A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

How can I get my, uh, hot photos developed?

November 26, 1976

Dear Cecil:

One chilly fall evening recently my girlfriend came over with her cat. She wanted me to take the animal's portrait, since it is very old and nearly dead. So we set up this great Sarah Bernhardt drawing room environment, with a plush oriental rug on the floor, velvet pillows, satin ruffles, potted palms, the whole deal. The cat wasn't impressed. He wouldn't sit still, so my girlfriend got in the picture to hold the damn beast. It's boring up to here, but now we're starting to get to the point. … The cat walked off. My friend didn't. The lights got hot … and my friend mellowed  and, in the name of art of course, she sort of started posing rather, um, au naturel

(Wait! It gets better!) Suddenly, a light bulb lit above my head that outshone the 750-watt floods! The camera had a timer and a delayed shutter!

Well, needless to say, I had done a little modeling before and felt right at home in front of the lens … so I joined in. And … if you know what I mean … we got some DYNAMITE SHOTS!

Now here's the problem: where do I get these developed? I mean, this film's so hot I can't even get it in the self-mailer without spontaneously combusting! Even if I put on dark glasses and a Groucho nose when I went to the drugstore to pick it up, it would melt before the nice lady could hand it over the counter.

So where can I get it processed without winding up in County Jail? I've spent the past several afternoons squinting over those tiny, hard-to-read ads in the backs of dirty magazines to no avail. I can't even find a sleazy mail-order dirty-little-man-in-his-basement joint! My friend and I would greatly appreciate any ideas. I used 35mm Kodacolor II.

Cecil replies:

Seems to me you're getting a little paranoid about this, Lar, but then again these are strange times. Let's start with the law first. So far as I have been able to discover, it is not illegal in any state to take pictures of consenting adults who are merely naked, nor is it illegal to develop them, despite what you may hear from store clerks. It is illegal in most states to engage in the sale of pornography. However, it is an "affirmative defense" (I quote here from the Illinois statute) "that the dissemination [of the photos] was not for gain and was made to personal associates other than children under 18." So from a legal standpoint it sounds like you guys are in the clear, no matter how sexy your pictures are.

This is not to say you can just sashay into any corner drugstore and demand that they develop your film. The law notwithstanding, any photo finisher is free to establish its own policies about what kinds of pictures it will or won't handle, as long as they're consistently applied. Most of the big chains, such as Walgreen's and Fotomat, won't develop pictures of naked people at all, mainly because, as Walgreen's puts it, "we're a family-oriented company." The stores don't actually have somebody in charge of censoring pictures, but the employees who do quality inspections and whatnot are told to cull out the amateur erotica. You'll get the negatives, for what that's worth, but no prints. Walgreen's has even been known to nix pix of kiddies in bathtubs. Eastman Kodak will develop pictures involving nudity, even of the full-frontal variety, if you send the film to them by mail, but they draw the line at overt sexual activity. As with the other processors, you'll get the negatives but no prints, along with a curt little notice saying not to send them this kind of stuff again.

But not to worry. All you've got to do is find an independent photo processing lab, of which most large cities have several. Try looking in the Yellow Pages under "Photo Finishing — Retail." Most of these guys will print anything. "We have no morals at all," one place told me. Bear in mind, however, that the minions at some labs have been known to keep, ahh, family albums of interesting photographic treatments that come their way. If possible, find a place that serves professional photographers and presumably is a little fussier about the folks it employs.

Lotsa luck. I hope the cat enjoyed it as much as you did.

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
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