Color Reversal Transparencies (aka “slides”)

Kodak has announced: “Due to a steady decrease in sales and customer usage, combined with highly complex product formulation and manufacturing processes, Kodak is discontinuing three Ektachrome (color reversal) films.” This means that, after 77 years, the Great Yellow Father is no longer in the business of making slides. ‘Tis a pity: slides can’t be beat for color saturation and sharpness. Fortunately, we still have excellent Fuji films with those qualities.

Me, I’m drownin’ in slides. Carousels, boxes, plastic sheets, even food storage bagsful. Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Agfachrome, and Fujichrome, pretty much all 35mm. I also curate (i.e. have) my grandfather’s Anscochrome, some of my in-laws’ stuff, a batch depicting office culture at United Air Lines’s EXO, work shot from printed sources for delectation in class, and endless dupes of a generation’s worth of AP work. Slides are part of the reason the missus insists that if I go first she’ll have the basement bulldozed, rather than make sense of its contents.

Richard Benson wrote: “The huge amateur market that consumed 35mm slides has always been a mystery to me. Why did all those people make all those pictures? The impulse must be connected to an effort to retain memories of times gone by. It is somewhat tragic, because as we use technological devices to aid our memories we inevitably reduce our capacity to remember. We see this demonstrated in the mnemonic wonders of oral traditions, which always suffer as writing is introduced to cultures. Color slides are even more mysterious because they are almost never looked at. At least with an album of prints we can take the book off the shelf, easily leaf through it a bit, and then put it away again. The slide requires a projector, a dark room, and almost invariably other people, who have been gathered together to participate in the viewing of someone else’s visual history. For me there is no more excruciating event than looking at the family slides.”

I have only respect for Mr. Benson, so I will gently address some of these points. It’s safe to assume that marketing is what fueled the 35mm transparency (and its business in projectors) popularity, yes? Oral traditions are no parallel to easily leafing, are they? If technological devices reduce one’s capacity to remember, it’s for some sort of trade-off, n’est-pas? Peut-etre the tragedie is on a nostalgic level, within a generation or so (I recall gnashing over the proliferation of soft-cover books). Oral traditions necessitate a gathering, a ritual; hello? And they need not be family slides. (Okay, there was that one time when Jack Niemet showed us hundreds of slides of composers’ birthplaces, pianos, deathbeds, and headstones, and I went to bed while he went to the loo, but hey, the exception proves the rule.) The sharpness in transparencies can’t be beat, and lord knows there are ways to convert the images to other, um, mediums.

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