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Baldev Duggal, film processing innovator, dies

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NEW YORK — Baldev Duggal, who emigrated from India as a teenage amateur photographer and became a patriarch of the film processing industry, as well as an impetus for reviving the Flatiron district in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, died June 29 at his vacation home in Truro, Mass. He was 78.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael, the chief executive of Duggal Visual Solutions.

Mr. Duggal came to the United States in 1957 and capitalized on his $200 grubstake and student visa to found what became Duggal Visual Solutions.

Over five decades, from humble beginnings washing prints in the bathtub of his apartment on East 49th Street, he transformed the company into a technological innovator that attracted prominent photographers, retailers, and advertising agencies as clients and pioneered giant outdoor wraparound photographic displays.


Mr. Duggal was an inventor as well as an entrepreneur. He devised an automated film processing system and a means to develop negatives by hanging them upright and dipping them into large tanks. He also invested in digital imaging and electronic retouching when the technology was emerging.

Opening a laboratory on West 20th Street in 1961, he was in the vanguard of an influx that transformed the area around the Flatiron Building into a mecca for companies related to photography and fashion.

Decades later, in Brooklyn, Mr. Duggal converted a 100,000-square-foot former ship foundry at the Brooklyn Navy Yard into a solar-powered manufacturing, event, and rehearsal space with glass facades. It was dedicated in 2013.

This year, the center was the setting for a presidential campaign debate between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Duggal was born in Jalandhar, in the state of Punjab in northwestern India. His father, Biasdev, was imprisoned for staging peaceful protests of British rule.

Armed with a Kodak Brownie camera that he had been given by his grandfather, young Baldev won a national photo contest when he was 15. He dreamed of going to America and making more than the president of the United States (which in the 1950s was $100,000, or about $850,000 in today's dollars).


After he graduated from high school, relatives helped pay for his one-way ticket to New York.

Able to afford only one course at Columbia University, he studied color theory.

Mr. Duggal's marriage to the former Christa-Sheila Wendrich ended in divorce. In addition to his son Michael, Mr. Duggal, who lived in Manhattan, leaves another son, Dave; a daughter, Susheila; eight grandchildren; and a brother, Sukhdev.

Mr. Duggal began his business when a print production company offered him space in return for his technical help. The company survived the industry's transition to digital photography and eventually grew to 300 employees.

By the time Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House, Mr. Duggal once recalled, he was making more than the president.