That's all true, but I can tell you... if it's porno they'd be noticing the content!
I know somebody who used to work in a photo lab. He told me that there were drawers full of pictures that they had printed off extra copies of. Any time they saw a picture of somebody naked, they would hit the print button again and make a copy to keep. The customer was never the wiser.
I don't know if this is the full truth or whether it was just drunken boasting. I imagine the truth is somewhat less dramatic. "Drawers full" of pictures? Not likely. But, the occasional extra copy? I wouldn't put it past some people. If they did, you never would be the wiser.
Honestly, if I can develop my own film, why would I ever take film containing nude photos to a lab? I'd develop them myself.
Still, I can't imagine that a commercial lab would ever notice many pictures unless they really stood out.
My job in a theater projection room dictates that I must pay attention to the film and the machines, not the pictures. I look at the images on the film to judge the quality of the film, itself, to be sure it is fit to be presented and I look at the projected image to be sure that the projected image is good enough to be shown to the public but, to be honest, I hardly remember any of the images I saw but I can recall situations that happened while I was working with film.
Assuming a 10-screen multiplex which shows five rounds of movies per day, seven days per week, an operator who does his traditional 40-hour week would thread, run and monitor somewhere between 150 and 200 showings per week. That's potentially as many as 10,000 showings per year.
If an average movie, presented in 35mm., lasts two hours, it would contain approximately two miles of film. That's 20,000 miles.
I worked in the salt mine for a little over 5 years before I was promoted to Technician. My home theater was a 17-plex and I worked full shifts, on average, six days per week. Sometimes, I would work double shifts and there were times when I would go two or three weeks without a day off. If you count this, my time as a technician, teaching employees to be booth operators and the various moonlighting jobs I have had, I estimate that I have overseen the operation of more than 200,000 miles of film.
Our original poster was inquiring about the processing of 8mm movies in a large consumer film lab like a Kodak facility or similar. It's not hard to imagine that a worker in one of those labs would handle orders of magnitude more film that I ever did.
Using my experience as a point of reference, I can't imagine how anything but the most outrageous things would even get noticed, let alone remembered.
Smaller, local film labs and photo shops would not be working under such extreme conditions but I would certainly say that their job is similar. They would see so much film and so many photos that it would take something fairly outrageous to even be noticed.
I would say that stories of people being reported for taking photos of their own kids are outliers.
That having been said, I would still remember the stories told by my friend. There's no telling what could happen to your "nudie" pictures if you take them to a lab to be developed. You could, very well, have pictures of your girlfriend pinned up on the wall in the back room of some shop, somewhere!
As stated above I referred to industrial processing.
And yes, if someone would view transparencies, movies etc. at such a facility he surely would not see the images as pictures any longer.
What still puzzles me is that statement of that Kodak man as well as two statements here hinting at substantial viewing of films at processing labs.
In case I would design an industrial processing of S-8 film, I would employ sufficient sampling, both for densitometric control as well for visual inspection. But that would only for the smallest part be done on client films, and still deliver better information. The only sampling of client films would be needed to check for mechanical faults and light leaks occurred at the stage of extracting film from the cartridge. But this inspection would surely not involve looking at frames.
The only further need to look at client films on a regular base would be if one would like to check on the film stock itself.
That may involve emulsion deficits, not controlled on by the manufacturer, or visible only after a period of time, or to check for typical storage, transport, handling, exposure faults.
I remember working at a photo lab here in Minneapolis, which is now out of business, but they had an excellent line for film processing and printing. While working there I remember being impressed with the level of quality control, and viewing of films on light tables with loupes, in order to insure the best quality.
Test strips with densitometer readings about every two hours on all machines, and visual inspection of every sheet that came through, and select rolls from different batches. Obviously we didn't have the manpower to inspect everything, but we had very few complaints from the professional studios that used us; I can only remember two incidents, one which was resolved peacefully and the other where the photographer didn't admit that it was probably his fault that his 4x5 sheets were fogged.
When I worked in a photographic store a young man brought a film in to D&P that I sent to the lab we used to process it, two days later two policemen came into the shop and told me that the lab had contacted them and reported to them that the film had obscene images of a seven year old girl on it, and the man had been arrested.
The girl's father who was a regular customer in my shop (who I knew well) when the police told him about the matter demanded to know who the man was, threatened to kill him, and had to be physically restrained.
A few days later the little girls father indeed came to see me and demanded that I give him the man's name and address, although I liked the guy and felt very sorry for him I was sorely tempted, but I had to tell him the police had warned me I would be prosecuted if I did .
Keep in mind, in my job, I am at the other end of the pipeline in the film process. I receive already-processed films to present in the theater. I don't do the same things they do but similar.
I receive a can of reels to present in the theater. I open the can, inspect the 2,000 ft. reels for damage, count and informally inventory them to be sure I have a complete movie in good condition.
Then I start with reel no. 1 of the movie, take off the leader and inspect the head of the film. If it needs to be rewound, I mount it on the bench winder and start the motor. Once the condition and orientation of the reel are verified, I splice the first frame of that reel to the end of the projection leader and spool on, either to the platter system or to a large, 6,000 ft. reel for changeover operation.
This routine is repeated for each reel of film until the last one is reached. At this juncture, I have to search the last reel in order to find the point where the credits begin. That is where the foil cue is placed on the edge of the film to trip the sensor that controls the automation system. This will fade the auditorium lights to half brightness. There is another cue at the end of the credits which triggers the projector's shutdown sequence and bring the lights to full brightness. Up to that point, I would not have spent much time looking at the images on the film at all.
