A few weeks ago Lomo friends @metaluna and @lorrainehealy decided to join forces and write an article about their favorite film lab and the people they entrust with their most precious and beloved rolls. There are not many small independents like this one left, but they hope all Lomographers will always celebrate these film labs filled with fellow photographers, people who know what they are doing, who feel honored that you trust them with what you create. If, on top of all of that, they also happen to possess a wicked sense of humor, make sure you keep them in business forever!
@metaluna writes: I got back into film photography in 2011 when I received an LC-A+ for Christmas. I was hooked again after 25 years of not shooting a single frame. I dug out my old Pentax K1000 from the attic and I was off and running. Stop! Where the hell would I get my film developed? I tried our local Rite Aid Pharmacy, but they could not do black and white and they had no clue when I asked for cross process. I turned to my desktop and did a search of film processing labs. I found Photosmith, located just a short drive from my home. They knew all the terms I was learning about at Lomography and were able to develop anything that I brought them. Fast forward to 2017: I now own 50 analogue cameras and Photosmith has developed thousands of shots for me. Steve and the Lab Rats are my go-to people for anything photographic. Lomo on.
@lorrainehealy writes: Last year, like I do every year, I entered Jennifer Hendrickson’s HolgaWeek contest, a yearly celebration of the funky Holga where you submit some shots taken during that HolgaWeek (usually the 3rd week of July) and then, once everyone has posted, you spend a few hours going through all the entries going: “Aaaah… neat!” And maybe even noting what film somebody used to get a really fabulous image. Lo and behold, after HolgaWeek 2016, I got an email from HolgaJen stating that I had received an honorable mention and it came with a prize of 4-for-the-price-of-2 development at Old Film Lab School, and to go ahead and contact them to arrange to “collect” my prize. I contacted them, got a hilarious but oh so warm response from owner Steve Frank, and we have been bantering cross-country ever since. Then I discovered the lab’s account on Instagram, where some creatures called the “lab rats” posted images of the rolls of film we customers sent in, surrounded by piles and piles of candy from all over the world. And Poppers. Read on.
Interview with Steve Frank, owner of Photosmith~Old School Film Lab at Dover, New Hampshire
“Photosmith”? “Old School Film Lab”? What came first? When did you start the business and what led you to it?
The “Photosmith” was the dream of my former partner, Dave Olson. His vision came to fruition more than 36 years ago as a walk-in photo lab here in Dover, New Hampshire. We did not sell "stuff" like camera equipment. Our only mission was to process film and make pictures. This was before the popularity of one-hour photo labs hit, and we were not set up as a "mini-lab". We could afford only old equipment that larger labs had utilized and then cast off as something better/faster came along. Both of us had worked for large wholesale photo labs in the past, but desired something smaller that we could control and serve the customer directly. Dave left the company a few years later, but it has continued on, the mission unchanged: process film and make pictures.
Old School Photo Lab came along much later, 2011. By this time, the digital revolution had happened, and our walk-in lab film volume had fallen to dangerously low levels. There were simply not enough customers from the local population base to keep my equipment and me busy. The idea of OSPL was born during a several-hour automobile ride from Chicago to Winterset, Iowa with my amazing daughter, Stephanie. What can I say? Other than she's amazing and very, very smart, and loved me enough to help me visualize a niche to keep the lab afloat.
I really wanted to stay in the film processing business (I have no other talent or skill-set), and what we came up with was a space that had room to grow (hopefully) in the film developing category— from the huge customer base of the Internet. Fortunately, it was an idea that seemed to click immediately after it was launched. During our first few months of operation, we had film coming in from all over the United States...as well as from overseas. Honestly, it far exceeded my expectations and continues to amaze and delight me. It has enlarged my horizons immensely and has allowed us to meet and see the images of a lot of amazing people who still love film photography from all over the world. We have processed many thousands of rolls and scanned many millions of images from places I would love to visit. I still have to say "WOW" when I look back to six years ago.
When analogue photo labs started going out of business, how did your lab manage the transition to the hybrid workflow (chemical development + digital scanning/printing)?
Our transition followed the trajectory of the film processing industry at the time. We held on to our old equipment as long as we could, making changes only when necessary and as I could afford them. The timing just happened to be right in as we "had to" upgrade, and the Fuji Frontier system forced us to move into the digital imaging world. While it was a huge leap for me financially, the timing was perfect and allowed us to do new things in the digital realm that had not been possible for us before. I did not expect to be as happy with photos digitized from film scanning, but I quickly saw how much more flexibility and all the possibilities that were opened up to us. We kept our '"wet Frontier" until we could no longer get service or parts for it and then transitioned to archival inkjet printing with another Fuji Frontier system. Once again, I didn't expect to be pleased, but I have no regrets and our customers have only reinforced my initial reaction.
Who is Poppers McStopBath and why is he allowed to eat so much candy? How did this delightful habit of customers sending you guys candy with their film start?
My Dad was a collector of toys. He was a child of the depression and when he grew up and could afford a hobby, one of his first was purchasing old toys. Poppers MacStopBath was one of his many acquisitions and became our dear mascot. We ran a contest early on with customers submitting names. Poppers was the winner and has a special place in our hearts and minds. Poppers personifies the fun and joy that film photography represents (to me, at least). Honestly ... I can't look at him/her/it without smiling. To say we are all a little fond of Poppers would be an understatement. He has some 'habits' that are my Dad's and my own. Eating candy would be one of them, for sure.
As for the candy... I'm not sure how it started… but I think it was Darko Bojanic, a customer from Sweden who found us early on, who commenced sending us all sorts of very unusual candy with his film for processing. We thought it was pretty cool, took pictures, posted them on social media, and more and more candy followed. As is the way of social media, it grew and grew. Darko also sent other items, like a huge Swedish flag. Others have taken it further, sending mixtapes, tea, liquor, marriage proposals…It goes on and on. Poppers has a much more exciting social life than I do.
More on Photosmith~Old School Film Lab next week, for the second part of the interview. In the meantime, check out their website. They have a FAQ section that is really amazing in this day and age. Not only do they explain what types of film they process (very little they can’t) but they also explain what each type is, and if they can’t process it, they direct you to who can—if they still exist.
Read the second part here.
Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.