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Bye-Bye Super-8!

Capturing the youth and happiness of 8-year-olds on Super-8 film, Johan Kramer pays a fleeting homage to Kodak Kodachrome.

By Katie Dominy / 08-02-2011

To coincide with the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Kunsthal Rotterdam hosted a 10-day exhibition entitled Bye-Bye Super-8! that acted as a wistful send-off to Kodak Kodachrome. 

The exhibition project by film maker Johan Kramer pays homage to Kodachrome 40 ASA, the most successful colour home movie film ever produced; the last company to process the film, Dwayne’s Photo in Kansas, stopped accepting films in December 2010.

Super-8 film was launched in 1965 by Kodak and was used by amateur film makers worldwide - mainly to capture key family moments, holidays, birthdays etc. It only fell out of favour with the advent of the camcorder in the 1980s and 1990s, which initially used video tape followed by digital storage.  A huge nostalgia surrounds Super-8 film, enhanced through its use by professional film makers as well as artists for that authentic homemade, grainy quality.

For the exhibition Bye-Bye Super-8! Johan Kramer managed to obtain the very last 25 reels of Kodachrome 40 ASA, which come packaged in a distinctive bright yellow boxes. These 25 reels were each used by Kramer to make a film portrait of an 8-year-old child from a different part of the Netherlands, giving 25 glimpses of their life at home. To create the project, parents had to contact Kramer, and the 25 children he selected were filmed in a retro ‘Super-8’ style, giving the footage the appearance of old family films.

In the Kunsthal Rotterdam exhibition space, 25 projectors showed the 25 films simultaneously on the hour, alongside just one more film, Kramer’s own personal story about Super-8. We asked Johan Kramer how he became interested in Super-8. "My first meeting with Super-8 was at home. My father filmed our family, when I was 8 years old. I remember the magic of the dark living room, with the projector and then seeing our holidays again. Then when I started working as a copywriter in advertising, I got interested in directing and started filming with my father's camera, first music videos, short films and personal films of friends that got married. Now, I make feature films and still use the 8mm camera once in a while."

And why did Kramer choose 8 year-old children for the footage?  
"When I heard that the last lab in the world (Dwayne's in Kansas) would stop developing Kodachrome at the end of 2010, I was shocked. I thought it would be good to make an homage. SInce my family footage was shot when I was 8 years old and my oldest daughter Isabella is now 8 years old and Super 8 is 8 - I thought 8 was a good starting point. I looked around for Kodachrome film and found 25 boxes. Then the idea became clear: let's make 25 portraits of 8-year olds. During the process, I discovered that 8-year-olds are so different from each other and it's such a great innocent age; it represents youth and happiness, things I associate very much with the look and spirit of Kodachrome."

And for you, what is it about the film quality of Super-8 that makes it so special?
"The red, blue and green are so fantastic looking on Kodachrome; almost larger than life, they are so strong, deep. Also, the film was very thin, which created a very sharp image, so that combination is unique. Of course, there are new Super-8 colour films, but none really have the 'emotion' of Kodachrome. The process is also important; since it's vulnerable and the cameras are not perfect, you get a lot of happy accidents, unexpected scratches and focus-issues, and I love them. The imperfection is what makes it even more special."

Click on the images to enlarge

Main image: Still from Super-8 film
Other images top to bottom: 1. Johan Kramer (middle) 2. Super-8 film 3. & 4. Bye-Bye Super-8 at the Kunsthal

Photography by Yamandu

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