A developing story

I was watching the news with a teenager the evening Kodak announced that it was going to stop making Kodachrome film for cameras. He said, “What’s film for cameras?” Obviously, Kodak should have stopped making the stuff five or ten years ago. Did they think that people who take pictures with their smart phones are suddenly going to go back to pictures they can’t e-mail, that take 24 hours to develop and that cost a small fortune? Photos they can’t crop, resize, enhance, Photoshop, or remove redeye from?

Wouldn’t a bigger story be, what kind of throwback is still using film? Are they the same people who still use fountain pens, wear bowties and buy long-playing records? Do they think they are holding back the barbarians from the gates, or are they simply late adapters?

Who couldn’t help but notice over the past few years that gigantic film-return sections of the local big-box stores were half empty? Who hasn’t noticed that if you want to show someone a photograph now, you e-mail it or you post it on Flickr?

News anchors, that’s who. They seemed totally shocked. If Kodachrome can go, what’s going to bite the dust next, they seemed to be thinking. Selectric typewriters? Pay phones? Antimacassars? VHS tapes? Pong? Jukeboxes? Super 8 movies? Slide carousels? Spats? Why, if Kodachrome can go, is anything safe?

You’ll still be able to buy other brands of film for your camera if you want to keep alive the august tradition of showing all your new, expensive photos to friends for a day or two before carefully filing them and the negatives (”Grandad, what’s a negative?”) inside a shoebox that will sit at the bottom of the closet until they pass out of living memory.

Every five or ten years they’ll be pulled out and the kids will ask, “Is that Uncle Bob or Uncle Barry when they were kids?” “Where was that taken?” “Who’s the lady on the horse?” “Did people really dress like that?” “What happened to all your hair?”

Finally, when you’re no longer around to explain who the people in the pictures are, the whole collection will be dumped into the trash faster than a losing lottery ticket on a Sunday morning. One or two pictures will survive and, for years, uncles and aunts and cousins will try to puzzle out who is in the photo and where it was taken. It’s difficult because everyone’s great-great-grandparents and small children all look pretty much alike.

There’s a Web ad that runs a dozen black-and-white yearbook photographs in an attempt to get people to reconnect with their old high school classmates. Each time I see it, I could swear they come from my high school class. The kids look so familiar. But it’s the haircuts and the clothes that trick me. I don’t think it would make a big difference if the photogapher had used Kodachrome or not.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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