A few weeks ago, I rented a medium format camera and went out shooting
bridges at the weekend. I was using slide film, and got the film developed
that same weekend; a lot of the shots came out great. So obviously
the next step was to get some prints made.
I could have gone back to the shop which developed the film; after
all, they did a very good job. But they were expensive for R prints
and even more expensive for digital prints, so I thought I’d give
my friendly neighborhood photo shop a go. I went into this place on
Grand Street, in between Doughnut Plant and Kossar’s Bialys, and asked
if they could make R prints from my slides. I didn’t think that they
would be able to do it in-house, but if they could that would have
been great, and if they couldn’t then they would certainly go to a
reasonably reputable lab.
The shop is run by a father-and-son team. They’re Jewish, but I’m
not sure where they’re from, probably Russia. The son, I was told
by one of the regulars who happened to be in the shop when I went
in, is a professional photographer, which put my mind at rest somewhat.
The father’s English is not very good, and he certainly had no idea
what an R print was, but the son seemed on the case, and said that
he’d probably wind up doing digital prints, which is fine by me. He
quoted a very reasonable sum.
I didn’t hear from them for a few weeks, so eventually I remembered
to go in. The son wasn’t there, but the father was, and eventually
we found the prints. Immediately, my heart sank. My favourite photo,
of the central span of the Brooklyn Bridge suspended over the East
River with the Statue of Liberty in the background, was a greeny-grey
mush, far from the electric blue in the transparency. The bridge itself
was both blurry and out of focus, which surprised me as the slide
seemed very sharp, and I took the shot in bright sunlight and focused
We’d found the prints, but so far not the slides. I went looking
for the slides, to compare them to the prints, and eventually found
them; they were just as colourful and sharp as I’d remembered. But
then the father pulled out a few 35mm negatives, and said that he’d
found them. No, I said, it was medium-format slide film, I’ve got
it right here, look. And then the father acted out what he’d done:
he’d taken his little 35mm camera, pointed it at the slides, taken
colour negatives of the slides, and then blown up the negatives into
I think I must have looked at him like he was mad. I mean, this was
a man who was praising my photography to the sky when i’d brought
the slides in originally, and now he was trying to fob me off with
enlargements from bad 35mm copies? I said no, that’s most definitely
not what I’d asked for, and said I’d just take my positives and leave.
But the father persuaded me to leave them one more day, so he could
take them back to the lab and see what they could do.
So I went back today to see what the situation was. The son was there
this time, and basically said that the lab was not equipped to do
either scans or R prints. At least I think that’s what he said: he
wasn’t exactly crystal, but that was the message.Of course, I left
with my positives, but not before the father laid a guilt trip on
me by saying that he’d paid over $100 for the prints.
Then I got to thinking. When the father first told me what he’d done,
I was furious. I mean, what could he have been thinking? Why
on earth would I go to the trouble of taking 6×4.5 professional-quality
transparencies if I’d be happy with a washed-out enlargement of a
bad photo of a slide?
But then I thought that maybe he was just trying to help me out;
he knew I wanted prints from these slides, and so he tried to provide
me with prints the only way he knew how. Still, surely his son should
have stopped him.
And then I thought I was being the worst type of yuppie invader,
feeling angry at local businesses because they can’t cater to my yuppie
needs. A bit like that constant problem I had with the deli over the
street which never, ever had tonic water. They would get, like, two
bottles in, which would be snapped up in a matter of minutes by the
yuppies in 203 Rivington, and then there would be nothing for weeks.
Didn’t they see? There was a demand for this! Just like whenever
they got the New York Times in, it would sell out hours before El
Diario. But they never did order more tonic water, or more of the
New York Times, and eventually they went out of business.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is, so please let me know
if you do. But I do know that friendly neighborhood shops are often
much better in theory than they are in practice.