Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome Away (For A Third — And Final — Time)

The first mention of the demise of Kodachrome appeared in this blog on September 22, 2008. Then, this blog featured a second farewell to the iconic photographic film on June 23, 2009. So, why not a third curtain call for Kodachrome? Today, on Thursday, December 30, 2010, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, KS will process the last roll of Kodachrome (1935-2010) film. If this is a (fair & balanced) fade to black, so be it.
PS: The copyright police blocked earlier versions of "Kodachrome" from YouTube on the two earlier blog posts, but — like WikiLeaks — YouTube just keeps rollin' along. Rock on, Paul & Artie (and enjoy YesMan46's Kodachrome slideshow)!

[x YouTube/YesMan46 Channel]
"Kodachrome" (1973)
By Paul Simon & Art Garfunkle

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away....

[x NY Fishwrap]
For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends At Photo Lab In Kansas
By A. G. Sulzberger

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created at
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An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the span of minutes this week, two such visitors arrived. The first was a railroad worker who had driven from Arkansas to pick up 1,580 rolls of film that he had just paid $15,798 to develop. The second was an artist who had driven directly here after flying from London to Wichita, KS, on her first trip to the United States to turn in three rolls of film and shoot five more before the processing deadline.

The artist, Aliceson Carter, 42, was incredulous as she watched the railroad worker, Jim DeNike, 53, loading a dozen boxes that contained nearly 50,000 slides into his old maroon Pontiac. He explained that every picture inside was of railroad trains and that he had borrowed money from his father’s retirement account to pay for developing them.

“That’s crazy to me,” Ms. Carter said. Then she snapped a picture of Mr. DeNike on one of her last rolls.

Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome rewarded generations of skilled users with a richness of color and a unique treatment of light that many photographers described as incomparable even as they shifted to digital cameras. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” Paul Simon [and Art Garfunkle] sang in his 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which carried the plea “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

As news media around the world have heralded Thursday’s end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in closets, sometimes for decades, have flooded Dwayne’s Photo, arriving from six continents.

“It’s more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon,” said Todd Gustavson, a curator from the George Eastman House, a photography museum in Rochester in the former residence of the Kodak founder. “If you were in the postwar baby boom, it was the color film, no doubt about it.”

Among the recent visitors was Steve McCurry, a photographer whose work has appeared for decades in National Geographic including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of a Afghan girl that highlights what he describes as the “sublime quality” of the film. When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, the company gave him the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Parsons. “I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he explained.

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo. Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

Kodak declined to comment for this article.

The status of lone survivor is a point of pride for Dwayne Steinle, who remembers being warned more than once by a Kodak representative after he opened the business more than a half-century ago that the area was too sparsely populated for the studio to succeed. It has survived in part because Mr. Steinle and his son Grant focused on lower-volume specialties — like black-and-white and print-to-print developing, and, in the early ’90s, the processing of Kodachrome.

Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.

The passing of Kodachrome has been much noted, from the CBS News program ”Sunday Morning” to The Irish Times, but it is noteworthy in no small part for how long it survived. Created in 1935, Kodachrome was an instant hit as the first film to effectively render color.

Even when it stopped being the default film for chronicling everyday life — thanks in part to the move to prints from slides — it continued to be the film of choice for many hobbyists and medical professionals. Dr. Bharat Nathwani, 65, a Los Angeles pathologist, lamented that he still had 400 unused rolls. “I might hold it, God willing that Kodak sees its lack of wisdom.”

This week, the employees at Dwayne’s worked at a frenetic pace, keeping a processing machine that has typically operated just a few hours a day working around the clock (one of the many notes on the lab wall reads: “I took this to a drugstore and they didn’t even know what it was”).

“We really didn’t expect it to be this crazy,” said Lanie George, who manages the Kodachrome processing department.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.” Ω

[Arthur G. Sulzberger is the 29-year-old son and grandson of NY Fishwrap publishers Arthur ("Pinch") Sulzberger, Jr. and Arthur ("Punch") Sulzberger, Sr. The youngest Sulzberger ("Pending"?) received a BA in political science from Brown University.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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On New Year's Day, Please Pass The Black-Eyed Peas!

Here's a preview of the 2011 Super Bowl halftime show.

