Calgary photographer fills local film processing void

As many labs over the years shutter their film processing services, one Calgary man is shooting for a small business where he can do what he loves: work with old cameras.

FilmdropYYC develops and scans 35-mm and medium-format films local labs have stopped servicing

Benjamin Longman started the business venture in January after Robinson’s Camera Store in Inglewood closed. (Helen Pike/CBC)

As many labs over the years shutter their film processing services, one Calgary man is shooting for a small business where he can do what he loves: work with old cameras. 

Benjamin Longman, a local photographer and musician, runs an independent film processing service out of his house in Bridgeland to try and make analogue photography more accessible to Calgarians — especially those looking to shoot medium-format colour rolls. 

He started the business venture in January after Robinson's Camera Store in Inglewood closed.

Longman was already shooting and developing film himself, but wanted to fill a perceived hole he thought the camera store left behind. 

"I wanted to be able to provide an easy, cheap, quick service for people who just want to have fun with it," he said.

"It's cheap enough that people can start getting into medium-format and stuff that otherwise might have been way out of their financial reach." 

So far, he has two drop-off mailboxes. One in Bridgeland's Grate & Barrel and another in Inglewood's Antiquaire Boutique. Those are checked on a daily basis for the film and he says typically he sees a few rolls turn up every week for processing. 

That's when he gets to work. 

Magic happens in kitchen

Longman has a dark bag that he uses to load film into canisters for processing — and the magic happens in his kitchen.

He opens a cupboard beside the sink and spins around a Lazy Susan to reveal gloves, film-processing tanks and chemicals instead of the tea and mugs he used to store there. 

The double sink has one side dedicated to the process.

Longman says he wants people to know he's self-taught, and not equipped with professional lab equipment or film scanners fit for exhibiting photographers. But with a lot of practice, he's become an easy access point for hobbyists looking to get out and shoot film and scan negatives. 

"It's actually very, very simple," he says.

"You know, people could do it themselves if they wanted to. And in a way, I hope they do. I hope they get inspired to process their own film." 

Medium-format processing harder to find

The Camera Store — a shop that still sells film and other darkroom equipment — doesn't process film in-house or send it out for processing. But they usually refer film snappers to London Drugs for colour 35-millimetre processing or have a contact for anyone looking to have black and white film developed. 

But George Webber, a Calgary-based photographer and darkroom instructor at SAIT says it's a little more difficult for shooters to find a place that will process medium-format colour film.

He says a lot of commercial processing labs have heavy duty expensive equipment and when a part breaks they have to decide if it's worth fixing.

"So what this guy is doing does make some sense because when you're doing this as a home-based, handmade, craft industry, that can be done easily and inexpensively," Webber said. 

Chris Malloy, a Calgary-based photographer who shoots film and processes it himself, says Longman's venture could help fill the need for colour film processing in the city.

Malloy says there are other Canadian cities with similar small-scale services and he sees the emerging trend as a niche market left behind by bigger lab services being filled by passionate photographers.

"If there's enough business to support an industry like that, I think it's a cool way for photographers to make money doing things they enjoy doing," he said. 

Cool, hipster factor

Webber has seen analogue camera interest shoot up over the years as 20-somethings snap up old-school cameras and learn how to shoot with film. 

"There's a cool factor, there's a hipster factor, there's an analogue factor, there's a handmade factor and a slow factor," he said.

"All of those things have an appeal, to a niche and especially, people that are in their 20s they see the darkroom as this sort of exotic, magical place." 

As for developing film, Webber says it's not the most complicated part of the process and can easily be accomplished in a kitchen or basement as long as the person is careful and tidy. 

What's more difficult is actually making prints, something Webber said he doesn't see younger shooters taking on as much. 

"A lot of younger folks are taking that hybrid approach where they shoot and develop film, scan it and bring it into the digital world," he said. 


About the Author

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs.