Category Archives: photolab

Where Art Shows Go To Die

So, you got yourself a show, congratulations. Maybe it’s just a coffee shop, or a bar, or a small boutique in an alley. Better yet, you are in an actual gallery. The big time! Wherever the show is, it is an important acknowledgement of you as a photographer and artist.

Let’s begin getting everything ready. Most people submit low res digital images to the “curator” or barista ( in my case ). Then you need to make prints. Better find a photo lab that will throw you some love, because this gets expensive, and benefactors are hard to come by these days. Wait a minute, you shoot film, and unless you can spend hours and hours in a darkroom, you are going to need to some fancy scans made $$$$$$$.  Next, how to display?? Custom framing? Mounting? DYI, ouch I just cut off my thumb with a glass cutter. Ikea frame department here I come.

Here’s an idea, do a kickstarter and lean on your friends and family to fund your show. This might work, but will  take months and you will be buying beers for everyone the rest of your life.  Okay, let’s assume you have made it through all of the hurdles, and the Opening Reception is upon us. It’s hang time people. Ever try this maneuver on your own? Better have a ruler, tape measure, pencil, one hell of an eye for presentation, and a damn good friend to hold the ladder.

Next step: Time to make postcards, or homemade paper flyers done on your $60.00 printer. Then you need to spread them around town where they become a needle in a haystack of band flyers and random announcements. No worries, when no one is looking just throw the other shit away, so your postcard is the most visible.  Now,the big day is getting closer. Facebook Posts and tweets in the can and now WHAT THE FUCK DO I WEAR?? If you are a slacker dude, you go with the bad ball cap look and jeans too low even though you are over 30 and look ridiculous. If you are woman, well I can only assume you make more of an effort which means God Knows What?  Almost there Baby,just gotta grab some Pabst and Two Buck Chuck and we are home free!  Wait a minute…pricing??  Well, you spent say $200.00 a piece so you need to recover your investment and then some. How’s $500.00 sound for a framed and matted limited edition ( one of one )? Sounds fair, but jeez the economy sucks everywhere but Valencia St, so these may be hard to sell…..

Exhausted? I am,but the turnout was solid, and you had a blurb in say The Daily Candy.  Your show will run for the next three weeks, and in case anyone missed it, the hair salon is open 6 days a week until nine. That’s my photo over the hair washing station.

Ahhhh, it’s over now, better get down there and take the work down before the shop owner chucks your work into a broom closet.  Now what? Well, if you are lucky you can re purpose your gems, show them again somewhere in another town.  For me, the whole sad irony is, after all the effort,my show is hanging in the most prestigious of galleries….my garage. It’s part of the permanent rafters collection, where viewings are open to spiders. No appointment is necessary.

My Babies

Gallery De Garage

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Film And Burning Man…A Match Made In Heaven

If you look at the history or say the arc of Burning Man you will find some similarity to the arc of Photography and my business in particular. In and around 1990 I began to have employees asking for extended time off around the Labor Day weekend.  These were not mere requests, they were DEMANDS.  Like, “I’m going to Burning Man Dave, if my job is here when I get back that would be great, if not so be it.”   At this point I am already 30 years old and really not interested in what I saw as rolling around in the dirt on Ecstasy. I’ve never been a naked outdoor dude as I prefer to get naked in private.  I also hate hot weather.  However, as a person who attended hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts in my early twenties, I felt some empathy ( however ignorant!) for the event.  Time off granted. Go nuts.

The amazing thing about the early years of Burning Man is that it yielded thousands of rolls of film for me to develop and print. The event quickly became our biggest photo processing time of the year.  Bags upon bags of dusty rolls of film to process and print.  All the same photos really, almost like you could give the same set of pictures out and no one would really know the difference.

As the event grew to the epic scale it is today, photography began to change over to digital and we began to get a bit nervous.  Each year more people came to the desert, but we processed less film.  I remember going to a dinner party and some guy said to me that I should sell my business because everything was now “digies.”  I sort of took this as a wake up call, and we slowly made the plunge in to the new world, upgrading our equipment to deal with these freaking “digies”  I still hate that word and the whole vernacular associated with the event, but that’s my problem.

