You know the Disney song, right?
“Someday my prince will come” — Snow White sings it to the seven dwarfs in the Disney animated classic from 1937. It was the beginning of serious animation. Who could forget?
When I was learning photography, back in the early 1970s from a friend with a good education in photography and an odd sense of humor, I learned a different set of lyrics. But first … the back story.
For black and white film (it was all film at that point … digital photography was decades in the future) … we did our own developing and printing. The university I had attended — and for that matter, that my friend had also attended — had a dark room which he ran. Whatever photographic work the school needed, he did it. But it left a lot of time for personal projects and having a spacious, well-equipped dark room and laboratory was a dream come true. All I had to supply was paper and chemicals. I learned a huge amount in those few years during which I had access to the facilities.
Color was different. For color work, we were dependent on a (very) few custom photography labs. You could cheap out and drop your film off at the drug store — if you didn’t mind negatives covered with scratches and bad prints on the cheapest paper. If, however you wanted some quality proofs and prints made by hand from negatives properly developed, you needed a trustworthy (expensive) lab. The equipment to develop and print color was too big and too costly for an individual. Oh how times have changed!
Custom labs took a long time. They called themselves “custom” and they really were. They hand developed the negatives and prints, though proofs were generally done by machine unless you specified otherwise. Usually, we ordered proof sheets and from these, selected the frames we thought were worth blowing up.
Today, you can get amazing, high quality work from laboratories that will take your files over the Internet and mail you prints on paper, wood, canvas, aluminum, or whatever. They will do it quickly and usually at competitive prices. In the old days, custom work was the province of professional photographers. This meant weddings, babies, other events big and small. Also, material for magazines and advertising agencies. Most of the pros used large format cameras which were (still are) so expensive they may cause fainting on the spot. Like, for example, a Hasselblad, the preferred camera of NASA where the camera body alone costs more than my house … and don’t even ask about lenses.
Being an amateur, my print orders were never at the head of the queue. So, I’d wait. Sometimes weeks just to get proofs … which would be the first time I even knew if the pictures were good. It was a time of great anxiety.
While we waited, we sang:
“SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME …
Some DAY, my PRINTS will come …”
Eventually, they did. Have I mentioned how much I love digital cameras?