Delivering 1984 Kodachromes in current tech times. File organization? Who? Me?


Texas Governor, Ann Richards
at a Mondale-Ferraro rally in 1984.
Austin, Texas.

I was working in the ad business back in 1984 but I still spent time walking around with my camera. I heard that Fritz Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, who were running for president and vice president at the time, would be at a rally at the Texas State Capitol so I put on a pair of shoes, grabbed a couple rolls of Kodachrome 64 (as in: ISO 64), my favorite camera and a 135mm lens. 

Politicians weren't as precious back then so there weren't layers and layers of security to wade through in order to get close to the speakers and presenters. You could just, kinda, walk up to the front row, about 30 feet from the candidates and claim a bit of territory on which to stand. So I did.

I photographed a handful of frames of Mondale and Ferraro and then Ann Richards gave a short speech. At the end of her speech everyone cheered and someone handed her a bouquet of yellow roses. She reached up and tipped her hat and I shot a frame of film. Slide film. No wiggle room. No post processing magic available at the time. Thankfully, I nailed the exposure but I was hand-holding the camera and lens at around 1/60th of a second and it was before the wimpy times of image stabilization everywhere. It's not the most tack sharp frame I've made in my career but it's acceptable.

The image turned out well enough and got some use by the Richards people for a spell. I wish I had taken more frames but in that time period, if you weren't on assignment and were shooting for fun, you might try one frame and save the next five or six shots on the roll in case anything else, weirder or more picturesque, popped up. 

When Ann passed away a few years back I had a bunch of requests for use of the image. I searched my computer and found some that I'd scanned at a decent (but not great!!!) size. I think the biggest scan was something like 1600 by 1000 pixels. But everyone's use was either newspaper or web so everyone was happy to get the smaller files. It's a good thing I had the scans because I was unable to put my hands on the original transparency even after searching for days....

Yesterday, one of the partners at Pentagram, (https://www.pentagram.com) which bills itself as "The world's largest independent design consultancy", got in touch and asked me if they could use (and pay a fee for) that image to integrate into a project about Ann Richards. I was flattered and thrilled as I have followed the agency, and the requesting partner, for decades.  We e-mailed back and forth and agreed on terms. He'd sent along a digital copy of the image as a reference for our conversation so I assumed he had what he needed.

As you might guess, a half hour later one of the people actually responsible for production got in touch and requested I send to them the highest resolution version possible of the image that I might have. I panicked. 

I spent most of yesterday evening busting open boxes I've been storing for decades looking for that one chrome. I looked through every folder in every drawer in every filing cabinet but kept coming up empty-handed. Finally, I dusted off the last box, poured everything out onto the floor of the studio and went through every slide page. And there, at the very bottom of the stack, was that Ann Richards image, stuck in a slide page with 19 unrelated images. 

My euphoria was short-lived. I had donated my last film scanner about eight years ago and I have no idea who in Austin still scans slides. I decided to do it myself and ran into the next brick wall. I no longer have a copy stand or a set of macro lenses with which to do slide copies. I took a breath and looked up an article about copying slides using newer, high resolution cameras and macro lenses. At that point I was confident the new Leica, or the ancient Panasonic S1R, would resolve more detail than the slide contained, but I lacked a well corrected macro lens. Rabbit hole, rabbit hole. 

I showed up at the camera store a bit after they opened today to buy the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Art series macro lens and a horizontal arm for my tripod. Back at home base I put my camera into electronic shutter mode and set an eight second delay to prevent any sort of vibration from degrading the shots and, after super careful focusing, I banged off five or six big, 47 megapixel raw files. I spent an hour dust spotting and fine tuning and then sent along huge, layered PSD and Tiff files. 

If I submitted this job to a business expert they would quickly divine that I'd done everything wrong and could have had the slide scanned for about $20. If I wanted a really wonderful scan I might have paid $60. Instead I dropped something like $650 to "scan" a fairly low resolution, 37 year old Kodachrome slide in a cardboard mount. I don't really care. I always wanted to do something with Pentagram. And I needed to figure out a quick way to copy more favorite old 35mm and MF negatives that I want to use from time to time. I'll mark this as a win... but also a hard lesson about filing and organization. I'm not sure you really own something if you can't find it. 

Why did I write this? Because I'm scared of two things in life: shots and blood tests. This post kept my mind off my upcoming, 5:00 pm appointment to be vaccinated; for about an hour. A good trade off yet again. 

Now I have copies of my favorite "Ann" photograph on multiple hard drives and also tucked away up in the cloud. Next time someone asks to use the image it should require nothing more that a few mouse clicks to get to a huge file. But I'm less happy imagining all the time it's going to take to organize a couple hundred thousand other slides..... Maybe it's best to not even start.