Bums, Bleach, and Black & White

The job that buried the stake in my increasingly wavering faith in humanity has to have been my sojourn as a photographic printer. My specialty at the lab was E-6 (a.k.a. “slides”), as well as some colour and black & white. Some of the more ancient-looking photos that grace this Web site are from that period in my life.

Camera GuyThe very first thing you learn about working in a photo lab is that photo lab technicians are generally a weird, cagey bunch. I think it has something to do with spending the whole day breathing in photo lab chemicals. I was shocked one day to note, while mixing up a big vat of nostril-hair burning photographic bleach, that the package I was holding in my right hand proudly noted: “Tested on animals.”

I never figured out if we were the animals the label referred to. Judging from the burnt-out brain cells of a couple of my co-workers, it won’t surprise me.

The job had its benefits, however. My darkroom mate was a big, eminently friendly francophone named Paul, obsessed with pop culture, art, and cocktail music. We used to close the darkroom door (thus signalling that we were printing, so no one could just walk in) and I would take two-hour epic naps to the strains of Arthur Lyman’s Yellow Bird. We would then get into heated discussions on the execrable qualities of Feliz Navidad (I hated it; he was crazy for it), and what foreign film was playing at the local Cinematheque.

The point where slack turned to sickness was when I started to realize that people - large tracts of seemingly normal, boring people - often dropped off photos of themselves either getting or giving some pretty rude stuff. It started, like everything always does, innocently with a roll here and there of some rather poor quality amateur boudoir photography. Giggle, giggle.

MotoButtIt wasn’t until the fiftieth roll had eased its way out of my printing machine that I started to wonder, “Does the entire female world over 35 want to have their photo taken in poorly constructed lingere?” You could also tell men took the bulk of the photos, as there was an unusually high incidence of nude housewives posing while sprawled on top of vehicles; cars, motorcycles, scooters, power boats (!), and so on.

I knew I had a problem when I walked by a woman while grocery shopping in the neighbourhood and thought, “Wait a minute, I know her from somewh-… ew.”

Then there was at least a three week running theme of insertions. Cucumbers, zucchini, carrots… if it was an edible vegetable you can bet someone tried to stick it somewhere, and then document it for all eternity.

“Look, honey, Remember when you stuck that yellow squash up my ass? Ha, ha, ha - those were the days, weren’t they?”

Without allowing this entry to devolve into a poor excuse for a Penthouse Forum’s letter, it should be said that sexual perversion (at least the photographed kind) seemingly moves in cycles. Leather, denim, and whips. Edible oil products. Plain ol’ fashion missionary style. Gay sex. Straight sex. Painful looking sex. Men hanging things off of their, um, members. Lots of photos of women baring their breasts to the world. Slides of US Customs agents, er, “practicing” their inspection techniques on each other, with big, corn-fed smiles on their faces. Really.

What made it all seem even sicker was that there were many people in the “industry” who kept gigantic photo albums of the more choice material.

I begged my friends not to drop any film off at any place that used our lab for printing services. I quit when my warnings were not heeded.

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