‘The best interpretation of the Truth’
Year 1984; a 12-year old Afghan girl in a refugee camp on the border of Afghanistan– Pakistan… I’m sure you all remember the girl. Sharbat Gula with indescribable green eyes. The photograph taken by Steve McCurry traveled all around the world on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. It was ranked among the best 100 photos of the magazine. Along with its copies and paintings, the photo has become one of the symbols of 20th century. Now, you have the opportunity to see the original. Istanbul Modern is hosting“The Last Roll of Kodachrome” exhibition by Steve McCurry, curated by EnginÖzendes. What makes the exhibition more special is that, it was taken with the last Kodachrome film and is being exhibited in Istanbul in the first place.
Production of Kodachrome was stopped in 2009 due to the rapid development of technology and spread of digital cameras. Being the favorite of press photographers, the film had been produced since 1935. During its 73-year life, it became the“icon” of film technology, most preferred by amateur and professional photographers. It became a legend in the end of 60s and 70s; even a song was made for it in 1973 by Paul Simon. Steve McCurry, a member of Magnum Photos, traveled 30.000kms in 6 weeks with the last 36 frames of this film and took photos of different people and cities in various countries; he witnessed the closing of an era.
He has been working for National Geographic for 30 years now. Steve McCurry who has an archive of 800.000 photos says that the best photos he took was with Kodachrome:
“Kodachrome really caught the color. And the colors were truly spectacular. They weren’t too garish. Indeed, they were the best interpretation of the truth. So, when I heard the production of the film was to stop, I wanted to write the last chapter of the story of Kodachrome.”
Steve McCurry asked Kodak for the last roll of Kodachrome produced in Rochester, New York. The company accepted his desire. He says he got a very strange feeling while he was inserting the roll into machine:
“But I have done it a thousand times before. And now it had become a habit. Doing it again was a bit strange, and nostalgic. I knew I was inserting the roll for the last time; I wanted to take photos that remind me of something.”
He didn’t have a plan for this time. According to him, a good photograph is a result of interesting situations, good light and a certain moment. McCurry doesn’t want to shoot “a postcard with no human story”.“If you have only 36 frames, you would want all of them to be special and attractive, which would make you feel stressed; because every shot is precious.”So he decided to shoot a series of portraits. After beginning withRobert de Niro whom he chose as one of the icons of New York, he goes back to Hollywood of India, to Bollywood, where it had all began, to celebrate his meeting with Kodachrome. He shot a few icons of Bollywood. Famous actor and director Amitabh Bachchan, actor, director and producer Aamir Khan, writer and actress Shenaz Treasurywala, actress and director Nandita Nas and the director of Elizabeth, Shekhar Kapur.
Later, McCurry shot people from the Rabari tribe in state of Rajastan where he feels like home.
After India, he continued the shooting with Ara Güler, known as“the Eye of Istanbul”, ordinary people in Grand Central Station, Washington Square Park and Union Square and Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt. Among the photos is a photo of him posing in front of a Kodak-yellow taxi with PKR 36 plate.
He used the last three frames in Parsons, Kansas in USA where there is the only lab, Dwayne’s Photo that can develop the film after the discontinuation. The last frame is magnificent with the statues in the city cemetery and yellow and red flowers which reminds Kodachrome colors.
Steve McCurry completed his journal with five losses. EnginÖzendes stated that the last roll of Kodachrome 64 is now kept in George Eastman House in Rochester which is among the first and most important museums of photography: “And no, another milestone in the history of photography has completed its task and sent us off towards a digital horizon.”
The exhibition “The Last Roll of Kodachrome” also covers a documentary by National Geographic about this adventure of Steve McCurry with the last Kodachrome roll and a slide show of other works of him.
Above all, you can see the today of McCurry’s reputed Afghan Girl in the exhibition!
Now it’s a nostalgia to wash films and wait for the result; digital instruments have come into our lives to stay for a long time… I was quite impressed with the rich and true colors and the people in photos. You have time until September 4 to witness this end of an era!