They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if it's something horrifying or otherwise not meant for regular eyes? In this piece, photo lab techs share the strangest, funniest, and downright creepy discoveries they've made while developing strangers' pictures.
More Crazy Oddities
“Not before digital, but right as digital started wreaking havoc on the photo processing industry. I was starting college to get a photography degree, and I got my first job at a local photo shop lab. I loved that job. Some of the highlights:
Early 2000s hippies unclothed, probably in Utah, humping boulders and trees. Any penetration and my supervisor shredded them. (Illegal to print in our state.)
Autopsy photos of a man who’d been executed with a double barrel to the face. He’d been forced to strip down to his socks and underwear in a ditch and killed. It was horrifying and fascinating to see how the metal had ricocheted in his skull turning half his brain to mush.
Stillborn photos from the hospital. We typically did some amount of photo corrections after scanning in film before sending it to the printer. We didn’t on these. You don’t want to go through having to remove dust spots off of the improperly developed baby’s faces.
Horribly redneck weddings. Ceremony in the small town’s unkept gazebo, with the reception in the parking lot of the grocery store. Folding tables with no tablecloths and peanuts in a jar with the label still on and the lid opened up. Wish I could remember a few more details on that one.
Also learned video editing there when the editor went on pregnancy leave. Some of those included:
Video for a court case showing the inside of a cattle processing plant. Someone had cut their own arm off with hydraulic scissors meant for removing cattle hooves. The video wasn’t of the incident, thank goodness. It was showing that workers weren’t properly trained in the use of the equipment, and more workers were in the area than were allowed for safety.
Worked on a video compilation for a girl I went to high school with, for her 18th birthday. It was such a huge project that the store manager did most of it. I think her mom brought a flask in for when she got the grand total of that video. She learned who I was, and invited me to the party. I did end up going to see the video and say happy birthday. They rented out a planetarium to show the video in because the party was huge, and it was only the first part. I didn’t even know people in my town had money to do these kinds of things. This video showed me what different experience kids who come from money really have in comparison to the not so well off.
Got to watch some old Micky Mouse 8mm reels as a part of video reels someone brought in to be put to DVD. Obviously, we weren’t allowed to copy it, but most of the store came up to watch the shorts that I set to play. After all, I had to make sure someone hadn’t spliced on any family shots to the end of the reel.”
Hey Dad? How About Heck No?
“Worked in a traditional photo lab post-digital photography if that’s cool. For some background, my dad did a lot of photography in the 80s and 90s as a hobby. While I had access to a darkroom (it was shut down due to Covid) he found a book of negatives from the early 80s before him and my mom had kids. I had been making prints for him from the negatives when he decided one day that he really wanted me to make a print from a bare negative of my mom.
As much I had loved making prints from his negatives, the thought of making a bare print of my mom just made me feel really uncomfortable and I just kept telling him that I would get around to it when I would have access to the lab when others weren’t in there to see me making nudes. Of course, before I had a chance to get the paper to do more prints for him, the lab was shut down so it was kind of a blessing because I had an excuse not to make the print, but a curse too because I don’t have darkroom access for the foreseeable future because of Covid.”
Too Messed Up To Not Look At
“We weren’t a commercial chain, just a mom and pop photo show/gift store that also did the framing. This is why our small police station used us to develop their film of crime scenes. The owner didn’t stutter when he said it was just best not to look and there were legal repercussions for talking about anything we saw.
I was 15-years-old and it’s the mid-90s so I was bored and decided to take a gander because nothing bad ever really happened in our small town, right? Saw lots of abuse evidence, children, wives, animals… Keep in mind I knew these people and saw them pretty often and would have never guessed anything like that was going on at home. Car wrecks were really common as well because we were right off the interstate. I found out who all the coke dealers were. Natural unattended deaths were oddly beautiful, sad but still beautiful.
A student in my high school was killed in a car wreck that involved a diesel. I was like, I’m not going to look… not going to look… dang I have to look. I was physically ill because everyone said it was blunt force trauma and I was not prepared to see this girl from choir decapitated. Her car went under the trailer after it jackknifed, basically slicing off the top of the car and her head was laying eyes open in the passenger seat.
It’s one thing to see random people you don’t know dead and a completely different visceral experience seeing someone you know decapitated. I played basketball with her and we had classes together but we weren’t “friends”. She was literally the proverbial person that lit up a room, everyone loved her, a huge member of the student council, good Christian family… Which was exactly the polar opposite of me. I was the person people felt obligated to invite to stuff while secretly hoping I will just go away.
I felt like I just became a ghost for months. People would talk about the wreck and they absolutely didn’t actually know the whole truth. I stopped looking at pictures and after my parents expressed concern to my boss thinking I was using substances or something to my boss a Vietnam vet he almost immediately knew I saw something I shouldn’t have at an age that wasn’t developed enough to process it. He talked to me and said it was fine if I wanted to quit. But I didn’t so he moved me to the framing department and taught me all about how it’s done. I miss that place it felt like home. But he passed in 2000 and it closed.”
