'Romantic' is a fitting word to describe Andrew Bellamy's relationship with analogue photography. You just know that he is so dedicated to the art and craft of resurrecting old cameras simply by the way he talks about it. He enjoys the work (as any artisan would) along with the camaraderie he shares with like-minded people. We reached out to him for a short interview about him, his passion for everything analogue, his impeccable refurbished cameras, and the story behind his company Ilott Vintage.
Hello, Andrew. Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from England but have lived in the US for the last nine years, first in Miami and now in New York City.
I’m trained as a graphic designer and have always had a passion for photography. I studied art and photography at high school and then again at college, and did my BA in Graphic Design. At school we learned using Pentax K1000s and had access to a dark room. My dad used to repair cameras and was a keen photographer as well so there were always different cameras around the house. I remember as a kid, I can’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old, he gave me a broken camera to play with. I used to do little drawings of people, put them in the camera, pretend to take a photo then take the drawing out like it was an instant photo. So design and photography have always been there.
What's the history of Ilott Vintage? How did your company came to be?
Moving from London to Miami was perfect for photography, not just because there were so many more cameras available in the US, but I had more space to work, there were new things and places to see, and the light was always good. I had a lot of inspiration but didn’t have much money so I would buy cameras ‘for repair’ and get them working again, and bought a load of expired Fujifilm from a thrift store for $1 a pack. I’d ride around on my bicycle and shoot anything that caught my eye. I started ILOTT Vintage back in 2010 as a side project to my design business, an informative resource, a place to share what I was doing with the cameras but also to show the quality of the images they could make. A lot of those early photos weren’t so much about the subject or composition, they were tests of resolving power, contrast, and saturation. They can be found in the Gallery of the website. Since then the cameras have been featured in leading global periodicals such as Forbes, Robb Report, Photo District News, Popular Photography, the Wall Street Journal and GQ France.
How and did you learn how to refurbish cameras?
When my dad passed away I cleared his workspace which had all of his tools and various cameras in different states of repair. I started to piece them back together and got going from there. I started a discussion with one of my dad’s old friends who still repaired cameras, and he gave me advice, a bunch of old repair manuals and cameras to work on.
What are the challenges in bringing back analogue cameras to life? What's your favorite thing about the process?
Other than patience and know-how, the big challenge is spare parts. If the camera is all present and correct then it’s a case of isolating the issue and getting to work on it, but if there’s something missing or broken the only real way to get spare parts now is to find another of the same camera and take the part you need from it. It can require a lot of patience but is incredibly satisfying when you get something working smoothly again, especially if it’s a frankenstein camera because it’s never been used before.
Any memorable project that you've done recently? Please share them with our readers.
I’ve just had my book Analogue Photography published by Vetro Editions in Berlin. I initially made the book—inspired by vintage user manuals—as a short run of 35 copies (a nod to 35mm) which sold out in 2 weeks. Luca from Vetro read about this on a blog in Italy and thought such a small edition was madness and that with the tiny circulation I had effectively condemned it to oblivion, so he got in touch and we set about publishing it properly with wider distribution. The book was a personal project where I could bring my passion for graphic design and photography together; a physical (analogue) version of the glossary on the website. The new edition has a Foreword by Florian Kaps which is really exciting for me and has connected me with like-minded companies such as ars-imago and Supersense. With ILOTT Vintage I am able to bring together inspiration from the logos on the cameras and the print design of the original manuals and even ads. It’s a 360 experience. Having done all of the photographs and illustrations the final step was making a custom font which I used to set the type in the book and now on the new website.
What would you say makes Ilott Vintage cameras stand out?
The main thing is real wood veneers. They really elevate the look of the cameras. In most cases the old leathers need to be removed to get access to screws that hold the body together. On some models they peel off easily, on others it’s a painful process and they can tear. That gives the opportunity to replace them with something new. I also have a penchant for big glass so most of the cameras have fast lenses, and I don’t like plastic. That locks in a very specific mid-century period, when film speeds were slow and flash units weren’t especially convenient, so lenses had to be fast, and before plastic became the material of choice.
What's the best thing about getting old and sometimes forgotten cameras working again?
The beauty of refurbishing cameras is there are a few stages you get to enjoy. First of all understanding the specific mechanics and getting them working as they should, returning a camera to original pristine condition, then the experience of shooting a roll of film, and finally getting the film processed and discovering the quality of the images you made. I’m definitely a romantic and the thought of the history of the camera, the person who owned it, where they went and the photos they shot with it is fascinating. Also giving something a new lease of life that might otherwise have been discarded or forgotten is rewarding.
How do you see the future of film photography in the next 10 years?
The future is definitely bright for film photography and and I think the renaissance is comparable to what we have seen with vinyl. People thought both would die but sales are coming back as a new younger generation who grew up with digital discover analogue. The market for film is rapidly growing and there is every sign that this tendency will increase. People like Impossible Project are keeping films alive, the Reflex camera and ars-imago’s Lab Box have been incredibly successful on Kickstarter, and big players in the market like Kodak are taking action by resurrecting discontinued films like Ektachrome. It’s an honor to be in such great company and to inspire and contribute to the awareness of shooting film.
Any last words for our readers?
Get a camera that isn’t working and get to work on it. Take it apart, if it’s already broken you can’t break it, but there’s a chance you might work out the issue or at least learn more about how it works, giving you a better connection to analogue photography. What started a paperweight might end up a usable camera. Enjoy shooting film.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Andrew Bellamy of Ilott Vintage for letting us feature his work on the Online Magazine. Andrew recently published his book Analogue Photography and re-launched the Ilott Vintage website. You might want to check it out if you're into amazing custom camera work and a total analogue geek like us. We promise, it's worth your time. And just in case you missed it, we featured his work on the Magazine a while back, too!