Friday, 6 March 2015

Ektachrome 64: 2004

While rummaging through my box of drugs I found some rolls of Kodak Ektachrome 64 EPR, a professional film that was introduced in the late 1970s. It was discontinued a few years ago. My rolls expired in 2004, year of retro mock-rock band The Darkness. While you were headbanging ironically to "I Believe in a Thing Called Love", my rolls of Kodak Ektachrome were clawing at the inside of their box, begging to be taken out and put through a camera; but no-one heard them, and their potential was wasted.

Reading through old issues of Pop Photo on Google Books it seems that Ektachrome was infamous for making everything look blue, and after eleven years of being in a cupboard this is doubly true; saggy-breasted out-of-breath balding smelly old Ektachrome turns everything blue, as if it had transformed into Tungsten film. Photoshop can rescue it, however:

I used a Rolleisoft diffusion filter, as in the previous post, although the results are almost unnoticeable. As I tweak the colours I imagine that I am working at NASA, tweaking the colours of raw data transmitted from a space probe, or from Landsat 8 in Earth orbit. And if I tweak the colours so that they no longer look like real life, who is going to punish me? What god will strike me down? I was fascinated with Landsat when I was a kid. The Landsat programme was a kind of Google Earth prototype, but with an emphasis on infrared and multi-spectal imaging rather than visible light; I had a mental vision of bearded, sandal-wearing Californian scientists poring over the data so that they could show farmers how to make more food. The images were used extensively in popular science books as filler. Nowadays Landsat has lots of competition, but the programme still survives (just). There's a fascinating table in the January 1982 Popular Photo that gives the expected lifespan of various film stocks of the time:

Or at least their life before they start to fade noticeably. "They only want you when you're seventeen. When you're twenty-one, you're no fun." Once it has been shot, Ektachrome 64 should lose ten per cent of its mojo after fifty years of dark storage, and as I gaze at Kodak's table I see memories of the twentieth century fading away to nothingness. The charming look of old prints and old slides is actually a defect, a snapshot of decay, and ultimately the photographs themselves - the images - are snapshots of decay, images of kids who are now old men, and their mothers who are now dead, Spanish coastal towns that are now covered in hotels, aeroplanes that were taken out of service because they were too noisy, cars that were once ubiquitous but have now all rusted away.

Even the hardiest films could not survive the death of film itself, and I imagine there are vaults of Kodakchrome slides in hospitals and police stations and museums that were taken out once to be digitised in the mid-2000s and will be taken out a second and final time to be disposed of in a few years. Time is the great enemy; the biggest battalion of all. It is not kind, and no amount of good generalship or guile will defeat it.

Digital storage does not fade, of course, and now that everything is stored remotely, in the cloud, our memories will accumulate indefinitely. The collective memories of humanity are trapped on this planet, where they will be erased once the Earth dies. Unless we broadcast them into space; but they will simply criss-cross the paths of memory archives broadcast by alien civilisations, slowly fading and dispersing as they travel across the universe until the signal is indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation, leaving behind dead planets and dead suns.