The Death of Kodachrome
The cliff of obsolescence beckons. Rushing toward it like lemmings are charming, familiar things like wristwatches, DVDs, and even address books. All are seemingly poised to take the plunge into obscurity (at least, according to David Lazarus of the L.A. Times). Reflecting on the ghost of technology past is at the heart of a new group of exhibitions, collectively titled More than Real: The Death of Kodachrome, opening today at the Portrait Society Gallery.
Kodachrome was a photographic medium that yielded especially brilliant, bright colors. It developed out of the early 20th century experiments of Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes (the two Leopolds became known as “God and Man”), and development was handled through a proprietary technology under the purview of Kodak. Alas, cost factors and assorted complications lead to the end, and the last development facility of Kodachrome, Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, closed operations on December 30, 2010.
The Portrait Society shows include two groups of works from the past: Casa Happiness, and Flowers by Livija. The Casa pictures are from Judy and Martin Drinka’s honeymoon to Cuba in 1957, assembled as a suite of works by Julia Taylor. Images are paired together, printed from slides and juxtaposed on archival paper.
The vividness of the colors is nothing like the faint greenish cast that often comes over old color photographs. There is a curious freshness in this nostalgia, and for contemporary viewers, it turns back the pages of this island nation to a date when travel was open. The 1950s cars were new back then, instead of a sign of desperate preservation in the face of political and economic isolation.
Flowers by Livija shares a similar sense of preservation, but of a far more private nature. A project by photographer Jim Brozek, these images are printed from slides shot by an Armenian woman named Livija in the 1950s and ‘60s. Image after image focuses on floral arrangements — luscious blooms at the height of their glory, photographed as still lifes in the simple surroundings of her apartment. There is a quality of stillness; these flowers are at the peak of their cut glory, their luminous color and sharp detail held forever. A somber postscript comes in the self-portrait of Livija at the grave of her husband where she also placed her floral arrangements.
As a more recent memorial to the vanishing Kodachrome technology, photographer Erik Ljung went on an artistic pilgrimage to Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, shooting his last roll of film along the way. His suite of works documents the journey.
The last image was planned to be a picture of Dwayne’s, but instead Ljung was so taken with a scene of roadkill that it ultimately took the honor of being the last picture of the roll. The visceral color, the roughness of the cement, and the savaged body met a violent end; an image of decisive death to punctuate the end of his film.
More than Real: The Death of Kodachrome runs May 13-July 10 at the Portrait Society Gallery, located on the 5th floor of the Marshall Building (207 E. Buffalo St.). An opening reception will be held Friday, May 13 from 6-9 p.m. Benefits from the sale of prints in the Casa Happiness series will go toward the Professional Dimensions Charitable Fund. For more information, click here.