Kodak has announced that it will be bring back Ektachrome slide reversal film in both 35mm and Super 8 formats by the end of 2017. The company will produce Ektachrome at its film factory in Rochester, N.Y., rounding out their offerings in the film photography world, supplementing Ektar 100 film processed C-41 in their fine color film stock. The news should be of great excitement to film photography enthusiasts. Before it’s discontinuation Ektachrome was one of the premier color stock films alongside the infamous and still unavailable Kodachrome, forever immortalized in the Paul Simon song of the same name. The Ektachrome film had many of the same hallmarks in richness of color, and was used by all manner of photographer, from amateur to professional.
The news points to a re-emerging trend of authenticity in art. It would be unfair to cast this as a vinyl versus MP3 argument, but it can be framed that way. It is widely know that vinyl has seen a resurgence in sales, driven mainly by a perceived quality lacking in digital formats. While that may be true compared to the MP3 of the original iPod, consumers now have access to lossless files that compete with vinyl in terms of quality, even studio quality masters. Quantitatively, they can be the exact same thing, but the emotional human experience of putting on a record adds that extra layer of warmth that everyone says they hear.
The quantitative values in terms of photography would be megapixels. According to camera expert Ken Rockwell a 35mm exposure can reach upwards of 87 megapixels, dwarfing the camera you have on your phone. Cameras that cost thousands of dollars are only just beginning to approach this level of resolution, but it won’t be in the hands of the average consumer for many years. No matter how good these camera sensors get, some photographer will always want to use film, like some painters still use watercolors or oils instead of acrylics.
The art world is right to celebrate the return of this very special film. Not everyone will become a William Eggleston overnight if they pick up a rangefinder and a pack of Ektachrome film stock. Most people will just resort to their cameraphones and Instagram filters. But like the vinyl record, a good color photograph will reveal its art for what it really is: it is an authentic document.
Deep, rich color and high detail-fidelity made the Ektachrome film stock a favorite of the photographers working for National Geographic. And while Art Critic John Ruskin, and through him Alain de Botton, might want you to sketch a scene, no drawing will ever make an exact replica of a tree in quite the same way a photograph can. The photograph is, in the right hands, a perfect art.
The practice is not for everyone, everyday. With 35 mm film, you must buy the film, the processing, and the prints. Each individual photograph costs money (approximately $2.00 a photograph), where an entry-level DSLR will run down the cost of the camera when you take hundreds of photographs every time you hold down the shutter. But because each photo costs money, each photograph captured using film must be special. Each slide must be carefully considered, thoughtfully composed, and perfectly exposed.
The world is not digital. It is analog. Music doesn’t come in digital bits, it comes in sound waves. You can see them in the grooves of a record. Photography is captured light, and the slide negative is a relic of that light. It’s not a question of quality—surely digital will surpass both formats in short time—it’s a question of authenticity. Ektachrome depicts the world as it is, in full, glorious color. And for many, seeing is believing.
@chrisjohngilson is not dead, he writes about music for Pancakes & Whiskey, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Paste, Splitsider, and elsewhere.