Overheard on CNN.com: Kodachrome photos take us back, but would we stay?
Some film photography, like this image from a Kodachrome collection featured on the CNN Photos blog, evokes another time.
January 6th, 2012
06:36 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Kodachrome photos take us back, but would we stay?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Ah, the good old days, when life was simple and counters were Formica. Kodak film imaging helped document iconic moments in the 20th century, but the photography giant now faces the possibility of bankruptcy. When CNN posted a photo gallery highlighting a collection of Kodachrome photos, plus a CNN iReport assignment asking for users' photos, we expected readers to share their feelings of nostalgia for a bygone era. What surprised us a bit were all the comments debating the meaning of our longings for the good old days.

Kodachrome collection takes look back at mid-century America

For many readers, there was an intense feeling of nostalgia. Yet few could forget everything else that isn't shown in a photograph.

Elaine: "These slides fill me with a crushing sadness. Who are these people? How many of them are long dead? How many are forgotten? What happened to their families, their lives, that caused their precious memories to end up in the hands of a stranger - a well-meaning stranger who clearly treasures and takes good care of these images, but is still a stranger? There is an idyllic feeling here, as well, that seems to be gone from today. I agree with many of the other commenters that the 1950s was not idyllic, not only for non-white folk, but for many white folk as well. However, the photos themselves are dreamlike and alien, images not only of people long dead, but an age long gone, never to return. This gallery moved me tremendously. Thank you for sharing these."

One of the most-debated topics was exactly how much "optimism" should be associated with the mid-century.

Commenters Constantine, Mark, david and Shannon were among those who wondered about the struggles with racism during those years, and said our society tends to sugarcoat what was really going on in favor of more romantic imagery.

Ravi: "These are beautiful! What a simpler and more adventurous time. Perhaps if Americans today had the optimism of the people shown in these photos we could pull ourselves out of these hard times."

Constantine: " 'Optimism of the 1950s?' Gimme a friggin' break, CNN. The '50s sucked if you weren't white."

The images included in the gallery were from a collection curated by photographer Michael Williams. Many of the photos were on slides recovered from places around the country like estate sales.

Some commenters said America is much more diverse now, and it's a bit of a shock to see how things were.

Alli: "Was American really that thin?!? .... Honestly, yes! Fifty years ago, overweight as we know it did not exist, and these pictures are proof of a truly healthier time. Beautiful pics! Also, to the previous poster, Mark, who asked, 'Was America that white?' Actually, yes, in two respects. Population-wise, in the '50s, 90% of the U.S. population was white. And, in general, it seems, for whatever the reason, white people were much more into active photography as a daily activity, not just a hobby. Was it money? Time? Culture? I honestly don't know, maybe it's not even true. But with 90% of the population of one race, most of the pictures available are going to show that race. In a much more eclectic, mixed country now we just don't expect to see such discrepancy in numbers. The country has truly changed in two generations. A good thing, in this respect."

Some commenters wondered what people in other cultures were experiencing at the time.

Lily W.: "Beautiful scenes and picturesque backgrounds. But I do wonder how the pics would portray 'American Optimism' if the people in the pics were American Indian, Hispanic, black, etc., during the same time period? Would they be smiling with a sense of fulfillment and 'optimism'? Hmm ..."

Steve V.: "God! I knew before I even got the comments up on my screen that there would be comments such as this one! Can't people enjoy anything without the racism crap being injected into it? But, I'm 62 and I can tell you one thing: Society was a lot more civilized then than it is today! And that is a fact whether you like it or not."

Tom: "Haha, no it wasn't. Between the segregation, lynchings, KKK roaming around in public free and the 'back of the bus,' it was nowhere near civilized ..."

Some noted that civil rights really have changed things.

JimBeam: "The reason why there are no black people in the Clemson photo (slide 9) is because black people were legally prohibited from attending the school when it was taken. The photo was taken in South Carolina in the early 1950s or before. Jim Crow was the law of the land. That it is no longer,  so there is progress. White people are not kept off any basketball or football teams. Totally different issue. ... Clemson College was all-white, all-male and all-military when the photo was taken. Today, Clemson University is none of the above. Was something lost over the years? Certainly. But is it a better place as a civilian school open to women and non-whites? Absolutely. It's easy to idealize the past, especially from a still photograph. But that doesn't mean we should go back there."

