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Photographer Finn O'Hara works with Kodachrome Film, which is no longer produced, for special projects. (Ryan Enn Hughes for The Globe and Mail/Ryan Enn Hughes for The Globe and Mail)
Photographer Finn O'Hara works with Kodachrome Film, which is no longer produced, for special projects. (Ryan Enn Hughes for The Globe and Mail/Ryan Enn Hughes for The Globe and Mail)

After 74 years, Kodachrome fades away Add to ...

Finn O'Hara opens his freezer and peers at its most precious contents while a stream of cold air swirls into his kitchen. Nestled beside a bag of walnuts and a tall bottle of limoncello is a bubble-wrap-lined mailing package.

Mr. O'Hara pulls a small yellow-and-red roll from the package, a few centimetres of glossy brown film curling from it.

"When you look at this, I think it was made in the seventies," he says, scrutinizing the roll for an expiry date.

It's a vintage roll of Kodak Kodachrome film. It has been preserved in Mr. O'Hara's freezer since October, when it arrived in the mail, but it is now down to its last days.

Eastman Kodak Company announced yesterday that it will no longer produce Kodachrome, which has captured some of the world's most iconic images for 74 years. The company introduced the 35 mm colour film in 1935, and it gained a following among professional and amateur photographers alike.

The haunting green eyes of the "Afghan girl" who graced the cover of National Geographic in June of 1985 were captured on Kodachrome. Some of the best-known colour photos of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Joe DiMaggio were made with Kodachrome. Singer Paul Simon gave the film his endorsement with the hit song Kodachrome in 1973, lauding the film's "nice bright colours" while imploring, "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away."

Mr. Simon's prescient plea notwithstanding, Kodak can no longer justify producing the film in the digital age when it is used only by a niche group of film enthusiasts. And that has Mr. O'Hara mourning the film on a deeply personal level.

On the exposed-brick wall of his apartment is a framed shot of him as a toddler, snapped by his father in 1976. In his tiny hands he clutches a stubby brown bottle of Carlsberg beer with its signature green label, a sandy, out-of-focus beach behind him.

"It's such an accurate representation of the palette of the day. The furniture, the skin tones - they all radiate another era," he said.

It's just one of hundreds of photos his parents took of him growing up.

"It really is a film that recorded an era. It recorded our childhood," he said. "A real drawback to digital is you can make it do anything."

His father, Errill, worked for Kodak in England for two years before immigrating to Canada in 1972 and taking a job with the company at its factory in Toronto's west end. He had no interest in photography before he started working for Kodak, but with a limitless supply of the high-end Kodachrome film at his disposal, it was unavoidable.

He spent only a year at Kodak before going off to the carpet-manufacturing business.

"But I took the love of photography with me," the elder Mr. O'Hara said.

And that love was passed on to his son.

When there were murmurs last fall that Kodak might discontinue the film, the younger Mr. O'Hara posted Kodachrome photographs from his childhood on his blog, lamenting the end of a photographic era.

A fellow photographer in Halifax saw the blog entry and graciously offered Mr. O'Hara a few expired rolls of the film to try out. While less-delicate Polaroid sheets have been relegated to the crisper in Mr. O'Hara's fridge, he's stashed the four rolls of Kodachrome in his freezer. He said he feels pressure to use the film for a special project.

But now Mr. O'Hara is facing a new kind of pressure: The lone photo lab that processes the film will stop doing so in December of 2010.

Two years ago, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan., became the last man standing in the Kodachrome game when a Swiss Kodak lab closed down. Each week, the processor receives envelopes containing rolls of Kodachrome from all over the world, including Canada.

Grant Steinle, vice-president of operations at Dwayne's Photo, said he's bracing himself for an influx of Kodachrome rolls in the coming year and a half.

"We're not worried about being able to do the work," he said. "It will just be a question of whether processing chemicals are still available for it."

That's because Kodak is not only halting production of the film, but also the developing solution, a complex cocktail of 20 chemicals. When the present supply runs out, all those who want Dwayne's to turn their film into prints will be out of luck.

Facing this new deadline, the younger Mr. O'Hara has decided to wind the film into his father's old Pentax Spotmatic camera this summer.

He's trekking across the country to capture dramatic Canadian landscapes as part of a work contract. He'll be snapping away with a digital SLR, but for his own records, will also document the journey on Kodachrome.

"It's sort of like a fond farewell. I'll load it up, I'll start shooting. And that'll be it," he said. "It'll be a really nice way to say goodbye to that film."

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