Monday, September 13, 2010


“Most of my images are grounded in people.
I look for the unguarded moment,
the essential soul peeking out,
experience etched on a person’s face."
Steve McCurry*

Probably because I've been spending so much time lately with Dad's slide collection, my ears perked up on Saturday when I heard an interview on NPR with a photographer discussing the end of a photographic era - the last roll of Kodachrome film was processed at Dwayne's Photo Service in Parson's, Kansas in July. As I listened to the photographer talk of his life/work in photo journalism and how much he depended on this film, I thought about how even my own limited foray into the world of taking pictures has changed. No more taking roll after roll of pictures and waiting for them to be developed. No more dark rooms or pictures ruined by a thumb over the lens. Professionals and wanna-bes alike, can point and shoot and have a picture at the touch of a button. Photos that might otherwise be sitting in a slide box, or an I'll-get-to-it-someday drawer, or a neatly crafted scrapbook can be instantly uploaded and sent around the world. What would Matthew Brady think about it all?

Steve McCurry, the interviewee, is a name you might not recognize but you've seen his pictures for years. His most famous, perhaps, is that of the Afghan girl who's haunting eyes seem to look off the cover of National Geographic magazine and into one's soul.

"A high point in his career was the rediscovery of the previously unidentified Afghan refugee girl that many have described as the most recognizable photograph in the world today. When McCurry finally located Sharbat Gula after almost two decades, he said, “Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is a striking as she was all those years ago.”*

From what I've read, McCurry was privileged to use the very last roll of Kodachrome film made. Dwayne's will continue processing the film until the end of the year, then it will be history, like Brownie cameras, Friday night slide shows, and black paged scrap books held together by a shoelace, with each picture held in place (sort of) by sticky black corners.

You can guess that since I was driving, and my memory isn't all that good anyway, that I don't recall most of the interview. What I do remember, however, is that McCurry said that digital cameras are great, but to be really safe, one should back up the pictures at least 3 times. If something happens to your camera or computer, poof! there go your pictures. One of the plusses about Kodachrome slides is that they last (if preserved well, unlike some of my Father's). McCurry talked about finding a box of negatives that had been stored (and forgotten) in a garage instead of secure, temperature-controlled room and each picture was just as good as new.

My sister is a saver of things. For years she saved every Time Magazine she ever read. She's got boxes of Madam Alexander dolls packed away just waiting for a doll museum to ask for them. And she's got the negatives from almost every picture she's ever taken. Unlike me, who has been known to toss them along with the drug store envelope they came in. My back up (I only have one, not three) and ace-in-the-hole is the knowledge that Linda will be able to put her hands on almost any picture I ask about, whether it was taken this year or back in 1974. Linda is a great sister to have for many reasons, but her genetic pre-disposition to keep things neatly stored in her garage ranks up there near the top of the list. It is the flip side to my desire to throw things away or make teetering piles on every flat surface in the house.

My blog friends, Molly, Mandy and Pam take some amazing photographs. The kind that makes me say, "how did she do that?" My son has an eye for detail that makes his photos take my breath away. Jon Katz who is as much a photographer as he is a writer has branched out from taking pictures of his dogs and farm animals. He has a talent for finding the beauty and "soul" of deserted barns, county fairs and farm chores. Like McCurry these photo-makers have "an uncanny ability to cross boundaries of language and culture to capture stories of human experience."*

I found this video on You-tube which I will offer up as a tribute to the iconic film workhorse.

Wishing for you memories of days gone by,
Merry ME



Pamela Jones said...

LOVE the video...was going to look for one when the song started playing in the background of my mind as I beat me to it! GMTA!

Grace said...

I recently read an article - can't remember his name at the moment but he's called the AntiChrist of the Silicon Valley. He had an interesting take on the negative effects that the digital age is having on us.

Your post brought that to mind. Because while it is possible now for anyone at anytime to take amazing photos - easily and effortlessly - and send them around the WWW, something is being lost. It's the tactile "nurturing" or "birthing" of a photo via film. The smells of developing, for example. The expectant anticipation we felt as we waited for our photos to be developed.

Life in the digital age is a two-sided blessing, to be sure.

Of course, through it, I found your blog :) NOT a bad thing!

Unknown said...

I think film will make a comeback! Love the sunflower pic! J,,,,,,