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Making Photos The Old-Fashioned Way In Deep Ellum
by Anne Bothwell 4 Jan 2016

Think of all the photos you’ve shot recently. Imagine waiting hours – even days – to see them.

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Think of all the photos you took over the holidays. Now imagine having to wait hours  – even days – to see them. Digital photography has us conditioned for  instant gratification.   But KERA contributor Quin Mathews found some people who are going back to making pictures the old way.

Paul Black shows us around the photo lab he opened in 1982. Processing camera film and making prints used to be big business for him. Then the bottom fell out.

“It was dropping at the rate of about 25 percent a year. From 2002 on, it just –people stopped making photographs,” Black says. “They took photographs, but they didn’t hold them in their hand.”

During that time the photo giant Kodak went into bankruptcy. Film seemed to be dying. But at Paul’s lab, Photographique in Deep Ellum, there has been a turnaround.

Paul leads us into the darkroom and introduces us to a member of the digital generation making pictures the way it was done since the beginning of photography, with light and chemicals.

“This is Brandon. He is a really good photographer.”

By day, Brandon Thibodeaux shoots digital pictures for “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Times.” But for his personal work he has taken up old-fashioned film.

“I think there’s a preciousness to it, you know, and there’s a sense of magic, as well, you know, there’s alchemy,” says Thibodeaux. “Uh it’s slow and more methodical and it fits what I’m looking for.

He’s printing a warm-toned paper so it’s a three-minute development time thirty seconds……(he continues, under Quin’s VO).

Black explains the printing process that can take hours. It’s not a fast process like an iPhone. But the prints will last 200 years.

There used to be big photographic labs all over Dallas. One went all digital. Another this year stopped processing black and white film. Black kept his business alive by retouching old photos for customers. Now he says his film lab is busier than it’s been in years. So who’s driving this boomlet in film?

“Kids. Brandon,” says Black. “They all have vinyl record players and go to the local vinyl stores here in Deep Ellum. And they take their film pictures and they scan them and they put them on Instagram. They have hashtags like “film is still alive” or whatever (laughs). Ask Cassandra, she knows more about it than I do.”

Cassandra Black is Paul’s daughter, who also works at the lab.

“Young kids that are coming in and finding old cameras and shooting film, sometimes for the first time, and they’re loving it. They love to talk about it and the mystery about it, cause everything is so digital and you know so ephemeral. I mean you look at something on your phone and it’s gone.”

Film may have a niche future. The film manufacturer Ilford opened a new U-S plant and says 30 percent of its customers are under 35.

“Everybody’s so inundated with images they just don’t seem to be worth anything any more,” says Cassandra Black. “So then when they get a print back from a roll that they’ve shot, where you have to slow down and take your time, and shoot a roll, and think about each frame, and how to expose it, and they go WOW, look at what I did, you know. And we’re all at the front counter going yeah, isn’t it cool you know, so we’re all about it.”

“When you put that paper that you’ve exposed to light in the chemical and that image appears, it’s pretty neat,” says Paul Black. “If you haven’t seen it before it’s really exciting. That’s the magic.”

Magic that can last for two hundred years.

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  • Michael Leza

    This sense of impermanence is what motivated me to start doing wood transfer. The moment of capture is just a tiny slice of the lifetime of a photograph. Even paper is temporary, delicate, something people are as likely to throw away as keep. Transferring images to wood and other solid mediums gives them a new and unique character, and gives them real heft and weight. They become physical objects instead of fleeting ideas.

  • Margarita Birnbaum

    I was thrilled to hear Photographique profiled on Art & Seek. I am developing my black and white film at home and taking it there to transfer the negatives, and I also take my color film to be processed there. I love going through the anticipation of waiting to see what the photographs look like; it’s like Christmas every time. In fact, this Christmas I decided to give photographs as gifts and had them printed there. Paul, Cassandra, Carol and Tania- they’re all great. Follow them on Instagram!