In Manhunter (1986), Reba McClane (a completely blind person) is found working at film lab.

I know blind people can have other heightened senses, but surely film lab workers really need sight to adjust saturation,brightness,contrast etc of a working film.

How is a blind character working at a film lab?

  • 3
    See notch code.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 19:17
  • That is done after the film has been fully developed - and then it's not sensitive to light anymore. Photo labs would probably use a machine - eg. you'd tape the undeveloped film to a plastic sheet (with holes in it) and put it into one end of the machine. The card is gripped by a belt and drags the film through various baths. When it comes out the other end, the film is developed. Only moving the film from the camera, rolling it up, and putting it into a light-tight cylinder (before taping one end to the sheet) must be done in darkness. Baths temps are regulated automatically. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:48
  • What can I say, I worked 10 years at "One Hour Photo"-shop... took about 10 minutes to develop a C-41 color film - of course they already had a light-tight container, so you only had to fish out the end of the film, trim it with a special knife, and tape it to the sheet. (For 6in professional film though, you'd had to put it in a light-proof cylinder.) When the film came out, you put it into a special scanner and made paper prints - using another machine that carried sheets of photo-paper (automatically cut from a roll) through several baths. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:54
  • 1
    I have seen stranger things....Colour blind people working as designers... Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 8:17
  • @JDługosz For a moment I thought that was going to be an article about Markus Persson.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 22:12

4 Answers 4


Reba works with highly sensitive infrared film.

REBA: The 1000 C Infrared Sensitive Film must be handled in total darkness. I keep the samples straight by touch code.


The novel explains further.

...she outlined the mechanics of the development—chemicals, temperature and time, and storage procedures before and after filming.

Infrared-sensitive film must be handled in total darkness. She had done all the dark room work, keeping the many samples straight by touch code and keeping a running record in the dark

Red Dragon - Thomas Harris

  • 14
    Reminds me of a photography class with a lesson on using sheet film. It was in total darkness and the teacher explained which way to orient the sheet. “how do you tell which side is the emulsion?” someone asked. She responded “it’s the shiney side!” which drew laughter from everyone. Sheets are in fact coded with notches, giving the specific product and allowing you to orient it.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 19:16
  • 4
    Also relevant: blind people learn to read braille. Given their experience reading textured surfaces, reading the touch codes comes more naturally to a blind person than a [sighted] person. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:01
  • 1
    @JDługosz LOL! But seriously, you can easily feel which side is which - which one got the emulsion. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:32
  • 8
    @BaardKopperud it depends on the film whether the sides feel different at all, you can never tell with cotton gloves, and you never want to touch it anyway. If you must feel it, you've just left a thumbprint on your image.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 3:26
  • 1
    I used to work in a hospital, and many of the X-ray film techs were blind. It was very common in the days before digital imaging.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 1:08

The point here is that she is working with infra-red film which is sensitive to any light therefore anyone developing it needs to work in total darkness so being blind is no disadvantage plus someone who is blind is actually much more used to working without being able to see so a blind person is actually at an advantage in this job.

Note also that the job is processing the negatives which is pretty much a purely technical operation as opposed to actually printing copies onto photographic paper which is a bit of a different thing.


After many years working in the darkroom, mostly processing negatives, I noticed something.

Not only do I do this in complete darkness with no issues. I realised that, probably already for several years, I even close my eyes. This way I "see" the film better :-)

And the other trick btw, to find the emulsion side is, to carefully take one corner between your - dry - lips.

The side that sticks is the emulsion.


You misunderstand the wet process. The development of film is prepared in complete darkness - you have to take the film out of light-tight cassette and put it in light-tight canister - and it is done in light-tight canisters. There is absolutely no way how to adjust the process according to actual state of the film.

You put the film in, close it, pour one chemical in , wait, pour chemical out, pour another in etc. Finally you get the result.

The only thing that blind person cannot do is the final assessment of the result. And developed film can wait a long time for someone to see it. During other steps, blind people have significant advantage - they do not need any light, their other senses are boosted and they do not need hand-eye coordination to do anything.

The more the film is sensitive, the fewer light is allowed to help the operator to coordinate their hands. Blind people do not need any light.

The only steps you actually need to see anything is evaluation of the negative whether it was processed right then you can start developing the positive - the actual image. Here you have to focus the projection and you can alter the brightness etc.

You must log in to answer this question.