Photoghostis creating a new generation of film processors to keep the industry alive
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Who Are We?
Photoghost is an independent Photo Lab based in Aberdeen. We have a deep passion for Photography and other forms of visual media and the goal of Photoghost was always to expand into an educational and community driven platform to help develop and showcase talent and allow people to achieve their creative ambitions.
Our commitment to film processing has been a double edged sword - keeping antiquated film processors running is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to the point where it is no longer viable for us to continue to offer the service with our current equipment. Fuji have dropped support for the machine making spare parts increasingly difficult and expensive to acquire. This doesn't just effect us - many high street labs and smaller independents are being forced to abandon film processing as it's no longer economic to do so despite film photography undergoing a resurgence in recent years. It's clear that unless something changes film photography will die a slow, unceremonious death as it becomes increasingly difficult to get film processed photographers will be turned off the idea of shooting film. This will lead to a drop in sales which will then lead to increased prices which in turn put more people off - a vicious little feedback loop.
We have therefore decided to take it upon ourselves to design and build a new machine - one that is easily repaired with off the shelf components. Once we have a functional design we will make them available for other labs in an effort to keep the industry at large alive. In order to do this though we require funding. Since we are unable to process film at the moment (and film was a major part of our business) and given that we have spent thousands in the last two years trying to keep our old processor alive we simply don't have the resources to do it we are asking for your help so that we can try and save this dying industry.
As well as documenting our efforts to build a new processor we will also produce blogs and videos discussing various aspects of the world of photography, film and other forms of visual media - News, reviews, rumours, tips and tricks as well as mini documentaries and short films on a variety of topics. As professionals working within the visual media sector we're aiming for a higher level of quality for our content whilst retaining our independent spirit and (for better or worse) our unique personalities.
Ennan Hamill - Imaging Director
Megan Archibald - Photographic Technician
Icarus Owen - Photographer
Andi Stott - Engineer
Michael Rennie - Engineer
Our primary goal is to design and build a new film processor. We have already established the basics of our design but now it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of how each component will be put together. This will require time, effort and investment. One each component is finalised we will assemble our prototype "Enterprise" and begin testing and refining the design.
Once we have successfully built and tested our prototype design we will begin construction of our first commercially viable processor. This unit will be designed to be reliable, low cost and low maintenance as possible. Heaters, pumps and electronics will be off the shelf and custom parts 3D printable thus ensuring a long life and enabling the machine to be user serviceable.
Once we have finished designing our commercial lab units we will then begin exploring the possibility of miniaturising the design for home use. This will work on the same principal as the larger commercial unit and incorporate a daylight loading and transport system negating the need for a darkroom or pesky spirals. It would also be designed to allow rapid change of chemicals to allow not only C41 but also B&W and E6 processing at home quickly and easily.
After successful prototyping of the home "Kokiri" unit we will construct our first finalised design. Just like the lab version it will be designed to be low cost and user serviceable.
Whilst we work on the processors we will document our journey through our Youtube channel. We will also create other photography related content covering both film and digital - tutorials, reviews and discussions as well as short films and other creative content.
Relaunch of Photoghost Lab
Once we have a viable lab processor we can relaunch our lab and once again provide film processing services.
Film is on the decline - why bother?
It's true that film use isn't where it used to be and never will be now that digital is here but in recent years it has seen increased interest, particularly with younger people. The main barriers for entry are cost and availability. Processors require a certain number of films going through them to keep the chemistry healthy and when we first opened this was a real concern - how do we encourage people to shoot more? We set up a subscription service - £25 a month for 10 rolls processed and scanned and any over 10 were offered at a discounted rate. This dramatically increased our throughput and in turn increased the number of rolls we were selling.
Now that our Fuji machine is out of action we've lost our subscribers - that was a guaranteed income every month which is now gone not to mention walk in's of which I'm turning away dozens a week. The market is there but so long as labs continue to close it will come to a point where it will become so specialist, difficult and expensive that it will implode.
Do you really expect to sell units to high street chains?
No - I'm thinking about the indie labs like us who have carved out a niche for themselves. As more and more high street labs close film processing independents like us see more and more customers as the market becomes concentrated. The business is there for us but the ability to maintain that business is at the mercy of antiquated equipment. We don't plan on manufacturing thousands of units for mass market. We don't intend to have units lying around in a warehouse gathering dust. We want to design a lean machine that's easily assembled and can be built quickly when required.
You say it's specialist - surely that goes against your point about accessibility?
Mmmmmm... no. At the moment we're at a sweet spot - there are enough indie labs out there that it's still fairly easy to find somewhere to process your film and as such the price of processing is fairly low. In some ways it's good that the high street labs are closing - it concentrates the demand into a smaller area of specialists - a sort of market equilibrium. But if we continue down this path more and more of these specialist labs will close because they're unable to provide the service due to failing equipment. When you go from a few hundred indie labs to only a handful that's when the problems will really begin - prices go up, people stop shooting, film sales go down, film prices goes up, film sales go down further etc etc.
Why not pick up old machines from decommissioned labs?
We tried this. In the last few years we've burned through three different machines. The simple fact is that the machines currently in circulation are old, worn out and often not stored properly so whilst you can pick up and old Fuji or Noritsu machine for very little money the chances of it lasting any significant length of time is low. Repairing the machines is becoming more and more difficult as many of them are now "end of life" meaning that new spares are becoming harder to source and prohibitively expensive not to mention the cost of an engineers time. Many parts are now being harvested from old machines and are themselves old and worn out. Last year we spent around £10,000 keeping the service running. The only reason we did that is because there was demand for the service but now there's no profit in it so we've had to drop it - not because we didn't have the customers, but because we can't rely on the equipment.
Why not use a Jobo?
Jobo's are great but they can't handle volume. As I said above as more and more high street labs close the customer base becomes more concentrated. This means that indies who specialise in film have much higher volumes compared to non-specialist supermarket labs. Jobo's are ill equipped to deal with that kind of throughput. Also using spirals increases the chances of things going wrong - film can be dropped, come loose from their spirals, etc. Using Jobo's is also time consuming and as the old saying goes "time is money" - relying on Jobo's for commercial work will inevitably lead to increased prices for the consumer.
Surely if there was a need for this Fuji, Noritsu or Kodak would make one?
The need is there but the market is far to small for a large company to bother committing resources to it. We're looking at small scale manufacturing with machines built on demand - this is something a small operation like ours can do.
I process my own film. It's not that hard - why do we need this?
I've heard a few people say this and it's incredibly short sighted. Great, you have a passion for film. I applaud you for that but not everyone has the time, space or interest to do so. The number of people home developing C41 is fairly small and when it gets to crunch time and it becomes too expensive and bothersome to find a lab most people will just not bother shooting film - not because they don't want to but because they can't justify doing so. This will impact film sales which will lead to products being cut and prices going up which at the end of the day impacts you.
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