Photo Exhibit Offers Virtual Vacation for D.C. Types

Posted August 19, 2009 at 11:09pm

Didn’t get to take a summer vacation this year? Or have you now returned to the crowded streets of humid Washington, D.C., only left to dream of your holiday?There’s still a chance to escape the August doldrums — and the trip is just a Metro ride away. Travel to Europe via the National Geographic Museum, whose “Kodachrome Culture: The American Tourist in Europe— exhibit transports visitors to Europe in the mid-20th century, via more than 100 photographs taken using Kodak’s famed (and soon-to-be-retired) Kodachrome film. Offering up cheerful images of tourists and locals frolicking on beaches, dining with friends or taking in historic sights, the photos are drawn from National Geographic’s massive magazine archives, according to museum director Susan Norton. And although National Geographic photographers took the photos, they aren’t unlike those shot by American tourists during the same period. “There’s something about this exhibition that makes people happy,— Norton said. “So many people have said to me, I have photos just like that at home.’—Each summer, the museum puts on an exhibit with a fun theme that’s designed to entertain visitors (while also educating, of course). A few years ago, for example, the museum presented images of soccer being played around the world.This year — a time when the bad economy has forced many Americans to take a “staycation— — museum officials decided to display a collection of vibrant photos that offer a sense of nostagia, harkening back to a relatively optimistic time when Americans hopped on airplanes to travel overseas, many for the very first time.Kodachrome film had taken off by the 1950s, with both National Geographic’s professional photographers and American tourists using it during their European adventures. Unlike other film produced during the period, Kodachrome made colors appear vibrant and was easier to enlarge.Coincidentally, Kodak announced during the first week of the exhibit’s run that it will discontinue production of the film, citing a lack of demand because most people now use digital cameras.The museum had no clue that Kodak would announce the retirement of Kodachrome when it did — “I would like to tell you that we knew that, but we didn’t,— Norton said — but the news came at a great time for the exhibit, only adding to its appeal.“It created a huge sense of nostalgia,— Norton said. “It was a fun thing to do, and we’re so fortunate that we have this amazing collection.—“Kodachrome Culture: The America Tourist in Europe— runs through Sept. 7 at the National Geographic Museum, at 1145 17th St. NW. Admission is free.