There are many technological advances that I loathe and frequently
whine complain about on this blog, but if there is one that has been a blessing for me, it has been the development of digital photography. The number of photographs I have taken over the past four years using and reusing one single memory card would have taken hundreds of rolls of standard film at several bucks a pop. I got a 35 mm camera for Christmas back in 1988, and I had a lot of fun taking pictures with it on the rare occasions I was allowed to have a roll of film. The only bad thing was the knowledge that as that little number on the back of the camera that tracked how many shots I had taken began to creep up towards the limit for that roll (usually 24 or 36), the more I had to decide if something was really worth taking a picture of or not. There were no do-overs in real film photography, no button you could press to erase a image… once it was burned onto the film, it was there until the photo developer you took your pictures to could laugh at your shitty photography.
In the early days of amateur photography, you had to take your film to specialized photo processing studios to turn your negatives into positives. As time marched on into the 1970’s and 80’s, photo processing became much more convenient, as many retail and grocery stores allowed their customers to drop off their film while they were shopping for processing at some business they contracted out to… although it usually took several days before your photos came back.
At the same time, the one hour photo processing market was just beginning to heat up. These were little shops that would process your film while you waited, and didn’t allow their employees time to marvel at those nude shots you took of yourself for more than a few minutes. Working on a tight budget, the geniuses that brought us access to this almost instant photo gratification decided that the best place to set up shop would be on mall parking lots. If you’re old enough to recall the days of flash cubes, you definitely remember these little parking lot warriors because they were almost everywhere! While Fotomat, which I led off this post with, was the most popular… as a true child of the 80’s, the photo kiosk company that will always be nearest and dearest to my heart was the legendary Fox Photo.
The most famous photo kiosk in pop culture history was a Fox Photo booth. It’s what the Libyans crashed into after Marty McFly vanished into 1955 in the movie Back To The Future. Forward to around the 1:00 mark of this video….
Seriously, these kiosks were totally ubiquitous during my childhood days. I think we had two of them in my cowtown alone, and it’s not like we had any really big malls. Yet while the heyday of these tiny little photo labs was at its peak in the early 80’s, the business would be on life support by the time Ronald Reagan (the actor!?!?) left office. Both Fotomat and Fox Photo began to shutter their tiny cubicle sized slices of picture making heaven in the latter part of the 80’s, and by the mid 90’s, the one hour photo kiosk had gone the way of the dinosaur. It wasn’t digital photography that did in these oversized tollbooths, but the fact that by 1990, their one hour photo service had become feasible for set up in larger stores. These in-store minilabs were much cheaper to operate, and thus, could offer prices the kiosks couldn’t match. The Fotomats and Fox Photos that were hustling and bustling in the 80’s became the parking lot eyesores of the 90’s.
We here at The Nest would like to salute these small but powerful little centers of photo developing that came to represent a time when you were totally dependent upon someone else to turn your pictures of the kids taking a bath together into cherished family memories. While we won’t miss the constant cost of buying and developing film, we will miss the cheesiness of your small fry in a big mall business model that was done in by the very stores whose parking lot you had invaded. Thank you to Fotomat, Fox Photo, and all of the other wonderful one hour photo stores that operated out of an outhouse… this Kodak Colorwatch approved picture is just for you!
Just noticed when I hit publish that this was my 300th post on this blog. YAY!
RIGHT ON!!! I loved this post – and miss the photo huts! I know I would have probably worked at one if they hadn’t gone the way of the dodo.
That probably would have been an awesome job…. getting to look at other people’s pictures, and get paid for it!
I don’t remember the Fox Photo, I’m a late 80’s kid. However, I enjoyed printing my pics and creations at the Walgreens around the corner. I can’t remember when was the last time I had a picture printed tho.
And congrats on your 300 post!
Have a nice weekend.
I haven’t had a picture printed since the mid 90’s. In the 15 years I’ve worked at Mecca, I’ve watched our photo developing service go from a contract-out service, to an in-store lab, and now to basically just a machine that lets you print off your own digital photos. I don’t even think we sell real film anymore…
I had a friend who worked in one of those photo booths when we were in HS. No one wants to know how many embarrassing pictures were shown around 😉
I can only imagine! It’s probably a good thing the internet didn’t exist back in those days!
Ah, yes! Flash cubes…We thought it was so cool to run to the one hour photo on my brother’s wedding day and print pictures to “ooh” and “aah” over at the reception! lol
Funny how we thought an hour was lickedy split back in those days!
Your Aussie contingent are at Barwon Heads and we had a great time strolling down “old photo lane”. The children were amazed with the concepts you discussed. Primrose who is 10 has a new digital camera and bought it to the holiday so your post was timely. We found an old Polaroid but no film. :). Congrats on 300 posts.
The amazing Polaroid camera will have to be a future Flashback post! Enjoy your holiday at the place where a kid can be a kid!
The purist in me resisted the advent of digital photography for a while. But eventually I caved, and I’m with you 100%. It’s one of the greatest inventions of our time.
Definitely! It makes us all much better photographers while also reducing wasted film and costing a heck of a lot less in the long run…
I see those outhouses around town!!! I’m so glad you informed as to what great little places they used to be. I personally really, really want a film camera because I want to develop my own film. With the exception of my very young years, almost all of my life was digital photos. For me, film photos are a thing to be treasured and a masterpiece just in and of themselves.