Gamma Photo Labs

My first job in the big city

My first job in the big city fresh out of art school. Working down in the Chicago art district for Gamma Photo Lab at 314 Superior. Riding the El to work, lunches in the art district. Cool.

Ever spend time in a totally dark room with bubbling 101 degree tubs of semi toxic chemicals, pushing large format Kodachrome and Ektachrome sheet film for Chicago’s professional photographers. Still kinda cool. Working a Refrema Dip n Dunk processor I processed all the 35mm, 2.25, 4×5 and 8×10 Transparency film for Gamma Photo Lab. I worked  hard to clean my gummed up chemical tanks and lines and to nail the hourly densitometer checks ensuring the temperature and chemical mix were correct. I’d want no less for my film! Pushing sheet film was kinda fun, photographers would run one roll of film from a batch and review it, then send another with plus/minus development if needed, then send small batches or all. Per testing I’d place “flags” (metal tabs that would trigger sensors) on the film racks for push and pull processing and then get to see the results. Example – guy goes to Africa for a magazine and comes back with 60 rolls of film – he wants to do some tests before committing to developing all, for which they often would break up into smaller batches in case something happened during development (not on my watch!). I may have also processed a few rolls of my own film. When not pushing film I was mixing all the color processing chemistry for entire place – C41 color negative, E6 color transparency and all color printing.

Yes that was me with my BFA degree wearing a full length rubber apron, industrial toxic protection gloves and a plastic shield face mask & air filter rig. I poured concentrated cubes of Kodak film and paper processing chemicals into a 100 gallon fiberglass mixing tub, added water and blended with a large mixing motor. I then piped the freshly mixed brews to their respective 100 gallon containers where they dripped down in measured flow to the machines, tanks and processors below –  down below where all the other BFA and MFA’s slaved away in the dark. I especially liked mixing the color fixer as it would bubble like soda pop, a fine brown mist rising out of the tub link a giant root beer except, with fixer. Yow. I gotta get another job!

Fun at Gamma – Lunch with the Black and white processors who developed film by “inspection” (no timers involved, simply develop till the film looks good under the dark room light). These guys would bring mountains of grape leaves and other food and a boom box with music that matched the lunch. Crazy guys. Funniest thing I remember was when I was assigned to clean a C41 Film processing room. I flicked on the lights and was greeted by a near life size color poster of a young lady looking for all the world like yes indeed she belonged in a barn topless with frayed blue jean hot pants peeling off (yes you would remember the details too if this was the first thing you saw when flicking the lights on in a room that was dark 99% of the time). The old timers explained to me that Gamma used to process film and prints for Playboy. Apparently some of them also enjoyed working 8 hours a day with a naked lady that they couldn’t see.

I would leave Gamma after a year and a half to work for Hedrich Blessing Photography.

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