From the Catalogue: Various Photographers, Lot 4

Sep 22, 2016 3:52PM

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day
...So mama don't take my Kodachrome away”
Paul Simon, Kodachrome

Nostalgia is never more vivid than when rendered in Kodachrome. Its vibrant prints color our imagination and make stable distant memories of the past. Whether they are our own cherished family photographs, or a stranger’s, the Kodachrome snapshot provides endless fascination into the lives of others as we speculate at their joys, eccentricities, intimacies, and surroundings. “Snapshots present themselves like clues to our inexplicable presence on earth,” writes photo historian Douglas Nickel. “Their own inexplicable qualities, their kaleidoscopic glimpses into the lives of strangers, seem to mirror our vital condition.”Americans in Kodachrome was born from such a fascination, and the desire to render passing moments permanent.

A collection of 93 prints, Americans in Kodachrome represents just a sample of the thousands of images taken between 1945 and 1965 from all over the United States that were submitted to professional printer Guy Stricherz at the end of the twentieth century. Stricherz and his wife, Irene Malli, also a professional printer, printed the immaculately curated 93 Kodachrome images as dye transfer prints. Incredibly rare and never before offered at auction, only two complete sets of the portfolio exist—the present lot, and a second, currently in a private California collection. A selected number of prints from the series were also produced for the permanent collection of the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany.

The submitted images showcase a wide array of relationships between the photographs and those captured within them. Their bespoke titles reveal a range of intimacies, some, like Margaret R. Lacy’s Mom with Chiffon Cake, Portsmouth, Ohio, 1950 provides personal, temporal, geographic, and even details of the baking specifics of Lacy’s image, while others, like Photographer Unknown, Cocktail Couple, Place Unknown, 1962 leave much to the imagination. The images reflect many idyllic American scenes—cheery holidays filled with colorful gifts, days at the beach, shiny red snow sleds—while also touching on the lives of those who could not afford the trappings of mid-century American consumer culture. And in the end, the family in Porch Bathers, Arcadia, Kansas, 1965 exudes as much joy as the family in First Television, Port Byron, Illinois, 1950.

Kodachrome was the beginning of popular color photography. Although professional photographers and printers experimented with the possibilities of color from the medium’s advent, it remained technically challenging and often fugitive until inventors Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr. began to develop what would become Kodachrome in 1930, first in the bathroom of their New York City apartment, and then in Rochester New York in the Eastman Kodak laboratories. The process—easy, affordable, and remarkably stable—was a marvel, forever changing the face of popular image making. Unlike its color predecessors, color carbon, carbro and dye transfer, which separate colors and require great technical skill to produce, each single sheet of Kodachrome film held three sensitive layers, each producing a primary color record, making for simplified laboratory processing. Kodachrome became fully integrated into everyday American life following the Second World War, and enjoyed immense popularity for decades until it was subsumed by even cheaper, simpler films, and ultimately, digital technology. The last roll of Kodachrome film was processed in 2010 at Dwayne’s Photo located in Parsons, Kansas. Perhaps a surprisingly obscure location, large-scale film processing centers like Dwayne’s, positioned throughout the country, played an important role in serving the vast nation of amateur photographers who regularly mailed their completed film and received finished prints in record time. The diversity of places represented in Americans in Kodachrome—from Red Mesa, Arizona to Queens, New York—is a testament to Kodak’s commitment to democratized photography. 

Dye transfer, a photographic process also known for its vibrant colors and longevity, is the perfect complement to Kodachrome. Often associated with photographic great William Eggleston, dye transfer is the only printing process that allows for individual color adjustments and takes incredible skill, significant amounts of time, and is prohibitively costly for most photographers. Today it is even rarer, as Kodak stopped manufacturing the chemicals to make dye transfer prints in the mid-1990s, and few supplies remain. The richness and range brought to bear when the Kodachrome images are transformed into dye transfer prints by Stricherz and Malli is outstanding; one stunningly beautiful printing process paying homage to another, prolonging the lives of each through the dedication and love of printers, photographers, and collectors.