Fotomat Memories

Fotomat Memories

So I was thinking the other day about one of my early jobs as a one hour photo technician. I worked at a local family photo lab, a thing that now you really only find at Walmart. I tried to explain to my kids about how the process worked with developing the film then printing the images and running them through a chemical bath resulting in your single or double prints. I guess they just assumed that pictures were always captured on a SD card and then stored or printed from the home computer. We’ve come along way from sending in our 110 film in the mail to some mysterious place that would return the oddly shaped photos 6 weeks later.

So this brought me to think about the old blue box with the yellow pyramid roof, Fotomat. Back in the 80’s when I was a kid you would see these photo “labs” in the parking lots of your local grocery store or strip mall. Now I can’t exactly remember what the insides completely looked like but working in a photo lab (sounds professional) I can’t imagine the tech having much room to move around. I do however remember that my mother would usually just pull up to the drive thru like window to drop off film to be developed that day.

Sadly there are no more yellow pyramids in parking lots across the US but I know here there is still one building standing in a local plaza . The old Fotomat booth has been a locksmith shop, a wiper blade exchange booth, and I think at one time an ATM site. There is nothing currently in the booth, and it has changed shape and color over the years but for me even at 38 I still see the old blue & yellow Fotomat booth when I drive by.


Photo [via] The Director’s Desk


I grew up in western New York in the late 70's early-mid 80's playing with my Star Wars and Fisher Price adventure people. I have to say it was a good time.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. The one I remember in East Providence, RI has an ATM sitting there now. The island the booth used to sit on is still there. Whenever I see that ATM all I see is that fotomat booth. Those were the days!

  2. I remember 110/instamatic film & cameras, who can forget the flip-flash?
    The hassle of film is part of why I never cared much for photography back in the day. You would take photos of interesting things, then either have to wait months until you filled up the roll, or just waste a bunch of film, then you would have to go & get it developed, which meant the better part of a week. (We rejected 1hr photo places because of both increased cost, and decreased quality.) To make matters worse, we would always have to wait for some place to have a sale (being poor sucks), so we’d only get film developed a few times a year. We’d have rolls & rolls of film to send in, and we’d never know what was on them because they’d been sitting around so long.
    Drug stores used to be the primary (and almost only) places in town to get film developed. The only other options were the 1hr photobooth (which charged extra & screwed up your photos) and the camera store (which charged an arm & a leg). Once in a while we would get some special where you could mail in your films.

    As far as fotomat places go, I’ve only ever seen 1. It was in one of the plazas in town, way out in the middle of the parking lot. As I mentioned though, we never used it because they charged way more than the drug stores & screwed up the film & photos through incompetance and/or stupidity. Still, seeing the place there every time we pulled in was rather iconic.

  3. I was very interested in photography when I was younger which is why I got the job at the photo lab and it kind of dampened my enthusiasm for it. The place I worked at was in the mall , it was mainly 1 hour or 4 hour developing but also some merchandise & reprints and enlargements. I was also there buy myself every shift so trying to get film processed on top of all the other tasks was nearly impossible. After Christmas….wow, that was a nightmare to work. “yes I’d like all 8 rolls in one hour” , OK.

  4. There are a few (what I think are) old Fotomat booths here in the Denver area that have been turned into drive-up espresso stands.

  5. Did the booths actually have the gear to develop and print? Or did someone pick them up and take them to a lab?

  6. I worked at the Fotomat processing lab in Atlanta back in the 70’s as the film processing tech. I also helped install and get that lab up and running. My only job was to operate the Houston film processors. I processed all film sizes. One of the most nerve racking jobs I’ve ever held. If you had film processed at any Fotomat on the east coast back in the 70’s then I am probably the guy who developed your film. Christmas season was a nightmare with hundreds of thousands of rolls coming in every night. I would not trade those memories for anything. I miss my old pals their…Jim Talbot, Mike Hipkins, Lane Blair, Dave Rieckert, Tammy Teal and many many more.

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