Longtime Jamaica Plain resident Omer Hecht’s CatLABS is back in Jamaica Plain after a five-year hiatus during which he had to move the business out of the neighborhood.
CatLABS began in 2010 in a building on Brookside Avenue that served as an artists’ collective. Unfortunately, this building was sold, razed and the property redeveloped. Unable to afford the new building, CatLABS moved. And on February 23, Hecht returned to the neighborhood, opening a new location at 3514 Washington St.
Hecht answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about why the company is called CatLABS, analog cameras, film development, and more.
Q: Why is it called CatLABS?
Hecht: Well, one day, as work continued in the lab… it was obvious that we needed a name. We love cats, and the best brainstorming session came with Cat Labs, and it was.
Q: What is the Boston Film Lab?
Hecht: CatLABS is building a new professional film lab. We offer a complete film processing service for all film types and formats, as well as scans. At this time we do not plan to offer printing services, but this may change in the future. For now, our development and scanning department will offer modest scans and contact sheets with a 24 hour turnaround.
Q: What services does CatLABS offer?
Hecht: CatLABS is one of the only all-analog camera stores in the world and is probably the only place in the world where one can come in and buy any type of film camera, lens or accessory. , as well as film, chemistry and the equipment to process it. themselves.
We specialize in large and medium format camera equipment, but we also sell 35mm and cine cameras and lenses. At any given time we have over 30 4×5 cameras available to choose from and at least 10 different medium format cameras on the shelf.
CatLABS is the US distributor for Jobo (tanks and machines for darkroom and film processing), Filmomat (automatic compact tabletop film processors), Dev.a (automatic film processors) and Heiland fototeknic, a company specializing in the modernization high-tech photographic enlargers and darkrooms. devices that really bring the darkroom into the 21st century. We also sell enlargers and all other darkroom equipment, from clamps to safelights and timers, to film, paper and chemistry.
We also repair and refurbish Deardorff cameras (originally large format mahogany wood cameras made in Chicago), as well as build all new from new and old parts.
We also make our own black and white film! We do not support customer repairs, but we do repair and maintain all the equipment we sell, mostly in-house. We like to save old camera equipment and many of our local customers are people who bring in old camera equipment for advice, or just to sell it, we buy most cameras and related equipment. If we can’t buy something, we can usually reuse it, which is the best way to keep things out of the trash.
Q: The company does Jobo repairs. What is Jobo and why does the company specifically focus on Jobo products?
Hecht: Historically, Jobo has been an important part of CatLABS. By pure chance, my training was such that I had acquired a deep understanding of the Jobo system. When CatLABS was launched, Jobo had just emerged from bankruptcy following the digital upheaval of the early and mid-2000s and, by another coincidence, it turned out that CatLABS was able to help Jobo get back into the market American and re-establish a long-lost presence. .
CatLABS is one of the only remaining service stations for Jobo machines in the world, and certainly the only one in the United States. Jobo is a third-generation family business, located in central Germany, about 1 hour from Cologne, which is a pioneer in the development of “daylight” films, i.e. vats film processors that allow you to develop films in light rather than complete darkness as was done in the past. Jobo’s presence in the world, though discreet, is still present throughout recent history.
During the construction of the Aswan Dam, UNESCO was responsible for documenting the Abu Simbel Temple, a World Heritage Site, before the dam flooded the area. Photographers used Jobo equipment on site to confirm that the films were correctly exposed. Images of the first Apollo 11 moon landing were processed using Jobo machines after they returned to Earth. Legend has it that the MIR space station had a specialized modification of a Jobo home film processor on board for in-space film processing, apparently on the Earth replica of MIR used for training in Baikonur, where every switch and cable from the station in space was replicated on earth, there was a Jobo processor as part of the equipment which was replicated from the actual space station.
Q: Are your clients professional photographers, amateurs, filmmakers, artists?
Hecht: All the foregoing! Our clients span the full range of ages, backgrounds, professions and interests. Historically, CatLABS has always been primarily a mail-order business, with over 99% of our customers outside of Massachusetts and approximately 50% outside of the United States. Since moving to our Roslindale site in 2017, which had a real storefront, we have had an ever-increasing interaction with our customers who came in to source supplies or just to chat or get advice. Over the years we have met people from all over the world who have made a point of stopping by CatLABS while in Boston. Our new space has a much more welcoming dedicated customer area and we hope to see a lot more of it.
Q: The company is dedicated to being an analog camera store. What does this imply?
Hecht: It’s a big. We often get asked if “people still use movies” or “can you still get movies for this” etc. From our window to the world, photography only happens in analog formats and people only use film, which we also answer when people ask if “film is coming back”, because from our point of view , the movie never really went anywhere.
Some people are amazed to learn that not only is film readily available in almost every shape, size and type, but there are many companies that support its existence, from film makers, camera makers and aims at accessory manufacturers as well as small craft businesses supplying smaller products. scale products such as handcrafted film holders and custom machined accessories.
In a sense, we’re a store where you can buy most things you can’t buy in a supermarket or at Best Buy. We are a true specialty store, with highly trained and knowledgeable staff who have many years of hands-on experience with analog photography tools and materials.
Apart from that, we have been fortunate to be able to maintain a comprehensive inventory that meets the demand for analog photography equipment. Much of our work involves restoring old and used equipment to working order, but we also sell new equipment, manufactured today, specifically for this market. It means forging relationships with others in this field. At the end of the day, it is indeed a small world and we work closely with many manufacturers and other stores.
Q: CatLABS offers a reduction on the gender pay gap. What is it, and why is it offered?
Hecht: Overall, our industry is largely male-dominated and despite some progress in recent years, the gender pay gap is still present in all fields and practices. In the world of photography, this is exceptionally evident where so many juries, competition finalists and industry leaders seem to have a huge gender imbalance. We see this in our sales and social media interactions as well as in various global surveys conducted by other companies.
This can create a difficult environment for anyone who is not or does not identify as male. Add to that the substantial pay gap, and it becomes even more detrimental to diversity. While we know this limited discount offer won’t change the gender imbalance in the world of photography, we hope it at least raises awareness and encourages other retailers to think about how they could participate in this conversation.
Q: What else would you like people to know about CatLABS?
Hecht: We are so happy to be back at JP and hope to see all of our neighbours, friends, customers again soon in our new location. We are only open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.