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Gottlieb on Kodachrome

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Portrait of June Christy, 1947 or 1948. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Next Friday the Music Division will release another batch of images from the William P. Gottlieb Collection to Flickr Commons. What makes this particular selection of images special, and a little more poignant, at least for me,  can be found outside the image.

If you look closely at the edges of the color images in this week’s Flickr release, you’ll find a name that has been on the lips and in the eyes of many a photographer (including myself) this year:  Kodachrome.  Film stocks come and go, but Kodak first produced this magnificent film in 1935 and only took it out of production last year.

Kodachrome, immortalized in song by Gershwin Prize recipient Paul Simon,  is famed in photographic circles for its rich colors and chemical stability – while many color films are subject to fading and color shift after a certain number of years, Kodachrome can retain its color accuracy for decades. I’ve picked up many old Kodachrome slides at flea markets over the years, and despite what must have been terrible storage conditions, slides that are fifty and even seventy years old look as colorful as the day they were made.

Owing to the complex chemistry required to develop the film,  there was in recent years only one place left in the world that processed Kodachrome, a photo lab in Parsons, Kansas.   And sadly, with the film out of production,  they will stop processing Kodachrome at the end of this month.  Pardon the digression, but I must pause for a moment of silence to remember the end of a photographic era.

Luckily, the images made on Kodachrome live on.  See what 52nd street, then the center of the New York Jazz universe, looked like in 1948; take in a portrait of burlesque artist Lois de Fee performing in that street’s Club Nocturne. Watch doorman Gilbert J. Pinkus, known as “The Mayor of 52nd Street,”  in action in front of the Three Deuces, whose marquee advertises such Gottlieb subjects as Errol Garner, J. C. Heard, and Oscar Pettiford. Try to read all the old business signage in the background of an image of Joe Marsala, Adele Girard, and Toots Thielemans hanging out on 52nd Street. And please, feel free to leave comments on these images on Flickr!

Addendum: the Music Division is saddened to hear of the passing of jazz saxophonist and flutist James Moody.  Best known for his recording of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” to which Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to create the tribute, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” Moody was one of our last living links to the great be-bop era.  He was 85 years old. Remember James Moody with this Gottlieb image of him on the bandstand with Dizzy Gillespie and Howard Johnson.

Thanks to Larry Appelbaum, Senior Reference Specialist, and Hope O’Keeffe, Office of the General Counsel,  for assistance with this post.

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