We always kept the the film thing going because it’s just who we are at heart.  Ironically, people soon realized that digital camera sensors do not take kindly to sandstorms.  Fast forward ten years if I may, and we are in an age of retro photography where film is once again cool. The phrase “film is not dead” can be seen on t shirts, and all the hipsters use toy cameras. And it’s not just the hipsters shooting film, it’s everywhere.  I’m selling Polaroid/Impossible Project film to a new generation of Burning Man Photographers.

Lomography is the corporate arm of toy film photography, and some have said that Burning Man has on some level developed a corporate structure. I have no facts here, I can only say that it costs money to attend so there must be someone fiscally responsible.   I say it’s a perfect match (sorry)…Alternative lifestyle if you will, meets alternative photography.   I know I will see plenty of Instagrams of you Burners doin’ your thing, but hope I see plenty of dusty film canisters too, and it goes without saying that if you work at Photoworks and want to attend the festival….time off is granted.

Hope there is some film down there.

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Making Out With Yelp

Yelp, a four letter word indeed.  Scares me like the smoke monster from Lost.   Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.  It’s the gospel and total bullshit.  People will write reviews of car washes and pay toilets.  Personally, I have used it only once when I had food poisoning from an Indian restaurant down the coast where I live.  It seemed warranted to note that, “I almost died from the curry in this joint.”  Looking back on the incident, it is possible that maybe I was sick before I had the lunch special, and maybe one star was unfair??

I realize the service that yelp provides, giving us clueless people a heads up so we don’t step on glass when we try a business.  As a business owner, feedback is important, I want to know if I “suck at processing film.”  I want to know if an employee has treated you poorly, or that you feel ripped off.  I get that it is your civic duty to monitor local businesses, give reviews, commentary, love and hate.  And, I clearly understand that the savvy yelper takes reviews in context, and that it is clear when the reviewer is a nut job, or just a vindictive asshole.    Having said all of this……………I still hate a bad review, even if the comments are just.  I am an onsite owner who you can talk to and complain to my face.  Whatever happened to, “can I speak with the owner.?  Can’t we resolve our differences the old fashioned way?  I’d rather “take it outside” then have you go home and blindside me with your keyboard. Wake up Dave, it’s the internet!

Hey I have 4 stars, so what’s my problem?  I guess I take everything personally, and it hurts when someone gives you one star, and honestly the few bad reviews I have are pretty off base, not all but some are just plain wrong.  I look at this as a loss of income, food off my kid’s table.  Should I take the “input” and make the necessary changes?  Sure, but has the damage been done?  I wish I was as cool as the God Head Produce Market in The Mission, but I’m not that kind of business.  We provide many different services to many different types of customers, which does open the door for scrutiny.  All I am asking is that if you are going to be negative, ask yourself this question:  “Is it possible I had a stomach ache before I ordered?”  And please remember that small businesses are run by small people with small families, and that what you say really matters.  This is coming from a guy who mouths off at everything, but at least I try and fire my shots at the Chevron’s of the world.

In closing, let me say that this is a bit of a pathetic blog post on my part, borderline sensitive…I’ll go back to sarcasm next time.

FOOTNOTE HERE:  I just did a Yelp Deal Of The Day, basically giving away money.  I’m hoping for new business, but also hoping to offer something nice to the loyal regulars.  So, I’m in bed with yelp now, playing both sides of the fence.

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Weed Scan

Today is the long awaited grand opening of The Apothecarium in San Francisco.  Right next door to Photoworks.  Loosely defined, the word means pharmacist, and safe to say they don’t sell scripts of Tylenol.   We are happy to have our new neighbors since a thriving business of any kind beats an empty storefront.  Funny,  several of my staff are suddenly coming down with various injuries requiring emergency medical appointments?  I’m trying to think of some cross (pollination) promotions I can do with the new shop next door.  We offer several levels of film scanning here at photoworks, and in honor of the dispensary, for one day only we will offer the “weed scan.”  Bring in any roll of film (after) you visit the shop next door and we will scan it for free.   We assume no responsibility for the results.

"weed scan"

You can visit our new neighbors at 2095 Market St, they are nice people offering a great service to the community, not sure if their site is up, but I’d say this is one store where you want to sample the goods before buying.