Steve V.: "If there was a time machine that would take me back there, I'd be the FIRST in line! ... A very few percentage of people back during the mid-1950s even could afford to own a 35mm color camera or afford the film! People today are just spoiled to think that cameras like this back then were owned by all white people, but no black people! Not true. My dad had a pretty good job and we used a Kodak 220 camera from 1947 all the way up until the late '60s, and most of the pictures we have, especially during the '50s, are black and white (no pun intended since I know people are watching). People today just don't understand how things were back then. People, at least in the South, couldn't afford luxuries, even the ones that were available. The average incomes in the South didn't even reach the level they were pre-Civil War (which was 10% lower than in the North) until 1964. I got my first 35mm camera in 1971 and it came from Sears, and was my only Christmas present that doubled for college graduation present."

Some wondered about the meaning of the good ol' days.

Robert R. McBride: "Better times for sure. Men were men, there were not warning labels on everything, families did things together, and children played outside."

Mdreader: " 'Better times' for white men. Time for some honesty here. These pictures are all of white people. I am white, but I notice that these claims that 'men were men' totally removes the fact that this time in American history was hardly a piece of history 'worth repeating' for anyone who was not white. It was a sad and horrible time for the rights and dignities of non-whites in this nation of 'sunny afternoons.' "

But many said they were feeling nostalgic. Times were really good.

D.Smithee: "Beautiful photos. Back when the country was still great, and you could still make sense of life."

This commenter alluded to the "American dream," and said things are different now.

gsmith: "America was once a great country. Life was good and people dreamed of a better life for their children. Public schools were great and neighborhoods in the suburbs were great places to raise a family. Now everything has changed. Public schools are awful and the only nice neighborhoods left are ones with expensive homes and wealthy people. Neighborhood schools have been destroyed by expanding school districts to save money and letting lower income kids into high-income neighboring schools. Leaving private school as the only option and thus destroying the community feel of once great neighborhoods and great communities. America used to be the envy of the world. No more. The type of people that built this country are disappearing and the 'new face of America' is rapidly destroying this once great land. This country is now being run by incompetent animals who are incapable of running this country and will one day wish and pray for the good ol' days and the leadership that helped build this country and make it the superpower and envy of the world in a short period of 200 years."

Commenter Steve V. said humans have been cruel to each other for a long time, and we had better just move on.

Steve V.: "Do you scrutinize professional sports teams under the same microscope? I doubt it! One would think that in all of history, the only place that inequality existed was in the USA! Let me tell you one thing, for anyone who knows history, they can tell you that life and the world isn't 'fair'! Millions and millions of people in the past have suffered and died in many different ways and been subject to many forms of cruelties. For example, millions of Ukrainians were starved to death (men, women and children) under Stalin in 1932 on purpose! Hebrews were in bondage to Egyptians centuries before the Exodus, and even then wandered for years and years in the wilderness before reaching the promised land. No one alive in this country today was ever a slave, and fewer and fewer can even personally remember 'white-only' signs. This is a land of freedom and opportunity for all people now. My own ancestors were slaves to the British and endured all kinds of atrocities 500-800 years ago. Do I still gripe about it? No. In short, blacks don't know how good they have it here and what they have to be thankful for!"

One commenter said we ought to think about applying policies from the good ol' days.

Miss Such-and-Such: "Notice how everyone looks really prosperous and healthy in all these pics? Perhaps we should analyze what has changed in this country since then, and then try to reverse some of the changes that have had negative results. Perhaps we should even return to the 'protectionist' era of the 1950s, back when we had tariffs to prevent U.S. companies from offshoring their labor to backwards impoverished countries. That would enable people to have reliable, comfortable incomes. Mothers could even start staying home to raise their kids, thereby feeding them healthy food and making them exercise. Why, they could even get back to helping them with their homework. Wouldn't all that be much better than what we have today?"

This reader said she would give anything to be young again on Route 66 for a few hours.

