1.18.2016

Kodachrome Classic Monday #73


Every Monday, I'll be spotlighting a different classic Kodachrome slide that I've picked up, and trying where I can to detail the who, what, when, where, why, and how (much) of the image:

This Week:

What: Dawning of an Icon


I'm going to dispense with my usual format and just relay the information on the image in my details of why it is so fascinating to me in a number of ways.  After all, the location is pretty obvious given the Empire State Building looming in the backdrop.  What is so compelling about this otherwise drab and splotchy image is that the landmark skyscraper was just 7 years old when this photo was taken.  

But that is just the start, as though the image was in a glass mount slide, I was able to piece together a number of complementary clues between this and other photos in the same set to build a framework to determine the film stock and even the camera with which this photo was taken.  

First, the image is NOT a 35mm slide - it is clearly a bit larger in frame size, so it is apparent that this is on 828 format film.  And since Kodachrome was the only color film available in 828 at that time, this is by default a Kodachrome slide.  But it's not quite brimming with the color one typically associates with an old Kodachrome.  This is because it is the original emulsion, one with much less stability than the Kodachrome known among slide collectors today.  This emulsion was replaced in late 1938 by the improved version which has documented most of the decades since.  As well, other photos in this same set (on the same faded type of film stock) show theater marquees for movies that debuted in 1938, adding more substantiation to 1938 as the date of this photo.  You won't find much in the way of a color photo of New York City dated earlier than this image! 

And thus, my title for this image, "Dawning of an Icon" has a double meaning.  Not only does it reference the Empire State Building in its youth, but also Kodachrome in its infancy. As much as it would be great to have this setting recorded on the soon to be improved Kodachrome, there is a certain added fascination with having this image on the much rarer embryonic version of the iconic film stock.

The appeal of this image does not stop there.  Being a photographer, camera collector, and crack historian, I tend to be dismayed about one particular aspect of collecting slides.  Since analog photography lacks any EXIF file, I don't know what kind of camera took the images that I am collecting unless there is a mention on the slide mount, or a seller makes a specific note in the listing.  Such mentions are quite rare.  However, knowing that this is an 828 slide, and looking at other slides in the batch, I could tell that the photographer was of ample financial means. As well, some of the 828 slides in the batch were obviously taken with a well equipped camera.  Thus, with its limited lineup available at the time, there could only be one camera model that could have taken shots of this quality and diversity, and that is the top of the line Kodak Bantam 828 Special, an Art Deco masterpiece often regarded as one of the most beautiful cameras ever made.

And speaking of other shots in the batch, I've already featured THREE such images (without even really paying proper attention at the time to these being 828 photographs) in previous Kodachrome Weekly Features that were taken with this very same camera.  They can be examined here, here, and here.  And thankfully, they are all taken a year or so later on the "new and improved" Kodachrome emulsion, so their colors are less much muted than the photo above.  

And as to precisely where this image was taken, I was able to piece together clues from the other buildings in the scene, particularly those in the extreme right to be able to deduce that this was taken on 5th Avenue (as a two-way street!) looking South from 46th Street.  I still have more from this batch to feature, many of which are just about as fascinating as this 78 year old glimpse of Gotham, so stay tuned!