Monday, May 2, 2011

"Mama, Don't Take My Kodachrome Away"

I began my photographic life as a boy with a Brownie of some kind; the exact model I don't remember. I know my Grandmother Clement gave me a camera kit for my birthday or for Christmas. Of course all I shot was black and white and had the drugstore process and print the results. Later I did my own processing but that's another story.

My father liberated a fine camera during WWII and brought it home. When the Allies entered a town in enemy territory they required the civilians to turn in all weapons and cameras. A soldier in his outfit had been a professional photographer in civilian life and my Dad asked him to pick out a good camera for him. He chose a Kodak Retina II, which I still have.

In 1931 Kodak purchased the Dr. August Nagel Camerawerk factory in Stuttgart, Germany. They began manufacturing Kodak Retina cameras there in 1934. Over the years there were different models and types, with the last of the Retinas being produced in 1969.

The model that my father acquired was a Retina II, type 142. It is a folding range finder camera. It has a 50mm Schneider f2.8 lens in a Compur shutter, 1-500 plus bulb. There is no light meter, hot shoe or pc socket for flash. It is a good quality lens and camera. It was the first camera to use the 135 film cartridge which all 35mm cameras subsequently used. This camera was manufactured sometime between 1937 and 1939.

The introduction of this camera coincided with the introduction of the first practical color transparency film, Kodachrome. It was invented by two musicians, Leopold Godowsky, Jr and Leopold Mannes. Kodachrome lovers, who are legion, say Kodachrome was invented by “God and Man”. It was made available in many different formats, including movie and large format. Unfortunately for me Kodak stopped manufacturing 4x5 Kodachrome in 1951. Thus all my large format color was done on Ektachrome, Fujichrome, Velvia or print film.. Oh, well.

Kodachrome had wonderful color reproduction and was very stable, as you will soon see. The first Kodachrome that I used had an ISO of 12, and some years later an ISO of 25. They later made ISO 40, 64 and 200. I did not like these later additions to the family. The slow speeds of these films caused some problems in anything but nicely lit outdoor scenes, especially if you had no light meter or tripod. Both of these items were later additions to my photographic kit. My solution to the light meter problem was to follow the instructions that came with every roll of film: “In bright sunlight use f8 at 1/125” or something like that. Sort of like the photojournalists's motto”f8 and be there”. Kodak stopped manufacturing Kodachrome in 2009. The last Kodachrome processing lab closed 11 Jan 2011.

The first photos I know I took with this camera are shown below. The original Kodachrome slides have been scanned using a Minolta 35mm film scanner. There has been some post processing but it is minimal. The photos of Yellowstone Falls and the geyser were made on a family trip to Yellowstone in 1949 or 1950. My Dad handed me the camera and said “Take some pictures.” I know the Falls photos were mine because when we got the slides back he complimented me on what nice shots they were and what a good job I had done. From then on if I wanted to use the camera all I had to do was ask And buy film and pay for the processing, which limited my usage.

The photo below is Mt Timpanogas, east of Provo, Utah in the Wasatch Mountains. I believe it was taken in the early 1950's. A guess and by golly shot—no meter, no bright sun.

I graduated from high school in July 1956. For a celebration two of my friends and I borrowed a car from one of our fathers and went to the White Mountains for a few days. One of the things I like about the White Mountains are the big meadows, called cienegas. One of my friend's uncles had a cabin near Big Lake and let us use it. This cabin and another cienega are shown in the photos below.

Paul Simon wrote a song called “Kodachrome”, which appeared in 1973 on an album, “There Goes Rhymin Simon”. As a single this song topped out at #2 on the charts. For me the best line is
“Mama, Don't Take My Kodachrome Away.”
They took the new Kodachrome away, but Kodachrome still exists on my old slides. Thanks be to Stuttgart Camerawerk, God and Man.


  1. Such a treat to find these old forgotten slides that document the beginnings of your craft.

  2. We love your blog--the ole white haired guy and the saint. How interesting and we love the photos.

  3. What a fun post and such beautiful pictures!