In this [new] series we go behind-the-scenes and chat with the determined film folks who decided to turn their passion for analogue photography into an own business or service. From photolabs in Munich to analogue shops in the Himalayas, we're covering every corner of the globe to find the true architects who provide a vital service for their respective, local film communities.
Today we're shedding a light on Dinesh and Allamaprabhu, the father and son behind the Film Foto Store. Born from the purest need to process and print their personal work, it is now one of the most reputed film labs, photography and print services in India, actively bringing analogue lovers together. They talk to us about an ever-changing industry and share some insightful and sometimes humorous stories, which can only be experienced when you run a busy photo lab.
Hey Dinesh, welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Could you introduce yourself to our community?
Hello, thank you for having me here. I am Dinesh Allamaprabhu from Bangalore, India. I’m 35 years old and run a photo lab along with my father (Allamaprabhu) under the name Film Foto Store. The photo lab is in existence for over 5 decades now, established by my father. I’m passionate about wildlife photography and enjoy shooting on digital and analogue mediums. When I am not in the lab, I’m usually off photographing in the forests on the weekend.
Analogue photography is truly a family story for you. Can you explain to our readers how it all started and why you decided to join the family business?
My father started his photographic career with an Agfa Click III camera & a Fortepan film in 1965. He wanted to actively participate in international photographic competitions in the 1970s and there weren’t many photo labs in India. Given the lack of choices, he decided to start a darkroom of his own to fulfill his photographic needs. Initially, he would develop films and make prints for exhibiting. It turned commercial owing to popularity, with professionals visiting him for photographic services. He became popular for his wildlife photography works, which has been shot only on film; winning over 500+ international and national awards along with many international honors including Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society.
He is quite passionate about analogue photography; he would spend countless hours researching and experimenting with chemical formulas for film development back then. He would pick-up ORWO 1000 feet motion films, cut them and shoot in his camera to experiment with film development using various chemistries. He had even modified his Click III medium format camera such that he could take 4 photos in a single frame, which would get him a total of 48 photos instead of the standard 12 photos in a single roll.
I started photography at the age of 8 years, when I was gifted an Olympus 35RC camera. I do not recollect what came of it on the first roll but I would always carry this camera with a few rolls to my school during events. While most kids would be playing with toys, for me it was my camera. I consider myself truly fortunate, as I have grown up around many renowned photographers from a young age. In the early days, I spent a lot of time after school hours accompanying my father in the darkroom. My father would also conduct photography workshops in national parks to help teach photography and promote nature conservation which was very popular then.
For me, the greatest source of inspiration is my father. Having seen his dedication, passion and achievements as a photographer on and off the field is quite astounding even today! I briefly worked in the IT industry after completing a master’s degree in Computer Science from the UK, it was then I realized my true calling in life and since then I haven’t looked back.
What is your best souvenir or funniest story while working in the darkroom?
Over the years we’ve had many experiences, one of the recent ones was when a film photographer had sent two rolls of films to us for development. He had packed it very well, it had a hard box over another smaller box with extra bubble wrap over the 35mm plastic cases. Upon opening the plastic case, we found the film rolled inside without the canister in it! We immediately called him up to verify, to which he replied that he had removed the film from the canister in daylight to check how well the images were exposed. Unable to view any images, he decided to pack and send the films to the lab for development!
What are the services you offer? Is one more popular than others?
We offer both analogue and digital photographic services, which includes film development, film scanning services, digital photo prints, fine art prints, digital imaging and other related services. Film photography is gaining popularity by the day and we have also seen a few professionals making a switch back to film!
With the Film Foto Store, you’ve been developing a real online connection with the film community all around India. How would you describe the local market for analogue photography? Is it easy for film amateurs these days to access the products and services they need?
We have always been an active promoter of analogue photography in India and it’s a medium that we are truly passionate about. Today, the physical location of the photo lab is made irrelevant due to the advancement in technologies. Film shooters can access the website or various social media channels remotely for more information or order products and services online. Logistics has also tremendously improved, you can reside in any corner of the country, place an order online and you would most likely receive orders faster than if you had to physically visit the nearest photo lab.
“Few years ago, film photography was considered to be dead, despite that we never stopped film development services. The volumes were considerably low and supply of films in India was close to non-existent. Today, even during the pandemic, we are happy to see a steady rise of film photographers. [...] The film community in India is still at an early stage but incredibly talented and being a part of it has been a great experience for us.”
The Film Foto Store, or Prabhu Photos, has been around since 1970 and is one of the most recognized photo labs in India! Have you noticed a change in the demographics or in the film practice since the business started?
We have certainly seen some changes with reference to film practices from earlier times. Today, film photographers are much more open and freely express their creativity. Many practices you would have disregarded back in the day are embraced now, like film grains, light leaks, film borders, shooting on expired films, etc… We are amazed by the response of film shooters in India and I can say that the overall experience has been very positive.
A positive trend we have also noticed is the number of female photographers getting into analogue photography. Most of whom are very eager to learn and improve constantly. Some of their works are truly inspiring!
Your dad and yourself are first and foremost photographers, can you show us some of your favorite work? Do you consider yourself Lomographers?
Both of us love wildlife photography, we’ve spent lots of time in the woods observing and documenting natural history through our cameras be it digital or film. I wouldn’t consider either of us as Lomographers, as the genre we primarily shoot requires us to be more conventional in our approach but I do have some interesting projects in mind that I would like to experiment and pursue in the future.
Do you think running a photo lab, seeing thousands of photographs, and constantly meeting creative people, play a role in your inspiration and work as photographers?
Definitely, you are exposed to so many talented and artistic photographers on a regular basis that you get so many new ideas and begin to look at things from a completely different perspective. It’s a wonderful exposure and you learn a lot from it. It is also one of the main motives behind our social media feed to regularly feature film photographers, so that it’s not just us but the whole community that gets benefited.
Thank you to Dinesh for sharing their inspiring story with us! Find out more about the Film Foto Store's products and services on their website, and follow them on Instagram to get to know talented Indian film photographers through their curated account.
See you soon to meet another architect of local film communities!