Yeah, man… “Righteous!” Close your eyes, breathe deeply of the pungent Essence, and drift with your soul. Reach back, back, back… into the misty mists of Time. To wit:

Al Gore had not-yet invented the Internet. Reagan was President. Huey Lewis vied with Journey for rule of the AM/FM airwaves, and Sirius was not-even a pipedream. Smoking inside buildings was legal (although I did not smoke). The Toyota Celica was one of the coolest, most-stylish cars on the road. Digital cameras did not exist: photos were made by photons striking a silver-halide emulsion, which then had to be processed in a “dark room” (literally!) into either negatives, which then had to be printed into positive images, or into “slides”, which could then be projected onto a screen by affixing them between a lens and a light source. And I: younger (not that that has changed; I’m still a Punk!), slimmer, and with hair. Heh!

So: there was I, managing a nationally-known photo lab / News Service. Instead of pushing ones and zeroes for a living, as now, I pushed photons and silver to my bidding.

The photo: Standing proud in the E-6 (Ektachrome) processing darkroom at Consolidated News Pictures, I have just processed 30 rolls of film: the maximum which could be processed in the 5-gallon tanks. There were nine different chemical tanks for the process, all in a large sink which provided a water jacket of 102* water to heat the chemistry. One had to calculate the thermal transmissivity of the tanks: the chemicals inside had to be exactly 100*. When one tank failed, the whole set needed to be replaced with the same alloy. (Just like tires for 4WD suckahs today!) The maze of plumbing behind me was used to regulate the water and Nitrogen flow. Water heated the tanks; Nitrogen was blown into the tanks by an Intervalometer, which timed the sequence. An inert gas, Nitrogen bubbles would circulate the chemistry without affecting it, which ensured the proper concentration of chemicals against every inch of film.

With each rack of 30 rolls, there was also a clipped-on “densitomer strip”, which I would then reference in a (guess what?) “Densitometer”. This was a device that measured the relative density of each of 18 color bars, and quantified how relatively-dense they were versus Kodak’s published tolerances. Readings from the Densitometer would indicate the relative PH and activity of the chemicals, which would then need to be replenished by mixing more (nine separate solutions) and adding them proportionately to the existing chemical tanks, to ensure they were sufficiently strong for the next batch of 30 rolls. Some of those nine chemicals each had up to five chemical components. One needed one’s math.

In a nod to my current colleagues: there was abundant Documentation. Product Managers at Kodak stipulated Everything; there was never guesswork... unless it was "far off the truck". Case study: I was photographing (as a hobbyist) concerts at the time. At a Jethro Tull concert, I took a shot on TX film (400 ISO) that based on the meter readings, I knew would need to be processed at 6400 ISO. No such developer existed at the time. I invented my own, based on Kodak's documentation and my own "theory". It worked. Three months later, a bank across Pennsylvania Avenue was robbed - they brought the film to us: the cameras had captured the robber on film, but the cameras had been set wrong - they needed the film processed for 6400 ISO. I discussed it with the bank person, and set some Caveats, processed the film, and it aided in the conviction. Kodak flew me to Rochester to explain what I had done, to their Scientists and Crew. Nowadays, my off-the-shelf Pentax K5 can expose at ISO 512,000 with no Chemistry!!! It was truly a different world back then.

During Bill Clinton’s second Inauguration Event, I processed 248 rolls of film in under 22 hours. As each batch would dry, I’d be either running the next batch, or mounting the previous batch into slide mounts. Oh, and I ran circa 175 rolls of BW film, too, a shorter (~35 minute) process.

Once, on a late August Monday afternoon in DC, I was running 22 rolls of E6 for a client who had shot a wedding on Saturday. In the middle of the color-developer phase of the process, a thunderstorm rolled by: the power went out. The timer glowed, but did not spin. I tried to count the minutes and seconds off manually, but with no reference, it was impossible over such a complex span of times and chemicals. That evening, with some tears in my *own* eyes, I had to tell the Bride that all her wedding pictures were ruined. To this day, that remains my biggest Professional Failure. It wasn't my fault, but dammit, I'm a musician: I should have counted better.

But there were good times, too. Hours and hours in that dark, hot, humid little room, up to my elbows in God-knows-what carcinogens, my boom box blasting Ultravox and Icehouse and Bowie and Eno at the highest volumes, wondering who I was and where I was going.

My buddy Phil Cavali was there as well… he can attest. He was wondering where he was going, too. From the Navy as a flight photographer, to Consolidated with a love of NASCAR… he taught me that, and the two of us did the NASCAR and Drag Racing circuit on the East Coast before we parted ways – he to Photo Editor at Winston Cup Scene for years and now a successful independent… me to slinging ones and zeros. The Lord does Provide.

I am amazed, and oh-so-thankful, to have gotten this far.


















(c) 2016 Teejay Riedl