In his recent book “Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990” (published by powerHouse Books) author and photographer Nathan Benn invites us on a visual stroll-down memory lane covering almost two decades of American history. At the same time it’s an homage to analog photography and to one of the most iconic photographic films in history: Kodachrome. A film deeply rooted in American popular visual culture.
But with digital photography becoming more and more popular, an era in photography came to an end when Eastman Kodak Company decided to stop producing its legendary film in 2009. Photojournalist Steve McCurry was given the honour to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome film that came off the assembling line. There’s a fascinating video by National Geographic that follows Steve McCurry on his trip around the world looking for the perfect pictures that were worth being captured on the last roll of the legendary film: 7 weeks, 30.000 kilometers, 36 frames.
“Kodachrome Memory celebrates the significance of American regional diversity as it was 30 or 40 years ago, before the advent of Internet culture and before the country became one vast strip mall stretching from sea to sea.”
Paul M. Farber
Flipping through the pages, one can’t help but feel like looking at one’s own family album – at least those who’ve grown up before the digital era in photography started. Back in those days, Kodachrome photographic film was almost synonym of capturing family history. With only a limited amount of frames on each film and keeping the cost for developing the negatives in mind, people would carefully think about what to photograph. Thus every image would be a record of a special moment worth remembering. That has changed.
“By giving meaning to everything, we give nothing value.”
Photography has become available to almost everyone. With cameras incorporated even in cell phones, we can take pictures wherever we are and without having to think about costs and amount of frames. Modern society is marked by an abundance of visual imagery; advances in digital technology has democratized photography. Richard Buckley sums it up in his foreword to Nathan Benn’s book: “By giving meaning to everything, we give nothing value.”
“The seemingly inconsequential subjects of Benn’s photographs – which are keenly observed and evocative of a time and place – act as metaphors for American culture and values.”
Paul M. Farber
Nathan Benn (born in 1950 in Miami, Florida) had been working as a photojournalist and documentary photographer for National Geographic for 20 years. Between 2000 – 2002 he was director of the legendary Magnum agency, founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa.
For Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990 Benn went through his personal archive containing close to half a million images, putting together a collection that is a celebration of American everydayness. Paul M. Farber writes in his essay: “The seemingly inconsequential subjects of Benn’s photographs – which are keenly observed and evocative of a time and place – act as metaphors for American culture and values.”
Besides being beautifully framed and composed, the scenes in Benn’s images spring to live because of their bright, vivid colors – a typical trademark of Kodachrome film. One has to keep in mind that they were made at a time when color photography still wasn’t fully accepted in the art world or as a medium for serious documentary expression.
Benn’s images take the viewer on a soulful time-ride; they swing, they sing – like the refrain of the classic Simon and Garfunkel song:
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Mama – or more precisely: the digital era in photography – has taken Kodachrome away; but the memory is alive. Long gone, but not forgotten…
Nathan Benn Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990 (2013) Photographs: Nathan Benn; Foreword: Richard Buckley; Essay: Paul M. Farber; 168 pages, 50,00 US$. Published by powerHouse Books.