Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tracking my missing negatives

What do Walgreens and CVS drug stores do with the film negatives that aren't returned?

Mystery solved. But hardly satisfying. .

I've probed this since my Aug. 2016 post. When I asked Walgreens why they don't return negatives with photofinishing orders, a manager called me. He explained that his store sends all film processing orders to District Photo, a Maryland wholesale lab. They send nothing back to the stores -- prints or negs, he said. Image files scanned from negatives are transmitted to the store, where prints are produced and the files are written to a CD.

This led me to District Photo, where a polite woman named Ruth informed me that District's contract with Walgreens specifies no return of negatives. That's at Walgreens' request. District retains the negatives for 30 days, then destroys them.

So, Walgreens says it's District's issue. District says Walgreens tells them not to return the negatives. Amid the online finger-pointing, the photographic consumer ends up a loser.

What triggered this investigation? Check out the images below.


Nearly every frame (shot with Kodak Ektar 100 film) shows lateral white lines that indicate scratched negatives. The scratching likely took place in the lab. Or, it's my camera -- a Fujifilm DL Super Mini -- although I've seldom seen harsh scratches as severe as these from inside a camera's film chamber.

If I had the negatives, I could determine whether the camera or a dirty film gate at District is at fault. But that's not an option, since District obliterated my negatives a few weeks ago.

Maybe Walgreens' new billionaire CEO will be interested in this story. Maybe he won't. Either way, if you like to shoot 35mm film, please ask if the lab they're using will return your negatives.

And walk out if you don't like the answer.

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