Frank Omilian

Frank Omilian of Maspeth, New York, e-mailed me with some memories of his (1950 onwards) experiences in US commercial colour printing and these recollections involve the Pavelle family. The following is based upon information supplied to me by Frank, but with a few corrections by courtesy of Dr.Richard Pavelle.

Frank described how Leo Pavelle and his brother Si (Simon) Pavelle, both American (Leo Pavelle was the father of Dr Richard Pavelle), ran a colour processing laboratory at No.533, West 57th Street, near 12th Avenue, Manhattan, New York, in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. Michael Talbert has found an entry in Popular Photography magazine, dated December 1949, where Pavelle were advertising "Pavelle Color Christmas Card prints".

In the summer of 1949, Frank, then aged around 30 and already engrossed in b&w processing, applied for a job at the Pavelle laboratory. This job was advertised in 'Popular Science' magazine. Frank was hired by a gentleman named Lloyd E Varden, who he thought at the time to be General Manager (Lloyd Varden was, in fact, Vice President and Technical Director of Pavelle Color Incorporated, New York, 1945-1955). Mr Varden was a member of the Photographic Society of America and was a very popular speaker at the monthly meetings held in a building opposite the famous New York Public Library.

After joining the colour processing laboratory, Frank subsequently met Si (Simon) Pavelle who was the production overseer and later still he met Leo Pavelle who was the principal owner of the company. At this time, the Pavelle company was processing colour slide film and making prints using the 'Printon' process, by the US Ansco company. Frank describes Printon material as "an acetate base colour reversal process, high contrast, mediocre colour and short dye life". It was complex and troublesome with the need for much repeat printing. As time went on, the Printon material improved in many ways. The requirements for 'dodging' and 'burning-in' lessened and the colour was more natural. But dye fading remained a problem.

Things were frenetic in the photographic processing trade at that time, with the new colour processes promising high returns to those who could get into the market place. Frank officially worked 10hrs a day at Pavelle, but often he worked from 8am to 9pm or even 11pm. He kept this up for 4years and wasn't financially well rewarded. But daily orders had to be completed or they would choke the following day's work flow, so Frank did what had to be done without begrudging the effort. He left the Pavelle laboratory on good terms and subsequently met his previous employees at photographic trade shows where the latest lab. machinery was on display.

Having served his 30 days notice, Frank left Pavelle in 1953 and opened his own small photo' processing laboratory, but he then found he worked even longer hours! He did 22 hour days, rarely seeing the daylight. His operation involved seven employees, all immigrants "who did work that the American born shunned" but Frank "managed to make some money". However, it was at the expense of his health & temper, which suffered considerably at this time. His laboratory used the 'Tri-Color Photo' process, which produced the best prints available at that time. Prints were made using triple exposures through red/green/blue filters" (additive printing, the same as the Paterson Pavelle process).

Frank was presumably inspired to set himself up in colour processing by the 1954 case brought against Eastman Kodak in the USA under the 'Sherman Act' which resulted in a consent decree by which the company agreed to sell its amateur colour films, Kodachrome and Kodacolor in the US without including the processing charge in the selling price. Thus, this opened the door to independent laboratories carrying out colour processing and printing. Frank describes how "frenzy over the new colour negative and Kodacolor paper process went into high gear."

"Tri-color exposures on Ektacolor material yielded amazing color; I was the only lab doing it and the trade knew it", says Frank. "Sherman Fairchild of Fairchild Cameras came to view my 'Rube Goldberg' nightmare" (an expression which equates to 'Heath Robinson' in the UK) "and left scratching their heads. Fairchild was at that time engineering a rotary drum scanner to produce separation negatives from color negs or positives and wondered how I read the negs to produce exceptional color prints. Subsequently, Fairchild Cameras became a good customer for enlargements."

Frank was keen to improve on his Tri-color equipment and inquired at Bausch & Lomb Optical about them making sharp wavelength cut-off separation filters. But the quoted price for an initial run was $5000 for the three dichroic filters, red, green and blue, measuring two inches square. That price was beyond Frank's means and so he communicated his ideas to Berkey Photo, who were then moving up the ladder of success. They thanked him but reported that they were working on their own enlarger designs. However, all was not lost. His contact with Berkey proved lucrative and he agreed to do all of their custom printing work, leaving Berkey to concentrate on their high speed volume processor.

After relating the above story to me, Frank found a web site entitled 'subsemedienwissenschaft' which indexes a 'Business Weekly' magazine, for 18th August 1956, saying "Technicolor buys out Pavelle.... ". Previously, Frank had believed it was sold to Pathe? Subsequently, the Pavelles went on to develop and sell photo' processing machinery of a new design and some years later Frank recognised the original Pavelle laboratory equipment "in the basement of a surplus photo equipment dealer's store in lower Manhattan".

Sadly, Frank concludes by saying that he was caught out about 1980 (aged around 60) by the 'One-Hour' photo service. "The freight train of progress ran over us."

This page last modified: 9th January 2016