Ektachrome: Vintage ’84
As a photographer, I sometimes refer to my contemporaries and myself as “time stoppers.” That’s what we do; we make photographs by stopping time for 1/500th of a second and preserve that moment that otherwise is forever once and gone. It therefore seems tragically poetic that the art of film and print photography has been a dying one lately, a tangible moment fading away against a series of electronic impulses of ones and zeros temporarily onto a screen. People around me have wondered why I have become so obsessed over shooting with film for the past two years now. The short, one-word answer: Kodachrome.
When I began shooting professionally, Kodachrome was already dead; the last place on Earth that could develop it fully in colour stopped doing so two years before I sold my first prints. It was not until after shooting thousands of images digitally that I began to realise that something felt missing. Truth be told, I got bored with the process, of just shooting indiscriminately and with impunity, just as long as the battery in my camera was charged and there was enough free gigabytes on my SD card. Around the same time, I started to study the works of McCurry, Webb, Harvey–heavyweights in the photographic world who cut their teeth on Kodachrome. Partly out of admiration, but mostly because I felt I missed out on something, I began longing for Kodachrome. I had missed out completely. But it was more than just that. It was a tangible process, one that challenges and invests you fully in the art of being limited to just 36 frames, and while the resulting photographic slides may be more grainy and not as clinically sharp as a digital JPEG or raw file, it had substantially more depth in it and an indescribable beauty. It was like falling for the girl next door who was no longer available, that pain of missing your shot because you didn’t even shoot it at all. And then of course, by the time I got around to trying to work the courage to ask out someone else, she, too, went off the market: Ektachrome.
Although Ektachrome as an E-6 slide film is readily processable today, it is damn near impossible to find any fresh more more recently expired rolls, having been killed off by Kodak in 2012. But this time, I was not going to let that stop me as even today I still carry that pain of missing my shot with Kodachrome. So in late 2016, I was able to track down an old stock of Ektachrome 64 from a seller who assured me that although the roll had expired in 1984, it had been kept in the back of a freezer since and therefore might still be good. I took a chance. And so, in late autumn of 2016, I loaded that roll into my Canonet QL17 rangefinder and shot my shots.
Now of course, last year Kodak announced its intention to resurrect Ektachrome. So at least there is some hope left for film, even if only a modicum. My Leica sits ready for Ektachrome’s long awaited return.
Text and film photographs originally presented as a photo essay at K. Dao Photography .