’s positioning with Kodak as a film processor in the mid-1990s was fortuitous timing during the early days of the digital era.
“We were ... a specialty photographic services provider for major national retailers: Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Osco, Eckerd Drug,” Steinle said. “So those people were looking for a single outsource point where they could send all of their specialty work.”
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Kodak and Fuji began buying up independent processing operations, he said.
“Our customers consolidated into being either Kodak or Fuji,” he said. “Now Kodak and Fuji are our two largest customers.
“If you take a roll of Kodachrome to a Wal-Mart, it comes here; if you take a roll of Ektachrome film to Wal-Mart, it comes here.”
The biggest threat to film is the ever-increasing quality and decreasing costs of digital technologies.
“I don’t think Kodachrome will be around forever,” Steinle said. “I don’t think black-and-white film will be around forever unless niche manufacturers make small quantities of film.
“Vinyl records disappeared, but now there are manufacturers who make them in very limited quantities. Film may end up some day being like that.”
Although processing Kodachrome film provides a significant portion of revenue for Dwayne’s Photo, the company has professional and digital services in the event Kodachrome ceases to be profitable.
Kodak spokeswoman Audrey Jonckheer said by e-mail that the company will continue to make film as long as there is sufficient demand.