[x YouTube/BlackEyedPeasVEVO Channel]
"Boom Boom Pow" (2009)
By The Black Eyed Peas

This blogger met black-eyed peas on New Years during during his first year in Texas, not long after the fall of the Alamo. He's been eatin' the awful things every New Year's Day since and the good luck has been overwhelming. Well, maybe whelming is closer to defining this blogger's life trajectory. In the meantime, please pass the thiebou niebe.

If this is (fair & balanced) dietary superstition, so be it.

]x NY Fishwrap]
Prosperity Starts With a Pea
By Jessica B. Harris

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At year’s end, people around the world indulge in food rituals to ensure good luck in the days ahead. In Spain, grapes eaten as the clock turns midnight — one for each chime — foretell whether the year will be sweet or sour. In Austria, the New Year’s table is decorated with marzipan pigs to celebrate wealth, progress and prosperity. Germans savor carp and place a few fish scales in their wallets for luck. And for African-Americans and in the Southern United States, it’s all about black-eyed peas.

Not surprisingly, this American tradition originated elsewhere, in this case in the forests and savannahs of West Africa. After being domesticated there 5,000 years ago, black-eyed peas made their way into the diets of people in virtually all parts of that continent. They then traveled to the Americas in the holds of slave ships as food for the enslaved. “Everywhere African slaves arrived in substantial numbers, cowpeas followed,” wrote one historian, using one of several names the legume acquired. Today the peas are also eaten in Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean.

In the United States, few foods are more connected with African-Americans and with the South. Before the early 1700s, black-eyed peas were observed growing in the Carolina colonies. As in Africa, they were often planted at the borders of the fields to help keep down weeds and enrich the soil; cattle grazed on the stems and vines. These practices are at the origin of two of the peas’ alternative names: cowpeas and field peas. The peas, which were eaten by enslaved Africans and poorer whites, became one of the Carolinas’ cash crops, exported to the Caribbean colonies before the Revolutionary War.

Like many other dishes of African inspiration, black-eyed peas made their way from the slave cabin to the master’s table; the 1824 edition of The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph includes a recipe for field peas. Randolph suggests shelling, boiling and draining the “young and newly gathered” peas, then mashing them into a cake and frying until lightly browned. The black-eyed pea cakes are served with a garnish of “thin bits of fried bacon.”

Of course, black-eyed peas find their most prominent expression around New Year’s in the holiday’s signature dish: Hoppin’ John, a Carolina specialty made with black-eyed peas and rice and seasoned with smoked pork. Again, though, the peas and rice combination reaches back beyond the Lowcountry to West Africa, where variants are eaten to this day. Senegal alone has three variations: thiebou kethiah, a black-eyed pea and rice stew with eggplant, pumpkin, okra and smoked fish; sinan kussak, a stew with smoked fish and prepared with red palm oil; and thiebou niebe, a stew seasoned with fish sauce that is closest to America’s Hoppin’ John.

Just as nobody is sure of the origin of the name Hoppin’ John, no one seems quite certain why the dish has become associated with luck, or New Year’s. Some white Southerners claim that black-eyed peas saved families from starvation during the Union Army’s siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food suggests that it may come from Sephardic Jews, who included the peas in their Rosh Hashana menu as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

For African-Americans, the connection between beans and fortune is surely complex. Perhaps, because dried black-eyed peas can be germinated, having some extra on hand at the New Year guaranteed sustenance provided by a new crop of the fast-growing vines. The black-eyed pea and rice combination also forms a complete protein, offering all of the essential amino acids. During slavery, one ensured of such nourishment was lucky indeed.

Whatever the exact reason, black-eyed peas with rice form one corner of the African-American New Year’s culinary trinity: greens, beans and pig. The greens symbolize greenbacks (or “folding money”) and may be collards, mustards or even cabbage. The pork is a remembrance of our enslaved forebears, who were given the less noble parts of the pig as food. But without the black-eyed pea, which journeyed from Africa to the New World, it just isn’t New Year’s — at least not a lucky one. Ω

[Jessica B. Harris is a Professor in the English Department at Queens College-CUNY and the author of the forthcoming High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America. Harris attended Bryn Mawr College, earning her A.B. degree in French in 1968. While there, she spent her junior year abroad in Paris. She returned to France in 1968, attending the Universite de Nancy for a year, and then earned her master's degree from Queens College in 1971. Harris earned her Ph.D. from New York University in 1983.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves