The Color Lab

For 42 years as a do-it-all photo lab magician, Robert Messina has made photographers’ work shine at the Color Lab. But business has declined as the digital age changed photography, and fewer shooters seek film processing and printing.

There aren’t many custom printers left, especially those who do enormous enlargements. Messina is one of them, and his clients include Laura Wilson, Ann Stautberg, the LBJ Library and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

The business began with his father, John, who opened Messina Photography in 1946 in the Cedar Springs area and worked until 1980 doing studio portraits and on-location jobs. In 1968, John Messina expanded to include a custom lab.

Robert Messina went to work there in 1970 after studying photography and art at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Brother John also went into the trade and tackled the photography part while Robert took on the lab. In 1973, they moved to North Harwood Street in the Little Mexico neighborhood and, in 1985, to the current location, a huge though nondescript warehouse at 4442 Lawnview Ave.

At its peak, the Color Lab employed seven; today, Messina goes it alone.

He isn’t retiring yet, but he is scaling back. “I’m looking forward to pursuing my own art,” he says. Despite the business’s name, Messina specializes in black and white. He has sold off much of the equipment, yet the lab is still full of paraphernalia of the trade.

With the smell of Dektol developer triggering my nostalgia, I started documenting the space during my visits. Here are some of those images — taken, ironically, with a smartphone and processed with just a push of the button.