Rose Marie Toubes: "I love the wide-open sky and the casual cuff roll of the woman's jeans. She doesn't look happy, though. Must have been exhausting to travel without air conditioning. It's like she's hanging on to the sign to remain vertical. Wish I could read the sign. Neat vintage wood carving. I would love to go back to any summer day in the mid-1950s. Give me a 1955 maroon Chevy like the one my dad totaled when I was a kid. (Dad was OK, though!) I'd like my husband and myself to both be 22 years old again on a sunny June morning . Give us a full picnic hamper in the back seat and an ice chest filled with bottles of Coca-Cola - and we'll be needing a full tank of gas, too! Then put us somewhere on Route 66. I'm ready to roll back in time. Give us 10 hours of bliss and then we can return to our lives. Wonder if I'd want to go back to the present, or if I'd like to keep looping back to the Route 66 ride over and over again. I'd like a new safe, wonderful, thrilling (in a good way) adventure for each 'rewind.' Is that asking for too much? Maybe I have the makings of a good story here."

From the shutterbugs

The other portion of the conversation centered around memories of Kodak photography.

ShootingStars Maui: "As a professional photographer, I was wary when I read that Michael Williams was a 'hobby' photographer who 'never' shot film. What kind of input could he possibly have that an old school film shooter like me would be interested in? Yet his selection and the sheer impact that a collection of old Kodachromes has tells me that maybe it takes a younger un-jaded eye to really bring life to these images and the 'story' of Kodachrome."

Some love film photography and will never stop.

kmd-57: "I did 35 mm photography in college in the '70s, and it has remained a passion. I developed my own film and printed my photographs. I hate the very idea of digital photography. I mourn the demise of Kodachrome and Tri-X Pan along with Kodak. Long live film photography."

John Fields: "ASA25 Kodachrome had a texture like oils. I used it with my F2 for stills and went with ASA64 for sports. I used to shoot slides exclusively and have prints made from them if I wanted them. I miss slides, and to be honest, I don't think I get the same sort of image with my digital cameras."

Looking back through old Kodak photography has indeed been a trip back in time for some.

Rich The Mongoose: "Great collection. My father was a photographer and we lived in the Caribbean. When he passed away, I found a treasure trove of about 6,000 (so far) slides. It'll take me forever to scan them, but it will be a job I will enjoy!"

Stu: "I am in the midst of scanning my great uncle's [images] (he died in 1981): Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides. He worked for Gulf Oil and went all around the world. It is really a trip back in time to do this. I am glad someone else out there appreciates the beauty of Kodachrome and that mid-century American spirit."

For this commenter, his memories of photography appear to be almost synonymous with his love for family and country.

Bobby: "I remember sitting for hours as my grandfather had slide shows of his travels and various other shots of us kids and families doing lots of things. We saw a lot of places we probably will never see in person. He always had nice bright colors and used only Kodachrome film. I treasure the life he and my grandmother showed us. They were commited to life and married for 75 years. Granddad was not afraid to see the United States as the greatest country in the world. I agree and still feel there is a lot more good than bad in this country's heart."

What do you think about Kodachrome photography and the good ol' days? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport. And don't forget to share your favorite Kodak moments in film photography on CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. disappointedhippie

    I am really surprised why race needs to be part of the discussion. Lower classes did not have the money nor the interest nor the family pride to buy a polaroid and start a family album. The latter is sooo middle class. Furthermore, as I am from 1957 I recognize the melancholy. However, what is not shown in the photographs is the real bad thing of the fifties: social and religious bigotry. It was extremely oppressive and finally lead to the 1968 outburst & Woodstock. Village people could be really mean to eachother: no wonder most of the villages in the pictures will have less inhabitants today, as the talented ones fled the suffocation and headed for, indeed SF or east coast citites.

    January 7, 2012 at 5:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jazzy

    Ah 1...Ah 2... and Ah 3 !!!! he he
    The goes out to ... THE ONE AND ONLY DRAKOREX1
    Hey there buddy ;)

    January 7, 2012 at 7:50 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mark

    For those who are nostalgic for the '50s but suspect they may not have been as perfect as the pictues and movies made them seem should watch "Pleasantville". Sums it up perfectly.

