Close-up: Hobbyists are driving a new adoption of film photography in the digital age

Jamie Potvin, a darkroom professor at the Ottawa School of Photographic Arts — commonly known as SPAO — has witnessed a resurgence of interest in film photography despite the dominance of digital cameras in the 21st century.

“For a while it was like these niche companies supporting (the film) for the amateur,” Potvin said. “Now big companies are buying him up, so hopefully that means he sticks around.”

A article in Bossan e-commerce acceleration platform, recently showed that demand for movies was 61% higher in the United States in 2021 than in 2020.

“Film cameras, once thought to go the way of the dinosaur, seem to be only growing in popularity,” the article says.

A few Ottawa businesses, such as Galaxy Camera on Bank Street, sell disposables, develop negatives, and offer repair services for vintage film cameras.

People like Neddy McIntyre say they love movies because it’s an experience.

Galaxy Camera on Bank Street has been operating locally for over 30 years. Although it no longer sells vintage film cameras, Galaxy is one of the few places that develops negatives and offers film camera repair services. [Photo © Rebecca Weston]
Jon Spence holds an old news camera.
Although traditional film cameras can be difficult to discover, Jon Spence finds and sells a variety of cameras at marketplaces such as 613 Flea. Previously, Spence only did this as a side job, but as people’s interest in film cameras grew, so did his business. “Why not? I love it,” Spence said. “I’ve been in photography for half a century.” [Photo © Rebecca Weston]
Neddy McIntyre stares at a camera as people pass by and watch
Growing up, Neddy McIntyre admired his grandfather’s cameras and says it’s a different experience. She wants to have her own film camera, but the price of vintage cameras is a problem. For now, McIntyre will continue to use disposable products. [Photo © Rebecca Weston]
Jamie Potvin teaches how to develop film
Jamie Potvin (in yellow) has worked with film for 15 years and has never used a digital camera. Potvin is currently a darkroom instructor at SPAO. In this class, students learn the stages of film development. [Photo © Rebecca Weston]
Potvin has film footage from the early 1900s and can view it by inverting the colors on his phone. Potvin says that while technology has brought some improvements when it comes to photography, film cameras are still able to capture textures that an iPhone couldn’t. “We can see the knitting in the tweed,” Potvin said, while examining the negatives. [File Photo © Rebecca Weston/Capital Current]
Jamie Polvin prepares to project an image onto the paper print projector
This is the same print processor that Potvin used when they went to school at SPAO. While most film is developed in rolls, SPAO has a paper processing section that students can use to enlarge their negatives. There are only a handful of darkroom studios in the city. “When people ask me what I love in life, I say I have the weirdest job, like no one else in the world has my job,” Potvin said. “It’s a niche career.” [Photo © Rebecca Weston]

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