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. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I notice that there's not much interest in this.
    Things to look at, things to read and think about...it must be 2012.
    Get out a TV set or computer game.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bobcat (in a hat)©

    The lack of interest is probably due to a generation who post here that don't know what Kodachrome is and can't relate. Not like us old buggers. It's a shame that film is now obsolete. I used to do a lot of photography, and that was my lifeblood.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ancient Texan

      I also miss the time that was an exciting time of my life. I've come to remember those great years as "Norman Rockwell's America".

      January 6, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe'"

      My dad enjoyed photography. He used to do his own development. He showed me a few things before he passed on.
      So lets not forget Koadak Ecktachrome film either. This was one of kodaks' big money makers too. If I recall, thier also was a Panachrome.

      January 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. No way

    No way. I would like to revisit those times, but if I stayed, I would have to wait on Justice another 50 years before it was recognized that men who molest boys, never girls, are nothing more than common criminals guilty of raype. Just today the Justice Department announced broadening the defininition of 'raype' to include men whom stalk, bribe, trick, decieve, kidnap, constrain, attack, even sodomize younger men and boys. An underaged young man is incabable of giving consent according to the law. Finally, even though the Supreme Court's opinion on this matter is in stark contrast with the Justice Dept's, each state can begin charging gay men caught humping boys with statutory raype. And this is just the start. Happy Days will be here again. I get to be Mr. Cunningham.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maddy

      Oh, hello there, Mr. Philip. You are quite the ray of sunshine, aren't you? Is it your practice to go on every thread and trash every good feeling on a thread with nasy, bitter thoughts?

      January 7, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ Louie

    Very poetic my friend.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    Take me back and drop me off. Of course everyone would have found-out that places like Area 51 are still naufacturing flying saucers based on captured Nazi saucers like the BMW model J-38. After Cheklosovakia was occupied by the nazis, the Skoda manufacturing facility began making flying saucers. So the New World Order "bushites" would have had to come up with something other than "One World Order vs Alien Flying Saucers" for the next phony war.(even though this is all very well documented now anyway) They expanded on all the other captured technologies, except for stuff like synthetic gasoline. They've continued the nazi flying saucer program too. I've seen 6 with my own eyes, and have heard over a dozen at night camped near Cheyenne Mtn. Honest and for true.

    January 6, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    I remember choking chickens and gutting trout. Slopping hogs and mending fence. Squishing my toes in warm cow pies. Putting peanuts in my Coke. Playing on a wooden pinball machine that took nickels. Watchin my mom scribble "I.O.U. 5 gallons worth" on a Wrigley's chewing gum wrapper and put it into a coffee can taped on top of the pump. I remember gramdma dancing the jig when we tossed water snakes at her feet. Grandpa yarning "Tom Twist was a wonderful fellow, he was so nimble and strong..[infiniti].". Snow forts. Sitting in the largest apple tree in all of Platue Valley...chomping away...the luxury of only eating the goodest part...sun beaming down...fresh breeze...wondering from how far away I could shoot my sister in the ass with my bb gun. Yep. Kodachrome. But i got tin types too! he he

    January 6, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mia Madre

      Cool. Post the pictures of you and the cow patties, please?

      January 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jazzy

    My brothers friends were a lot more fun and much 'cooler' than mine.
    Mrs. Scully's Pool, Biking down steep hills into a gully, and Mrs.Lewis!
    Her house was where you wanted to go for Bond fire's, booze and weed! We did a little of everything.
    But it was all safe back then to get into a little mischief.
    We had a whole town that you could drive thru in 5 minutes flat! But it was fun
    We even had a little wooden shack where they wood play movies on to a projector screen every Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. 🙂 I think my day was the last of the good ones

    January 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    Back then, there were only four types of children. You can check them out by watching Charlie and the Chocolate factory. It shouldn't take you long to spot the kind of kid you were. And...get back with us on that. (speaking to whomever)

    January 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mia Madre

      Thanks, Debby Downer. Will do. I know which one YOU weren't: Charlie.

      January 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Scottish Mama

    I still have my cannon from 1978 and it is hard to find anyone who sells the film or developes it anymore.(Walgreens and they charge $11.99 per 24 roll) Highway robbery I say. The pictures are so clear. I did not buy a new camera till my birthday last month, 14. or 15. megapix. I do not like digital pictures they seem grainy and not as clear as my ole trusty Cannon. And it still does not come close to my Cannon A-E-1. I also have my uncles camera from the 40's. Haven't used it and probably cannot get the film for it anyway. Pictures are not developed or shown the way they used to. They remain on discs and phones and people never get prints anymore.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mia Madre

      I took some film in I found in a drawer.....turns out it was from a vacation I took in 1982!! THAT was a bonus find!!

      January 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jazzy

    There's a picture of my Brother and Sister sitting together on a diving board. The hue in it set the mood, the looks on their faces matched it. Very good looking, you could see the tight bond they had for each other in their eyes, their posture, their stare. Words cannot do describing a picture justice but as their little sister I thought the world of my 6 other sibilings. 🙂

    January 6, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bobcat (in a hat)©

    I first started my photgraphy in vietnam. That's when I learned the art of developing my film and printing my photos. I was able to preserve so many memories from that time. Photography used to be a profession. You needed skill with the old cameras. Now with the advent of digital cameras, the professionalism is gone. The new cameras take out all the guess work.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Scottish Mama

    @Bobcat- I agree. I just cannot get into the new one.
    "Mama don't take my kodachrome away."

    January 6, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mia Madre

      Simon and Garfunkle. What i thought when I saw this thread, too.

      January 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bobcat (in a hat)©

    @ Scottish Mama
    LOL
    I don't know, these new digital cameras take all the fun and challenge away from photgraphy for me. I used to be quite creative with my old camera.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gung hoe

    Wow talk about a blast from the past HI MOMA man have I missed you

    January 7, 2012 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. THE ONE AND ONLY DRAKOREX1

    @BOBCAT INAHAT,HI MAN. IM STILL HAUNTED BY SATURDAY NIGHT WELK SHOWS AT GRANDMA'S ,POPCORN AND SODA POP. FALL ASLEEP AND WATCH TV.I WANNA GO BACK AND CHANGE THE CHANNEL!

    January 7, 2012 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
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