The End of an Era: Steve McCurry and the Final Roll of Kodachrome Film

In 2009, when Kodak announced that production of Kodachrome film would be coming to an end, legendary photographer Steve McCurry saw an opportunity, and asked if the company would give him the final roll. Given his reputation and the many famed photographs he’s taken on Kodachrome, it’s no surprise Kodak said yes.

As a tribute to this final roll, a crew from National Geographic decided to follow McCurry and document the momentous last 36 frames that would ever be shot on that film — the video above is the result.

The video is much more than just a chronicling of how McCurry spent that last roll of film. As with any great artist, when the NatGeo crew put McCurry on camera he inevitably managed to spout some phenomenal advice. It really makes you appreciate digital (or perhaps miss film) to see McCurry being so careful with his shots, making sure that each one did the Kodachrome roll justice.

In reality, the days already came and went when that roll was shot and developed; the last lab to process Kodachrome stopped at the end of 2010 and you can see the gallery of those final shots on McCurry’s website. But this documentary acts as yet another farewell to a film so loved there are plans for a movie about its demise.

  • Eric Cantrell

    The 21:47 mark. No wonder this guy is an elite artist. He captured all of Shakespeare’s philosophies in that one image. I take pics of my vacations. McCurry captures souls.

  • kyoshinikon

    I love Steve mccurry :D. I am worried about slide nxt. Nobody processes the stuff anymore…

  • DamianM

    The Icon In LA still does.

    They say there not stopping anytime soon. why should they?
    I process my E6 4×5 there.

  • DamianM

    Its funny how it says “It really makes you appreciate digital (or perhaps miss film) to see
    McCurry being so careful with his shots, making sure that each one did
    the Kodachrome roll justice.”

    Appreciate Digital? why? because you can photograph without thinking and not be to careful?

    That sentence makes no sense

  • Fshootsfotosforfun

    Haha just the other day my professor was commenting on how he still has boxes of this stuff locked up in his freezer

  • Dave

    With no lab to process them…..

  • Dave

    I was hoping he wouldn’t, but afraid he would….waste a frame on a self portrait. He had so much great subject matter in front of him all the time while in India, and probably had the resources to go elsewhere. He belongs behind the camera.

  • Dave

    You can be as measured with digital as you could with film. You are propagating a myth. With film you could photograph without thinking as well. We used to bring rolls and rolls of film when we went out to shoot. We used motor drives too. Some people had 250 exposure backs. Meanwhile, you can sit on a subject for hours waiting for the right moment….using a digital camera. Photography has favored many mediums, but it is still just recording light the way your mind sees it.

  • delastro

    where is the leica?

  • monteraz

    He did it because of the KPR in the taxi behind him, a code for Kodachrome, certainly not because of the reason you presume.

  • michael

    I still have a couple hundred rolls of fuji NPS that I need to use. Have not played with film in a couple years now.

  • Mansgame

    As a proud film hater, I enjoyed this. With so few frames it’s fun to watch his thought process to make it count. This man’s career revolved around dealing with film and I like that he’s honest about how we can appreciate digital. Also should point out that he took test shots with his D3X first which is not a luxury he had before in the old days. I’m also curious how his D3X pictures look in comparison with the film.

  • Yashica

    Proud film hater? Wow.

  • Mansgame

    He was able to be careful with the film because he was testing the exposure with digital. Without digital he’d have to bring a Polaroid to do test shots or just waste a few rolls of film to make sure he tried different exposures.

  • Mansgame

    Yes. I don’t miss buying film. I don’t miss sending film to be processed. I don’t miss going to pick up the film and paying again. I don’t miss knowing how many chemicals were used while processing the film. I don’t miss having to pay to make reproductions of the pictures. I don’t miss finding old negatives that are stuck together and completely useless after 20 years. I don’t miss knowing that if the house ever caught on fire, flooded, or got hit by a tornado that all my memories are gone.

    Most of all I don’t miss the “film guys” who claimed film gets better results because now, with the new crops of full frame digital cameras out there, there is no contest. Dynamic range and color rendition on digital has surpassed film, even the precious Kodachrome.

  • Alan Dove

    Dwayne’s wasn’t just a Kodachrome lab. They’re still in business, and still provide excellent E-6 processing at very reasonable prices.

  • Patrick Downs

    “…a crew from National Geographic decided to follow McCurry and document the momentous last 36 frames that would ever be shot on that film — the video above is the result.” NOT exactly true … there are many photogs who’d put K64 in the freezer, buying up all that was left and probably shot it after McCurry did this. I am not sure if anyone is processing it anymore though.

  • Patrick Downs

    “Please note: Kodachrome processing has ended, as of Dec 30, 2010. We were the only remaining Kodak certified processor of Kodachrome in the world. We know of no other resource to process Kodachrome film.” –

  • Patrick Downs
  • Sid Ceaser

    As I understand it, McCurry got the very last physical roll of film off the production assembly line.

  • Anthony Burokas

    And why not capture the man who shot the last roll. Certainly worthwhile in the story of Kodachrome- moreso than a Bollywood director, IMHO.

  • Cynical Bloke

    I do get better results on film. And you think your digital photos are completely safe?

  • Viren

    With cloud sharing, they are. Relatively.

  • Rodinal

    film hater ? that’s new!
    You may direct that energy to something useful.

  • Alan Dove

    Nobody is processing it anymore, and K-14 chemistry definitely isn’t something you can replicate in your kitchen. That’s why this was truly the last roll.

    The stuff folks stockpiled can still be shot for novelty purposes and cross-processed in black-and-white chemistry, but of course you won’t get a color slide from it that way.

  • mik

    If you want to rock, you need to roll!

  • Diane

    I miss it. What will happen, if it hadn’t already, is they will configure digitals to mimic it. It’s just a matter of time. They already have apps that render photos like Polaroids. Peace.

  • Mike

    Which digital camera has better dynamic range than Portra 400?