The roll of Kodachrome had been in my desk for so long, I had forgotten what pictures I took with it, or when. The yellow-and-red cylinder became a symbol of mystery and procrastination.
I knew I needed to have that slide film developed, especially after Eastman Kodak announced in June 2009 that it would stop making Kodachrome because almost everyone now uses digital cameras.
Then I heard that the last Kodachrome lab in America — Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan. — would stop processing it at the end of this year. If I wanted to relieve my guilt and solve this mystery, it was now or never.
What were these pictures? They must have been important; otherwise, I would have used a lesser, cheaper film.
When Kodachrome was introduced in the 1930s, it was the first widely available color film. It remained the gold standard for decades. "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away!" Paul Simon begged in his 1973 hit song, which praised the film's qualities:
You give us those nice bright colors.
You give us the greens of summers.
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah.
By the 1970s, though, Kodak's Ektachrome was almost as good, required less light and was cheaper and easier to process. Many professionals switched to Fujichrome Velvia in the 1990s. Color print film got better and better. But until advances in digital photography made 35mm film all but obsolete, many photographers still reached for Kodachrome.
I took Kodachrome on my first trip to London in 1992, where I made a picture of a Horse Guard so crisp you could count the stray strands of horse hair on his helmet. When I covered the 1994 Olympics, Kodak was a sponsor, so there was plenty of Kodachrome. It was perfect for capturing Norway's breathtaking winter beauty.
Some photographers are nostalgic about film. Not me. I love digital photography: It is easier, cheaper, more versatile, makes better pictures with less light and is instantaneous. I would never want to go back to film.
As a roving reporter for The Atlanta Journal- Constitution in the mid-1980s, I liked shooting photographs to accompany my stories, but it was a pain. I didn't have a darkroom, so all I could do was put exposed film on a Greyhound bus to Atlanta and hope for the best.
Photojournalism was then done mostly in black and white. Even when I shot color, it was rarely Kodachrome. It was too fussy. Kodachrome required abundant daylight, precise exposure and special processing. If the film was not kept cool and developed promptly, the color quality suffered.
I saw that firsthand when Dwayne's sent back my Kodachrome, which, it turns out, I had shot in early 1998, just before moving back to Lexington from Atlanta. The pictures were faded, which seemed appropriate given how much had changed in those dozen years.
There were several pictures from my older daughter Mollie's 16th birthday party. She is now 28 and married, as are several of the giggly girlfriends who were with her that day.
Most of the pictures were from a going-away party my boss gave for me at her cabin in the north Georgia mountains. I had many good friends at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and they and their now-grown children came to send me home in style.
The digital revolution that made Kodachrome obsolete also radically changed the newspaper and advertising businesses. The Journal-Constitution has been hit especially hard. Its newsroom now has fewer than half the 500 journalists who were there when I left.
As I looked at my faded party pictures, I counted the friends who have since retired, taken buyouts or moved on to other careers. Like my Kodachrome, today's Journal-Constitution is a pale reflection of what it was then. But times change, and we must change with them.
Thinking about those days prompted me to search for more memories. In one box of old photographs, I found several unprocessed rolls of less-fussy black-and-white film. At least I had taken the time to label most of them.
Some were pictures for newspaper stories I wrote in the 1980s. Somehow, they never made it to the bus station. Two rolls were labeled "Shannon 1987" — the year my younger daughter, now 23, was born.
I must get them developed. One of these days.