What Would You Photograph if You Had the Last Roll of Film Ever Processed?

It’s a compelling question: What would you photograph if you had the last roll of film on earth? Although it hasn’t quite come to that yet, photographer Steve McCurry was given the chance to shoot with the last roll of Kodachrome film ever produced. Before Kodak chose to discontinue manufacturing Kodachrome film, it was long the choice of professional photographers for color photography.

And for good reason. Even if you’re not familiar with Steve McCurry’s name, you’re certain to be familiar with his work, such as the portrait of Sharbat Gula, otherwise known as the “Afghan Girl” — a striking young lady with electric blue-green eyes, draped in a crimson shawl…captured in brilliant, high-contrast color on Kodachrome.

famous "Afghan girl" on Kodachrome

So what did he choose to fill those 36 frames? Courtesy of National Geographic, we get to find out:

As a freelance photographer, McCurry has had the opportunity to work on assignments for National Geographic for 30 years.

“I think most of my best photographs were shot on Kodachrome. I probably have an archive of around maybe 800,000 slides. Kodachrome really kept its color — and the color was sublime.”

Kodachrome color photograph

An example of Kodachrome’s colorful capabilities (shot by McCurry)

As an avid user of Kodachrome, McCurry considers the quality of the film as “the best rendition of reality,” and he wanted, in his own words, the “last chapter in the book on Kodachrome.” So he took six weeks to travel, deciding to improvise and be spontaneous rather than plan every picture. He started out in New York, hitting iconic locations like Chinatown, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Times Square, but finally settled on Grand Central Station for the first of his 36 pictures.

Feeling somewhat uninspired so far, McCurry decided to change his approach was was able to get actor Robert De Niro to sit for a portrait. The result was three more frames and a new, exciting idea: he would dedicate his remaining shots to capturing portraits. So he returned to India, where his freelance career began. From slums to Bollywood to nomadic countryside, McCurry captured the vibrant colors and rich culture of India, using all of his remaining shots.

The last stop on his journey was a small photo shop in Kansas — the last place on earth with the capability to process Kodachrome film. After an agonizingly long 40-minute wait and a nerve-wracking machine jam, he finally got to see his results, a few of which you can see below:

Indian magician on Kodachrome

Indian girl on Kodachrome

Indian man on Kodachrome

“It took me back to the days of film; it made me long for the colors and the tones and the hues of Kodachrome — how beautiful and poetic the images are.

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One Comment

  1. Yvon Simard says:

    I would probably shoot this last roll of film itself

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