Business

Business

Kodachrome film sent out to pasture

Kansas lab is only one to still process it

June 23, 2009

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— Sorry, Paul Simon, Kodak is taking your Kodachrome away.

The Eastman Kodak Co. announced Monday it’s retiring its oldest film stock because of declining customer demand in an increasingly digital age.

The world’s first commercially successful color film, immortalized in song by Simon, spent 74 years in Kodak’s portfolio. It enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s but in recent years has nudged closer to obscurity: Sales of Kodachrome are now just a fraction of 1 percent of the company’s total sales of still-picture films, and only one commercial lab in the world still processes it.

Those numbers and the unique materials needed to make it convinced Kodak to call its most recent manufacturing run the last, said Mary Jane Hellyar, the outgoing president of Kodak’s Film, Photofinishing and Entertainment Group.

“Kodachrome is particularly difficult (to retire) because it really has become kind of an icon,” Hellyar said.

The company now gets about 70 percent of its revenue from its digital business, but plans to stay in the film business “as far into the future as possible,” Hellyar said. She points to the seven new professional still films and several new motion picture films introduced in the last few years and to a strategy that emphasizes efficiency.

“Anywhere where we can have common components and common design and common chemistry that let us build multiple films off of those same components, then we’re in a much stronger position to be able to continue to meet customers’ needs,” she said.

Kodachrome was favored by still and motion picture photographers for its rich but realistic tones, vibrant colors and durability.

It was the basis not only for countless family slideshows on carousel projectors over the years but also for world-renowned images, including Abraham Zapruder’s 8 mm reel of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

Photojournalist Steve McCurry’s widely recognized portrait of an Afghan refugee girl, shot on Kodachrome, appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. At Kodak’s request, McCurry will shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome film and donate the images to the George Eastman House museum, which honors the company’s founder, in Rochester.

Because of the complexity, only Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kan., still processes Kodachrome film. The lab has agreed to continue through 2010, Kodak said.

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