I was reminded very rightly and recently by a Galway man living in Dubai that when he and I were growing up, chemist shops were not just places for medicine and pills, plasters and hot water bottles to be bought. They were also places where you dropped off your rolls of film to be developed.
I can hear younger people scratching their heads at the very thought of a roll of film. But yes, before there was Instagram or WhatsApp, before phones had cameras, we used instamatic cameras and rolls of film.
You bought film either in rolls of 24 or 36 — not that you ever got 24 or 36 photographs at the end of it all. And generally, you only used a roll of 24 — because you had to pay for the film to be developed. And it was expensive.
When you dropped the film off, you were given a ticket with the job being done in a day if your wanted a rush — even more expensive — or three or four days for the photos to be ready.
I can’t remember the last time I used a camera with a roll of film, but it has to be at least the end of the last century. Doesn’t that make it seem old, indeed.
The excitement would build as the hours counted down to collect the images. And as soon as you got the packet, you’d flick through the images. And yes, there were ones with your head or feet cut off, palm trees or beach brollies coming out of your head, and ones that you probably didn’t every remember taking if your life depended on it.
Sometimes, if the film was a bit dodgy or your camera wasn’t the best, there’d be brown tints to the photographs. And everyone had red eyes because that’s just the way things were when phones were dumb and cameras weren’t smart.
You always got your negatives back and they came in strips of carrying shades of brown that looked nothing like the blurry colour photographs in your hands.
There was no such thing as sharing on social media. No, sharing had to be done by passing the packet of photos around. And if your best friend forever wanted a photo, they physically kept the photo. You could have passed them the negative for them to make their own copies, but that was expensive too — probably even more so than the cost of getting the whole roll developed in the first instance.
I can’t remember the last time I used a camera with a roll of film, but it has to be at least the end of the last century. Doesn’t that make it seem old, indeed. But it was the last millennium for sure.
Souvenir shops at every sea resort or beauty spot anywhere in the world sold all types of film for all types of cameras. Some even sold disposable cameras that had film preloaded, saving you the messy job of trying to feed the film into the camera in the first instance.
If I remember rightly, places like chemist shops also sold rows of plastic disposable flash cubes — meaning that those old red eyes were a sure thing. You always caught people in mid-blink too, making them look as if they had too much to drink or were very tired — probably both.
I know that there is a drawer in storage somewhere in my possession that should have two rolls of film that have yet to be developed. They have got to be 30 years old at this stage — likely too old now to be salvaged as the chemicals on the film have no doubt decayed. Whatever the contents, I have no doubt that they will feature the half-blinking and red-eyed. I’d hate to think the cost of getting them developed then at the chemist shop.