Analog Debauchery

I received an email from someone asking if I would process some film that he had found in his desk.  The rolls of film he said were very old, from his “college days”  back in the eighties.  As a member of the Class of ’84, I was intrigued and it made me remember how back in the early days of one hour photo printing, subject matter was always a concern.  Remember the days of “caught on film?”  There even used to be a company called Discreet Photo Services.  You could  mail order film to this so called safe haven, and get your pot plant photos back without any risk of some Walmart employee calling the cops.

When I printed photos here at the lab, I have to admit I did look twice at the sexy photos every now and then, but we never considered making copies of things, it was just a perk  (sorry) of the job, and of course you lose interest after you’ve worked here a bit.  Nowadays the workers here don’t even blink at what comes through as there is so much free crap like Girls Gone Wild, that we have become immune to any tantalizing photos that we see.  I want to make it clear that we conduct ourselves professionally. We look at every photo to insure quality of color, etc, and believe me some stuff we’d rather not see.   And we don’t run down the hallway saying , “ooh I just saw a boob photo.”  Okay, there was this one sordid moment that happened many years ago, and the worker was quickly sacked.  The lab tech in question had printed a roll of film and decided to show another customer some “super hot photos.”  The customer has a look at the photos  and says, “that’s my girlfriend.”   Small town I guess.

It’s amazing how little discretion the amateur photographer has today.  Much like people volunteer personal information on Facebook, people also seem cavalier about photos, and what they are willing to show.   Has digital made us lower our guard?  Racy photos used to be better too.  I think that’s why they invented grain because some things are better kept in low light or low fi, or even arty.

So now that you are confident in our discretion here at Photoworks, go ahead and send in those rolls of film that you find in an old camera or sock drawer.  I promise you, I WON’T LOOK…….

nothing to hide?

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What Happens In The Darkroom Stays In The Darkroom

I miss the darkroom.  Some great images were made by some talented photo printers.  In the heyday of Photoworks we had as many as eight darkrooms, color and black and white.  The smell of fixer permeated the building as contact sheets and hand printed enlargements were produced behind closed doors.  This was a fruitful time in the lab, and there was more in the air aside from chemicals .  That’s right, romance was alive and well in the analog world.   So here’s another reason to like film….the darkroom illuminated by only a red safety light is conducive to lovin’, whereas your Mac is well, why do you think they call it a laptop?

People always seem to hookup at work, and this company has spawned many relationships.   One day I got a wedding invitation in the mail from two of my staff, both darkroom printers.  I didn’t even know they were a couple.  I asked them where they met, and smiling coyly they said, “in the darkroom.”  I designed the darkrooms so that as many as three printers could occupy one room, but I did not envision the other “possibilities.”  In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen trying to create the perfect mood, adds a red light bulb to his bedside lamp telling Annie, “now we can go about our business and develop photographs at the same time.”  On the other side of the coin we’ve had our fair share of dramas play out in the darkroom as well.  I almost had to break down the door once to break up a fight as the sound of broken beakers could be heard from the street.

Then we have the home darkroom, which is intended for a completely different purpose, a place where my Dad would hide out from my Mother.  He had a little mini bar and shot glass on the shelf by the photoflow.  So, as usual I am nostalgic for the old days….. developer, fixer, photoflow, and perfume.  We still have one darkroom left at Photoworks which we use to process film.  The walls are painted black like some old rock and roll nightclub, and the graffiti on the wall says, “I’ll dodge if you burn.”

Need I say more.

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The World Series of Photo Printing

The World Series is back in San Francisco and suddenly EVERYONE is a Giants fan.  All of my staff is dressed in orange and black.  I think the game starts at 4:30 and I bet everyone will find a way to finish their work for the day and get out of here.  It’s amazing how 8 hours of work can be finished in 4 hours given the proper motivation.  They say this game is good for the local economy, but I’d wager there will be more cell phone cameras then DSLR’s at the game tonight.   Maybe I could setup a photo printing kiosk inside of MoMo’s bar  across from the ballpark.

The ticket prices this year are astronomical, so that only the corporate rich and famous can attend.  If you are a season ticket holder and can resist the temptation to sell your coveted laminate then you will attend the game as well.  In 2002 I was one of those rich guys who overpaid and went to a game.  I brought my Nikon FM2 and 300mm lens and photographed all of the action as The Anaheim Angels spoiled the party.  I sat next to a guy who laughed at me when he heard the sound of my shutter.  He said film was “dead” and that I had better change my business plan in a hurry.  I said that digital was a fad that would soon pass.  Turned out he was a corporate executive for O Photo.  He wore a three piece suit and looked like a colossal schmuck with his Angles hat and commemorative 40 ounce Budweiser plastic cup.  He also said that in 10 years time, people will no longer print photos.  Prophetic indeed.   Well digital photography is more then a fad, but people still print, especially when I offer an online sale!   Hey, I figured out a way to make a buck on the Series.