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
“I worked at a Walmart photo center in the 90s. We had the occasional funny/depressing nudes (could not print, just put a preprinted naughty note in the envelope), wet t-shirt contests (mostly would print, unless the manager or the ex-nun was working). I also remember a totally scuzzy guy dropping off a roll of sad attempted glamour shots of his equally scuzzy girlfriend wearing a bikini on a sportbike in their super messy garage, but most difficult was parents with their stillborn infant.
Started off with the first photos thinking it was just parents at the hospital with their newborn. Then realized they didn’t look happy. Then realized the baby was not alive. Sad day. But appreciated these were likely the only photos they’d ever have of this child they’d been anticipating for months and took more time color correcting for the fluorescent hospital lights than we were really supposed to spend per roll.”
He Unintentionally Exposed A Cheater
“Worked at CVS pharmacy. The early 2000s. Repeat customer I knew by name shows up to pick up her pictures. I go and grab them and bring them to her. If you recall, we had to ask their names to verify the prints. I see two with her last name and only one with her full (first and last name). The other one that only had the last name had the same initial as her first name.
She checks out and goes to the pharmacy area. We start hearing this lady flipping out over the phone with her husband. She leaves crying with all the photos there on the pharmacy waiting area.
We review to see what happened only to realize her husband had the same initial as his wife with the same last name. I had unintentionally ruined their marriage, exposing the guy with another mistress.
We never saw that lady again.”
“Nudes Of Coworkers Were Weirdly Common”
“Nudes of coworkers were weirdly common. Especially awkward because I worked at Walmart, so that happened a lot.
Another notable find was this really old woman, aged 70s or so, posing in lingerie. Every few photos an article of clothing is removed. Up till the last photo spread eagle just baring it all.
A coworker had pics of two guys going at it. By company policy, we can’t sell nudes of people so they guy would come back to get the same photos developed over and over again, even though we couldn’t sell them to him. After the third or fourth time he decided to put in a complaint. Weirdo.
Then there was one of a guy in an odd pose with a rolled sock over his junk and a stick of deodorant in one hand. Pretty classic.
Had lots of requests from guys wanting to print their bare body on a blanket for their girlfriend.
Oh yeah! Almost forgot this one. Had an 80-year-old man who dumped his SD card on CDs. Somehow the computer picked a very specific set of photos to print on the front of the CD for thumbnails. It was him with an equally aged woman in a hotel. He flipped out on us about how these photos don’t exist and no one knows about this and he was gonna give these to his family for Christmas.”
“I worked in a photo place a few years ago where you could share photos from your phone, a USB etc. to a print machine. You just printed your photos, brought them to the counter, where the prints were counted and paid for based on size. We’d also usually do a little quality check on the print to make sure nothing was wrong, but we didn’t pay too much attention to the content of the images unless it was something illegal that we’d have to report (illicit pics, evidence of a crime etc.). Most people needed help, but some were more confident.
A lady came in, went to a machine, and started printing. Then she called me over to tell me that the prints were jammed. I said no problem and went to grab the key from my boss to fix it. When the lady realised what was happening she went bright red with tears in her eyes and started asking if she could grab them if I just showed her where. I shouldn’t have really, but she looked so worried, I decided to oblige. Assumed it was nudes. I was a Christmas temp anyway, my job was done in a couple of days, and I could claim I didn’t know it was a health and safety thing. Whatever.
They were really jammed, but she managed to pull them free, mashing them up, and went to put them in her pocket to hide them away. I asked to just count them for our waste so we didn’t end up with the till short when I counted later. She just started sputtering and saying she didn’t feel comfortable with that. I smiled and told her to just count them for me, that I could see they were destroyed and I’d take care of it so she wouldn’t have to pay. She thanked me, and I got called to help someone else and left her to it.
Unfortunately, it was my boss who went to check her out. The lady wouldn’t hand my boss the stack, she just told her how many there were, and mentioned the waste prints.
Well, my boss demanded to count them herself and insisted that she needed the waste prints. She told the lady that we needed to send the waste prints elsewhere for recycling and destruction, and she couldn’t let her walk out with them (we actually just ripped them up and threw them in the trash tbh). Lady offered to pay for them instead, because she said they were of a personal nature, and she didn’t want anyone seeing them. Boss said no, she needed to see them and count them herself.
This back and forth went on for a while, with my boss getting increasingly loud and demanding (obviously jumping to the conclusion that something illegal was in the photos). A lot of customers were starting to whisper and make comments, so obviously, the woman was getting more and more upset. I decided to finish up with the customer I was dealing with and go and see if I could help ease tensions.
Before I got there, the lady finally exploded.
‘The pictures are of me giving birth to my stillborn baby. I’m bare, crying, my legs are spreadeagled, there’s blood everywhere and it’s awful. But they are the only pictures of my dead child. You will NOT take them from me. I will not let you see them!’
My boss just kind of went slack-jawed, so I jumped in, apologized, and told her not to worry, I’d finish ringing her up. That I’d seen her count the waste prints and I’d deal with it. My boss leaned over and put in a little 10% discount and shuffled off to help someone else. The lady told me (through tears) that she’d come here because she couldn’t carry the pictures on her phone anymore, but that she didn’t have the heart to delete them, so she was putting them away in a special box. I told her I understood and wished her well in her healing.