At the beginning of each reel, I need to find the first frame of action and determine where the splice needs to be made. I find the last frame of action on the tail of the previous reel and make the join. I have actually only looked at a few feet at the ends of each reel. Even the, my attention is focused on the film, the sprocket holes, the frame lines and my splicing equipment. I see the images on the film only in the context of making a clean, in-frame splice.
When each reel is handled, I do look at the condition of the film images to see whether the emulsion is scratched, the image is clear and presentable and that the film support is fit to project. (e.g. Broken sprocket holes, damaged or creased film, etc.) I have seen lab defects like fogged film, misaligned frames and other things. I do look for them but the film is often running at substantial speed on the bench winder.
Here's the key: I still don't spend much time looking at the actual images. The film is going by too fast to see each frame. Instead I look for visual cues on the moving film.
If the film was fogged at the lab, the color of the moving band of film will suddenly change. If the negative went out of alignment in the printing machine, the image will appear to "zig-zag" as it goes by. If there are scratches on the emulsion, the sheen of the surface as the light reflects off it will change. I lightly run the edges of the film between my (gloved) fingers to feel for defects. You can feel your gloves catch on defects as the film goes by. If there are any defects or splices that shouldn't be there, I will stop and inspect and make repairs as necessary. (Or call for a replacement reel.)
Those would be the only times when I actually look at the images on film. Even then, I hardly remember any of the pictures I saw, even if I used a magnifier.
(I keep an old projection lens on the bench and use it as a loupe if I need to inspect film more closely.)
In fifteen years of operating movie theaters, I there are only a few times when I have remembered what I have seen on film before it was projected for a technical pre-screening or for an audience. Since 99% of the film I handled has been release prints for general public viewing it's already been blessed by the MPAA or European review boards as safe for public viewing. But for the occasional nude scene, I'm not going to find anything outrageous on my film. Even then, I still don't remember much of what I saw. There's just too much information for my brain to recall.
Now, take my experience and move backwards, up the pipeline, to the development labs. I don't think it makes much difference whether we're talking about a Hollywood film lab or a consumer film lab. I think the operations are similar enough that the differences don't matter.
Much of the time, lab workers would either be working with exposed, undeveloped film, still inside the cartridge or box. They have to be in the dark when they remove the film from its container or they'd have to be working with their hands in some sort of "dark box." Up to the time when the film goes into the developing machine, no images are visible and any images that are visible can't be viewed in darkness. When the film comes out of the machine, it is spooled up for packaging and delivery.
I believe that the big Hollywood labs have machines to grade film and detect developing defects/problems. I don't know much about them but I am told that they are some kind of densitometer or color analyzer, probably similar to the equipment that photographers use in their work but only automated. (Others who know more about this, please fill in the blanks.) If the machine detects a problem, it is supposed to be kicked out for closer inspection by a technician. This is probably the first time when film is likely to be viewed by a person.
After that, I would absolutely expect there to be a human at the end of the processing line who inspects samples of each film that comes through. It's only sensible.
But, look at his job and compare it to mine. He would be sitting at his workbench, looking at miles and miles of film as it spools by, inspecting the first few feet or the last few feet of any reel, checking for defects that "sneaked" by the automated machines, stopping the film only when he sees a problem. Let's just guess that he might look at 100 reels of film during his shift. He might stop the film, maybe a dozen times, maybe twenty times, to look at the film. If he works five days a week, fifty weeks per year, that would be 25,000 reels of film to look at. He might have inspected 5,000 or more images in that year.
Do you think a guy like that would remember anything of what he saw? Even if his employer demands that he be vigilant and keep an eye out for any pornographic or excessively violent images, do you think a guy doing his "daily grind" would see even half of the potentially "bad" stuff? Out of that, only a handful of what he saw would warrant closer scrutiny. Out of that, only a very few might require the involvement of the police.
I'm willing to be that even a "career man" who has worked his way up from the mail room, through the film labs and into management will only be able to recall a miniscule fraction of what he saw on film and might remember a handful of incidents where he found "bad" images on film. I'll bet you a nickel that he could count them on one hand. ;)
Agreed. Stills and motion pictures present two different scenarios for the lab operator to work under.
The OP did ask, specifically, about Super-8 movie film but the question of still photos is also valid.
Seeing as there are far fewer rolls of film being developed in consumer oriented labs, I would suppose that the number of images that any one operator has to look at has gone down. As such, the amount of attention he has to devote to each one is likely to be greater. Thus the chances of a "bad" image being caught are higher.
I still think "image overload" applies. Just not as much as it used to.
Do you think that the average lab operator even gives a rat's a$$ about other peoples' pictures past the point where they are properly developed, printed and packaged?
Then we have to consider that "community standards" of what constitutes a "bad" picture have changed over the years.
50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, people had a lot different view of what pornography was. A bare bum would have been scandalous but a picture of a nude child might have been considered innocent. Nowadays, the paradigm is almost totally reversed. We see full frontal nudity and sex on television, these days. We can go on the internet and see any kind of pornography we want. Movies like "Deep Throat" are now laughable. On the other hand, a little girl playing on the beach, even if wearing a bathing suit, will cause people to look sideways at you.
I'll go back to what I said before. Even though most lab workers don't give a damn, if you send them a nude shot your picture might end up as a pinup in some back room, somewhere but, unless it is really out of the ordinary, I don't think it will even be noticed.