So stay tuned to Photoworks for the big World Series sale, and tip your cap and raise your glass of Anchor Steam beer to the San Francisco Giants.

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Costco v Photoworks Redux

Recently I posted a note about a college course that had an assignment to sample various labs’ printing methods and results.  I got all bent out of shape over being mentioned in the same breath as  Costco, which was one of the “service providers” to be sampled by the students.   I was pretty nasty in the post, but most of what I said was in jest.    Well, I must have touched a nerve, as the response was pretty damming.  People felt I was mean spirited and downright rude.  I later apologized to those hurt by my comments, and in all fairness removed the post because at the end of the day I’d rather not be thought of as a creep. I felt I had gone way over the top this time, and even had a sleepless night worrying about the backlash.

What a Pussy!!   Even if I’m talking out of my ass why should I cower and hide.  I should stand behind what I write, and take my lumps if need be.  So the post is back, and I will let the chips fall where they may.

As far as what I said, I have no actual quarrel with students or faculty of City College.  I just don’t like Costco, and calling them a “service provider” is silly. To me a massage parlor is a service provider…. but as usual I digress.  Costco is  a toilet paper provider and only if you are stocking an earthquake kit.  They are death to small business, and while I realize the curriculum did not intend to pit one business v another, I don’t want to hear the word “costco” in my store.  I wish they could have been left off the list. So maybe I’ll wind up as the Larry David of blogging .  Bring on the comments, right or wrong I’ll live with it.

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“How About Two of Each Today Sir”

Here’s another post about the good old days of photo processing……..Believe it or not I actually took a course in how to develop film and operate a One Hour Photo establishment.  Circa 1987, though our store was to be here in San Francisco, the course was offered in Minnetonka, Minnesota, the actual One Hour Photo capital of the world.  So when I say I’m an expert, I can back it up.   One of the things we learned in the course was to up sell customers.  The script went like this, “matte or glossy, 3 1/2 x 5 or 4×6 prints, would you like a second set?”  I’d say at least half the people went for the double prints.

Nowadays it’s a struggle to get anyone to print at all.  Just for kicks I broke out with the old “how about a second set today” line the other day.  The customer responded by saying that it was a “waste of paper and bad for the environment.”   Seems like a weird place to take a stand if you ask me.  I once lived in an old house that was wallpapered with photos.  Now I live a less cluttered life, and like many of you my “mess” is confined to my computer’s hard drive and my phone.

Speaking of prints, there is a new show up for viewing at Photoworks.  We are proud to display the work of Aeschleah DeMartino. These pieces are striking to say the least.  Moody, joyously morbid, posed yet voyeristic.

I asked our artist for a bio, but she was humble and did not send much.  I’ll use the old cliche and say that these images speak volumes.  Perhaps some of you will be inspired to print some of your own work, and remember to ask for, “two of each.”


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Photoworks v Costco Print Throwdown

Thanks to a certain SF City College Photoshop course there appears to be a printer comparison going on between the labs in town and Costco.  I have little idea of the point of this exercise.  If it’s a learning experience for the students then I apologize for what I’m about to say.  ‘I’M NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR  EXPERIMENT”  I’d prefer not to spend an hour discussing the minutia of colorspace only to have it thrown back at me in a costco taste test.  Does Costco photo developer clerk come out of his cage and chat about “assigned color profiles.?”  Maybe..

Hey professor, do know how much money in discounts I give every year to students?  How many SF City college brochures I’ve had on my counter, and the countless times that I suggest, “take a class a City College, they’re terrific.”  I really would have been fine with all of this had I had say, a heads up.  Maybe I’ll teach a cooking class and ask the students to by ingredients at the corporate giant Safeway, and then by the same items from the Bi Rite locally owned market.  Let’s ask the grocer at Bi Rite a hundred questions and then go on over to Safeway and get them to grow veggies the same way.   Sorry Kids, I’ll sit this one out.

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