My boss was so upset after for putting her through that, but it happens! I assumed nudes, she assumed cp.”
Well That Roll Of Film Took An Unexpected Turn
“Violence and CP were the major you gotta report this, worked at a store in Alberta for a few years. There weren’t many, but the times it happened were memorable due to the reaction of the guy getting caught being very much like the To Catch A Predator reactions when Chris Hansen shows up.
In one example as he approached the counter and asked for his film they had an officer just inside the development lab (outside of view) and I was instructed to retrieve his photos from the back when he returned to collect them. When the officer came out behind me his only comment was ‘Oh no, not THAT roll of film.'”
Tiny Buttons Haha
“Film stills from the first X-Men movie with an unknown Hugh Jackman doing test poses.
He mimicked every single famous Wolverine comic book pose to astonishing accuracy. It was like seeing comic book pages come to life.
Also, a gay couple going out in the woods to take pictures of each other with their genitals out. Not the best time to do it since it was the middle of winter and the cold made their peens look like tiny buttons.”
Well, That’s Traumatizing
“A man had hanged himself and the police department had my mother develop photos of the scene. The man was a regular customer. She still can’t look at the noose or hanging man Halloween decorations. He had been dead for a few days before the photos were taken. The store told the police dept that if they were developing photos like that, they had to leave an officer there to monitor them instead of making the workers do it.
To clarify about the machines: it wasn’t a photo lab, it was just a general store with a photo counter. The machine spits out the photos and they faced the customers as they dropped. My mom had to stand in front of them to block these particular photos from customers, and to make sure it was printing properly. Usually, they don’t need to block them from view, but had to do it for these for obvious reasons.”
One Of His Favorite Jobs
“In my early days at the corner of happy and healthy, I was passing the film through the computer to adjust color and lighting before sending it to the printer. The photos would show on the screen 6 frames at a time and this particular roll was bringing up family photos of a trip to the beach. The kids, mom, and dad were having a blast away from the gloomy midwest cornfields, nothing out of the ordinary. After 12 frames I brought up the next set and I was met with a close-up of peen-in-bum. The photos following showed the dad really enjoying the company of another male. I processed the film, since I wasn’t uncomfortable doing so, but couldn’t help but wonder how that was gonna go over with the rest of the fam.
Another instance included a roll of film showcasing the escapades of an elderly threesome.
The strangest was a repeat customer who would use our kiosk to order his prints. He’d turn the monitor around as far as possible and upload images of scantily clad and topless actresses from various film or tv shows that he would take with his digital camera. The weird part wasn’t that he’d take pictures of his tv to have these pictures developed, but that he would tell us every time that he is a movie producer doing scouting and needed these photos for research. Even stranger, he’d point out that his wife was unaware of this so he had to be very covert about it. He was just a randy old guy.
Of all my time in the photo lab, those are the only stories I have. It was one of my favorite jobs and I wish I could still make a living developing film.”
Please Just Go, Ma’am
“I worked in a grocery store, owned by a Christian family, and we had a strict no printing nudes rule.
Back then there was this mini camera called the Kodak Disk that took 15 photos on small negatives shaped a lot like those View-master toys. They were maybe 10mm square, and it was often hard to make out what was on them compared to the larger 35mm film.
One time I printed a roll…I literally couldn’t tell what was on the negatives, until they came out…they were about as vulgar and obscene as I’ve ever seen. Essentially they were all close up pictures of a woman with various vegetables and sporting equipment being pushed up into her genitals.
According to the rules, I had to immediately destroy any image showing nudes, and every frame was inappropriate, so in the end, all I could do was charge the customer for developing the negative and not put any prints into the envelope. This was a one-hour order, so when the customer arrived she was quite upset that there were no prints. I explained the rules about nakedness, but she insisted there was nothing risque, and ended up escalating the situation to the store manager.
The manager and I never really got along, and he absolutely refused to listen to me when, in front of the customer, I kept heavily emphasizing how “inappropriate” the images were. He told me to just print the photos or I’d be written up.
So I printed them again. It took about 5 minutes to go through the machine, and they would slide up the backside window in a dryer in view of the open lab window so customers could watch their photos come out. The woman had her back to the window, and the store manager was facing her, making small talk, and apologizing for the misunderstanding.
When the photos started to slide up, he saw them, one after another…and he suddenly understood just what I had meant. His face turned beet red, and his mouth dropped open. He suddenly said, “I’m sorry ma’am, we absolutely won’t be printing your photos today. Goodbye, now..” He turned around and stormed away leaving me with to deal with this lady.
I just gave her the negatives, no charge, and told her to just please go.”
Creepers Gotta Creep
“50 copies of the same photo of a guy posing on a bed in just his tightly whities. He was the one who brought it in. I had to check all 50 to make sure they printed correctly. He stood and watched me do it. Because they weren’t full-on nudes I had to process them. Definitely got the vibe the guy was trying to be a creep though.”