Rats on Ritz Crackers



This is the only photograph I have left reminding me I once worked for Technicolor. In the days before 60 minute photo processing, film developing seemed to be a much larger factory/assembly line process. I was able to manage a third shift job at technicolor while going to school full time. My job involved color correction and balancing of prints, but I learned far more about people during those months. Plus, I was exploring my own ability as a photographer in those days, and I was able to have my film processed almost cost-free.

Amid all the film developed and printed at Technicolor, there were two kinds of film that frequently passed through, each always surprising me for different reasons. One type were the nudes, ranging from artistic poses to pornography. The fact that people posed nude and documented such sessions with photos didn't really bother me at all. What was interesting was learning that they were highly coveted items by some of the employees of Technicolor. There were several older women, well into their fifties, who were adept at "stealing" prints of these nudes. They would simply take a set of photos and send them back for reprinting, citing bad quality prints, rips or tears in the photos, bad color balances, etc. It was really a competition, because every time a set of negatives went for printing, this would take time. There are only a certain amount of times you can send an entire set of negatives for reprinting without inciting a certain amount of suspicion on the part of management. It also delays the return of the photos to the customer, possibly a cost to the business. Not everyone who desired such nude photos were apt to get them.

So the women would compete for the nudes, often bargaining among themselves, trading them like baseball cards. Later, I learned that they had "coffee-table scrapbooks" at home filled with the porno-erotic photos of complete strangers. I wondered about the circumstances that might be conducive to inviting a guest to look through their collection. It made me understand why the Polaroid Camera was so appealing.

A second type of photo that also struck me as odd, in fact even eerier, were the death photos we would process. I learned that it seems to be a very common practice to take photos of the dead, lying in their caskets. I was amazed at how many ot these photos would come through for processing, and they never stopped making me feel uneasy. Some of them were almost tolerable, the photos of the elderly for example. Sometimes I could almost understand when there would be an order for reprints of say, 50 copies. I imagined the photos going out with thank you cards, or to distant relatives. The photos that would always bring a tear to my eye were those of children and babies, and these were heart wrenching.

The more typical photos we saw were thematic: vacations, weddings, first communions, showers, baby photos, kid photos. I would look at these photos with smiling people, families at Christmas and other holidays, and think that it would be a great opportunity for a business. It would simply be a matter of obtaining my own copies of these prints, and I could provide my customers with photos that would validate their lives. "Surrogate Lives" I thought, would be a great name for the business. It would be a great stress reducer. Customers could show their colleagues how delightful their Christmas/vacation/other event was and actually not have to participate in it.

Sadly lacking in the photo finishing arena was art photography. There was little of it. One day a series of photos came through, reprints requested of the photo you see above. I think it may have been a request for 15-20 snapshot sized photos. For some reason, there had been an extra image printed.

The ladies at what I used to call the "porno-table" looked at the photos in disgust. I'm certain they felt there was no place for it in their own personal scrapbooks. But I liked it, in a bizarre way, and refusing to allow myself to consider how the photographer might have set up the shot, I took the extra print. I've had it all these years, representing a sense of sarcastic wit, humor, and the abnormal becoming the normal working on the third shift. I've always hoped the photographer did well professionally.

© Laurel O'Donnell, 1996,
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