    January 7, 2012 at 8:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tcr C2

    Some old memories; the thunderbirds(space ships), captain kangaroo, hobo kelly, mr wishbone, gumby, diver dan, the banana splits, treasure island, hot wheels in the morning, the beatles, my introduction to rock n roll. First car i drove in a 57 chevy belair, oh those where the days. We could play outside without worry, go to disneyland without locking doors on the house, kodachrom does bring back old memmories

    January 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jazzy

    Don't forget (flipper) ;)

    January 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Well, I guess this one is done.

    January 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Steve D

    Kodak performed an immense service to the world and I'd be very sad to see them go out of business. So here's a suggestion. Give us a GOOD digital camera. Good means:
    1. It takes pictures instantly when the button is pressed whether the camera is on or off. I can take a picture in 1/1000 of a second with a mechanical SLR, why not even faster in an electronic device where electrons move at the speed of light?
    2. An autofocus that works, that focuses exactly on what's at the crosshair and nothing else. I've had innumerable times when the camera has sharply focused on what I'm shooting, then drifted to some other focus for who knows what reason.
    3. An infinity setting. Not autofocus, infinity.
    4. All settings used for the previous picture remain in effect until changed by the user.

    January 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • nsaidi

      Noticed your comment. I'm in the market for a digital camera and it's tough to find a good one. (I actually only use my phone cam and SLR now.)

      January 8, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  8. Lwg

    @now now mr maddy its called freedom of speach

    January 7, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Christopher Phelan

    Every decade or era has history and images that can evoke some nostalga. Most of these represent fleetining moments in time, and do not depict the the entire experience of that time period. In addition to the racial and social problems of the 1950's, we had the constant fear of the Bear bomber, the air raid siren, and the shock of Sputnik to shatter our innocence. Much as the images of Lindberg and Erhart paint a romantic picture of the 1930.\'s, the reality on the ground was far different for most people. So let us not lament the fleeting moments of glory from the past, but rather choose to build on the greatness that we currently enjoy, and put the amazing communication, medical, transportation and energy technology we have to build a new nostalga for an absolulty fantatic future for the 7 billion inhabitants of our neighborhood

    January 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Michael Day

    We routinely scan these types of slides at http://www.scantodigital.com These images bring back memories both good and bad and it is a good idea to covert your Kodachrome slides to digital before they fade over time. Enjoyed the images.

    January 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Christy

    I think the worst part about modern times is that kids cannot play outside all day like they used to. That and nobody knows their neighbors anymore. Very isolating times we live in.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bennie Thornton

    I guess Steve V. didn't get it back in the 50' and he still doesn't get it now. Not to worry, those types will die off soon. We all just hope he didn't spread too much DNA around during his lifetime.

    January 10, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. R. Lawson

    "Ravi: "These are beautiful! What a simpler and more adventurous time. Perhaps if Americans today had the optimism of the people shown in these photos we could pull ourselves out of these hard times.""

    It doesn't help my sense of optimism when people name Ravi (sorry Ravi, gotta stereotype you for a moment – assuming you are from India) are saying we need to be more optimistic. Many of our jobs are going to India, and that doesn't make me optimistic.

    "Constantine: " 'Optimism of the 1950s?' Gimme a friggin' break, CNN. The '50s sucked if you weren't white.""

    And now it sucks for all of us. In Florida, 1 in 40 black men are in prison – primarily for non violent offenses relating to arcane drug laws and property crimes. I'm guessing that if they had to choose between being called racist names in the 1950s and being in prison in the 2000s, they would opt for the racism. You tell me. Any advancements in equality and racial harmony are erased by the prison-state we are slowly becoming.

    The problem isn't black and white any more. It's 99% and 1%.

    January 11, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Andacar

    One of the things I like to do when I see old photos like the one above is to try to do a little detective work. I feel the same way Elaine does, wondering who these people were. But at least in this picture it might be possible to find out. That's a 1941 Cadillac, and I the license number is F39 134 or 184. It should be possible to go through California records (that's clearly a California plate) and run down that number. The car looks brand new, and that's likely the owner posing proudly with his new car, his wife and ??? The driver looks young enough to have been drafted when World War II started, so he’d likely have a military record to find as well. My guess is this was taken in early spring of 1941 judging by the grass and the shrubs. You don’t always have enough information to trace back a picture this well, but it makes history come alive when you can.

    January 12, 2012 at 2:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jenessai Gundwigh

    all the time i used to read smaller articles that as well clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading now.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
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