When strolling through London, my attention is often drawn to shops such as Snappy Snaps, or Kodak signs which tell me that Kodachrome used to be developed here. These shop fronts have often changed their face and now offer a wide range of services.
This is very different from my observations at Process Supplies – a professional photography retailer, in the same family for three generations and now run by three brothers. The shop display is very small, perhaps around 4 x 5 metres and most items I enquire about need finding first, either in the attic above, or by the man behind the counter disappearing down one of the two staircases that lead into the basement. This usually entails a short wait, which allows me to listen in on customer enquiries about developing chemicals, lenses or barite paper. This is so different from shopping online, I quietly think. Only recently, I was allowed to have a peek in their basement which is almost like a museum display covering the last 50 years of photography supplies. I was looking for archival packaging for the slide-based artworks to get them ready to go into the cold store, and found exactly what I was looking for: polyethylene sleeves that would fit into polyester pockets.
Every so often, I take a break at ISIS, one of the few remaining professional analogue film labs in London to gauge what kind of jobs and customers the manager, Gary, is dealing with. The lab is conveniently just around the corner from Process Supplies at Mount Pleasant in Clerkenwell.
I come across young art students getting their digitally captured photographs printed. They spread out their work on large tables behind the counter.There are also photojournalists who have travelled the world and I recently noted that many of them seem to be shooting all the remaining film rolls that they have hoarded, as more and more film stocks are discontinued. Many of them are slide film – E-6, the last remaining process for transparencies. I peek over their shoulders and watch how they review the results of the developed slides. These days they often travel with both a digital and an analogue camera, matching the camera and technology to the situation. They may well be the only professionals making the best of both worlds without accepting compromise – which I envy. I also overhear two of them talking about how many rolls of a particular stock they have left in their fridge and for which occasion these stocks are earmarked. They have made detailed plans for their final days of analogue photography, and seem both resigned to its loss and determined to get the best results from these last rolls of film.
In March 2012, Kodak announced the discontinuation of its last remaining in-camera slide films which means the end is clearly in sight for the E-6 developing process.
Though analogue photography has slowly been vanishing from our daily life, there iare still many photographers happy to reminiscence and share their specialist knowledge of this field, helping me in my research. At this critical moment in time when the infrastructure of the analogue industry is starting to disintegrate, memories and stories are still as vivid as their slides they made, and there are many things to learn about, witness, capture and share.