In reality, when Paul Simon's song "Kodachrome" was on the record charts in 1973, Kodachrome slide film was only about halfway through its 75-year lifespan. Simon's plaintive request took on added meaning in more recent times; first when Kodak stopped making the film in 2009 and then in December 2010 when the final processing source completed its "last call" for unprocessed film. Fortunately it was made with significant advance notice so that photographers weren't left with their "bricks" (20-roll packages) of Kodachrome with no means of getting it processed.

So, what did this film that was a contemporary of the DC-3 mean to aviation? Well, for starters, when it arrived in 1935 it enabled reliable, color photography of the industry's activities. Given the proclivity for press and professional use of relatively large format cameras in the 1930s, this may have applied more at first to amateur photographers, particularly those that adopted the 35 mm format, which was often described as "miniature" in the 1930s and 1940s, although press usage was not unheard of.

Of course, at the time, there were not many press outlets for color pictures, as four-color reproduction of photos was relatively expensive, and typically required substantial lead time. And contrary to the chromatic revolution fomented by USA Today, among others, color was essentially unheard of in newspaper editorial content, for many years to come.

Historians of the business can be glad, however, because some of the amateur photographers were airline passengers and employees. As the business grew, there also came to be airline enthusiasts, who would eventually play a significant role in preserving the industry's history in "living color," largely thanks to Kodachrome.

While Kodachrome had many positive attributes, including its ability to render fine details sharply, provide excellent color fidelity and, when processed and stored properly, afford something approaching archival longevity, the initial Achilles heel was the relatively slow speed (sensitivity to light) in comparison to black and white film. The color slide film was fine for scenery, people willing to hold a pose and other static subjects, but this didn't translate well into getting good shots of aircraft in action.

In view of these limitations the enthusiasts came to prefer a particular static pose, known as the "ramp shot". The key ingredients: ground-level (hence the use of ramp); full side of the aircraft, taken from a position either opposite or slightly forward of the main landing gear; aircraft doors closed; no clutter (ground equipment, people, etc.); and of course, the sun both at the photographer's back and not too high in the sky. 

Originally utilized with monochrome film, the Kodak-processed Kodachrome became the de facto "gold standard" for airline color ramp shots, with extensive trading taking place between the aficionados of airliner photography on a global basis. Since its longevity kept the "nice bright colors" mentioned in Simon's song for a long time (and, as described above, there was no need to make "you think all the world's a sunny day,"because it was!), older slides became highly sought after; particularly nice material coming onto the market could produce activity reminiscent of a shark feeding frenzy at an enthusiast gathering.

Of course, not all airline photographers followed this paradigm. While the ramp shot is an excellent historic record of the equipment, by design it does not attempt to depict the full context of the airline scene. Fortunately, as equipment evolved (better lenses, in particular) and Kodachrome was offered at higher speed ratings, photographers began to document the airline world more fully. Evidence of this is seen in ATW's annual "Classic Airliners" calendar, where virtually all the photos come from Kodachrome slides.

Although significantly challenged by Japan's Fuji relatively late in its career, ultimately Kodachrome's demise resulted from the inroads of a non-film technology, in the form of digital photography. In reality, mama wasn't the person to talk to; the "Great Yellow Father" (terminology for Kodak, based on its longtime film box color) was indeed the final arbiter, and for business reasons beyond anyone's control, made what is certainly a logical decision, albeit one that saddened many. Time marches on...and they don't make DC-3s anymore, either.