Magazine Article


New Robin Williams Film Tests the Notion: In Minilabs We Trust

New Robin Williams Film Tests the Notion:
"In Minilabs We Trust"

Left to Right: Connie Nielsen, Dylan Smith, and Robin Williams in
"One Hour Photo"

Photo by Francois Duhamel The on-site minilab, for those who may not have been around at the time, broke onto the scene beginning in 1979-1980. Within two years a specialty minilab was available to customers in only bigger cities by driving for 10-15 minutes. By the late '80's, there was a one-hour lab available to just about every amateur shooter in the country-within walking distance.
The introduction of on-site minilabs changed the entire culture of photo processing: customers could wait while their pictures were developed in an hour instead of days; no more lost rolls-well, maybe only a few, anyway; immediate re-do's for an unhappy customer; assistance in loading (or, sometimes, unloading) film into cameras; and the happy smile of the lab owner as he/she opened the cash register to give the customer a $5 bill change from a twenty (now, maybe, $13 change).
But it also introduced another new concept for the consumer: Some clerk behind the counter was actually looking at his/her prints one by one in the course of quality checking the roll before packaging. And that clerk may well be the child of a neighbor, a friend of your own child, your student, your team member, your own friend-or whatever.
With all of the benefits of one-hour processing, the customer still has to forgo two time-honored traditions of picture developing: anonymity and privacy.
No longer would that roll be dumped into a huge bin to be processed on a machine that printed 20,000 prints/hr. and delivered back to the drug store in a sealed bag-probably unseen by human eyes.
While the anonymity is lost when the counter person writes a name and telephone number on the order bag, the privacy aspect may hang in the balance depending on the people who work behind the counter and store management.

Developing "Honeymoon Pictures"
Are customers aware that their pictures are actually being looked at by a real person? Maybe yes. Maybe no. As a previous owner of eight labs, I have lots of personal experience.
A woman once telephoned me to find out if we developed what she called "honeymoon pictures." Sure. She came in with her rolls and came back a few hours later for the pickup.
As she waited for the clerk to get her bags she saw the sorter person looking at prints as they were being packaged and only then did she put two and two together and realize that at least one person (in fact, it was more) saw her honeymoon pictures. A brighter blush I've seldom seen.
The downside? We lost that customer. She never came back. Whether it was pure embarrassment or the realization that all of her future pictures, honeymoon or not, were being looked at, I never found out.
In the earliest days of one-hour processing, we were so proud of the magic that we were performing by printing pictures on-site, it was very common to position the paper processor in such a way that the prints coming out of the dryer were seen in the front window of the store.
We wanted the passers-by to see the prints. This was a design used first in Fromex stores and copied by many. Just imagine the complications that led to. Screens and window shades soon became part of the display.
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