For several years in the 1980s, I worked for a security company that had a large number of alarm and surveillance systems in banks. There were (as I recall) 95 locations, with usually 2, but sometimes up to 5 cameras each: several hundred cameras. Videotape surveillance cameras were just getting started and this was, of course, before anything digital. Most of the cameras used 100 foot rolls of 35mm film. There were a handful of older 16mm cameras. We bought 100 foot rolls of Kodak Tri-X by the case. (24 100’ rolls) Hard to believe now, but in the 1980s, there was a wholesale photo supplier in town that kept the bulk Tri-X in stock. We never had to back order.
When I went to work for the company, they were having the film processed at a local commercial lab that had a machine for processing motion picture film and could handle the full rolls. This was getting expensive, and it created a problem when there was an actual incident at a bank, since there were chain of custody issues with taking the film to this lab.
I wrote up a proposal to build a darkroom for the office and do the work in house. In order to have management go for it, I did it on the cheap. No automated equipment, I would process the film by hand with standard reels and tanks.
For space, we used an odd space that was available, but, was able to be plumbed. The darkroom was 5 feet wide and about 16 feet long. I had one long kitchen counter-top, with a standard single bowl kitchen sink in the middle – separating the wet and dry ends. But, I had separately switched safelight fixtures, plenty of electrical outlets, central air and heat from the building, and hot and cold water plus a drain. I also had a lock on the door, and no one – I mean no one – was allowed to enter the room when the red indicator light outside was on. It was better than a private office!
I equipped the lab with a Phillips medium format enlarger, Ganz Speed-Ezels, Gralab timers, safelights, and all the tanks, trays and reels, etc. I needed. Chemicals were kept simple: Dektol and D76, plus Acufine for when low lighting conditions required push processing of the Tri-X to ASA 1000 (Another advantage over the commercial processor.) 5×7 paper (Kodabromide grade 2, single weight) was stocked in the 500 count boxes. Test shots were printed 5×7. Only “incident” pictures were enlarged to 8×10.
The vast majority of my time was spent traveling around to the 95 locations and maintaining the cameras and replacing film. In the darkroom, I re-loaded the camera film magazines, and processed periodic test shots taken from all of the cameras. Only occasionally was there an “incident”, either a teller had deliberately taken a picture of a suspicious customer, or even more rare, an actual robbery.
This is the only image I saved from that job. (Sorry that it’s not a better print. I’m sure it is a reject print, which is why I managed to keep hold of it.) It is full of cliche’, but is an actual armed robbery. The robber is wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a fake mustache. The gun is very real. He also had a bag for the loot!
He jumped over the counter and filled the bag himself. And, he jumped over the taller part of the counter. One thing I learned from working robberies and talking to the FBI agents: people who rob banks – contrary to movies and myths – are not geniuses!
Notice the teller on the floor in the lower right.
When a robbery occurred, I and/or a supervisor had to go to the scene, remove the film and take it back to the darkroom to process and print. All of this had to be accompanied by an FBI agent for the chain of custody. The agent would go into the darkroom and have to stay the whole time. When loading the film, the lights had to be turned off, of course. I always told the agent to “watch carefully” and then flipped the switch off. None of them ever laughed, but most did remove their mirrored sunglasses.