Thursday, February 19, 2009

Film is dead? Long live Autochrome!

Before there was Technicolor or Kodachrome, there was Autochrome, an additive, nonlayered process involving dyed starch grains and tar on glass plates and later on film. If you've seen color photos of World War I, they were invariably taken using this process.

Neil Burger chose to emulate the unsaturated, fuzzy, somewhat dreamy look of Autochrome in 2006's The Illusionist, a connection lost on most of the audience including myself at the time. French artist Frédéric Mocellin has gone one better and, using factory notes, duplicated the long-lost Autochrome process, albeit on polyester sheets; the results are posted on his website.

Film is dead, they say, surpassed except in large format by high-end digital. I shoot film--I shoot film exclusively--and hear more and more remarks about being "retro", even more when I mention that I prefer Kodachrome 64 to some technically superior E-films in many situations. The reason is simpler, however: I like the look of film--the analog shoulder, the color balance, the grain. I even prefer what happens when film goes wrong to what happens when a CCD is misexposed. And digital is what I deal with at work; film is for fun!

Why would Mocellin revive Autochrome in the age of medium format Ektar and the 20 megapixel CCD? For the same reason artists didn't abandon paint when the Lumière brothers invented Autochrome. It's yet another medium or method for the artist to express his idea. I'm not very worried about being able to purchase film a few years from now. When paints can no longer be found, then perhaps I'll worry. But if all else fails, I can start dyeing potato starch.

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