It’s funny how our memory works. Why I would remember the address of a Kodak film processing lab that I have not used in almost 30 years? But I remember it like I had worked there for years. In truth, I had never seen the place, but I had mailed many rolls of slide film to that address over the years.
In the era of film photography.
In that era of film photography, the film had to be sent to a lab before you could see the photos. For years, these labs were large “factories” that processed thousands of rolls of film a day. Drugstores and camera shops offered film processing. You would drop your film off one day and return a day or two later to pick up the prints.
When I worked for JCPenney in Visalia from 78-84, photo processing was a big business for us. People who were shopping at Penney’s would just bring their film in for processing when they went for other things.
Soon, those big labs began offering overnight processing, reacted to the one-hour mini labs that had begun appearing. Mini labs were just that, small labs, often located in shopping centers and owned by local mom and pops. Now you could have your prints in an hour. It took a bit out of the big boys business but it didn’t totally replace the “factories”. The one-hour lab was more expensive and not everyone needed to see the photos right away.
The vast majority of photos were taken on negative film.
In those days, most people shot negative films. That negative image was turned into a positive print by the photo lab. But, the print was often not of the best quality. For the serious photographers, that was just not good enough. The print was never what you had envisioned when you took the photo. The vast majority of people taking pictures didn’t care. They had no “vision” of what they wanted in their photos. They just wanted photos of little Johnny playing with little Suzie in the park, or on vacation at Disneyland.
So, if you were a “serious” photographer, your shot slide film. A slide produced the purest form of the image. You had no middle man in a print. That film that went through your camera was the slide that you held in your hand. The king of all slide films was generally regarded to be Kodachrome. It was not only brilliant, natural colors. It was also the longest-lasting of the color films. Other films would fade over time, but Kodachrome had an extremely long life.
Kodachrome was processes at 925 Page Mill road
Kodachrome was what the lab at 925 Page Mill Road processed. It was a complicated process that was never available to a hobbyist. If you were interested in working in the darkroom, you could buy kits for processing other slide films. Not Kodachrome, it had to be sent off to only a select group of processing labs who had the expertise and equipment to process it.
You could buy Kodak film with processing included. It came with an envelope that you could send the film to the lab closest to you. They would process it and mail the finished product, slides in this case, back to you. The closest lab to me, here in California was at 925 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto.
That Kodak lab in Palo Alto was built in 1953 and closed sometime in the early 90s. By 1995 the building was purchased by a biotech company and remodeled.
What is there in 2021
My wife and I recently took an overnight trip to go to the Ikea Store in San Jose. We found a quiet little hotel in Palo Alto, just a few minutes from Ikea. When I realized, on our way to the hotel, that we were on Page Mill Road, I began thinking of that old Kodak lab. Checking out the map I found we were right around the corner from it. So on our walk to get dinner at a nearby Chipotle, we walked down to the site of the old lab. Today, there was not much to see at the site. The building had been remodeled and others built near it, but it brought back memories of bygone days of sending the film off to a lab and the excitement of getting the slides back in the mail a few days later.
Kodachrome 25, with an ISO of 25, was my favorite film, with brilant, lifelike color. I send almost all of it to 925 Page Mill Road. I have a memory of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington in 1976. At a post office in Lake Chalan, also a spot where I picked up a food drop, I dropped off several envelopes of film to the Palo Alto Lab. When I returned home the slides were waiting for me.
The best photo I took is still in my camera.
I am often asked about film photography and how it relates to digital. I will say that there was magic with film. At not being able to see what you had on the back of your camera. You would go out and shot, then come back and send that film off to be processed. Only then did you see what you got. Many times, not what you had expected. There was an old saying in those days: the best picture I ever took is still in my camera. What it meant was that I always thought it was going to be better than it ended up to be. When I got it out of the camera and saw it, it was never as good as I had hoped.