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In the mid-2000s, film was on its way out. A relic of a predigital age, many, including both photographers and those in the print business, predicted that it would share the same fate as vinyl. Well, just like vinyl, film photography had a small vanguard of artists, photojournalists and lovers of nostalgia to protect the craft from the short-sightedness of modernity.
That old photo album that your parents keep will always be preferable to the hundreds or even thousands of photos that are posted on your social media. The physical manifestation of memory will always leave a lasting impression, while the millions of photos on social media will quickly fade from memory. The supremacy of digital photography may have reached its zenith, as a rediscovery of film and the process of the craft has found a new generation of converts.
For Albuquerque, that vanguard is Picture Perfect. First opened in 1984, the local professional print and photoshop has survived a digital revolution in photography, recessions, and pandemic to emerge stronger than ever. The local business, helmed by the capable guidance of UNM Alumn Matt Alexander, is the last film development shop in Albuquerque. Walmart, Costco and Smiths closed their walk-in film processing labs at the beginning of the 2010s. This great shift in photography forced local film photographers to either ship their rolls of film out of state for development or invest in the expensive process.
“We’re just the last people who didn’t throw away our machines. There was just a mass exodus. Every Smith’s in town, Walgreens, CVS, Kmart, Target, Costco. Costco was a big one,” Alexander said. Whether by luck or brilliance, Picture Perfect has placed itself in the indispensable position as the last film development shop in the city.
Despite being in the print and film development business, Alexander did see the initial appeal of digital photography, especially on a professional level.
“So I would say it was in 2005-2006 when it was apparent, there’s no turning back. Digital cameras were here to stay. They were getting better, more affordable and the quality was good. And if you’re a pro photographer, you wouldn’t have to buy film, because then you’d have to take it to the lab. And you have to wait.” Alexander commented on how digital photography captured the market so quickly. “And you can basically see what you got right when you took it. That’s a big deal.”
However, the ease of access allowed by digital photography, best exemplified by increasingly impressive smartphones, has produced photos with little thought behind them. Because there’s no limit to the number of photos that we can take with our digital devices, there’s no consequence if our photos turn thoughtless and void of any aesthetic consideration. Because film only has 24-36 shots per roll, greater care is often taken to ensure that the moment — the memory is preserved in all its glory.
Alexander commented on how photography has changed through the years, especially after he used a digital camera to capture his photographs. “I have all these external hard drives, and they’re just filled with digital photos because it’s kind of endless. You can take as many digital photos as you want, and they just go to the hard drive to die. In a lot of respects, I think that is the main difference.” Alexander said. “In my opinion, you’re not putting as much thought or effort into taking that digital photo, because you can just take another one. Basically, your mind gets numb. You’re no longer sparked by the joy of it.”
The shallowness of our overly saturated feeds has pushed many younger photographers to take up their parent’s or grandparents’ old film cameras. There has been a great rediscovery of the joy of “the process.” Greater thought is invested into what is being captured and what details we’re choosing to remember.
Alexander is also in the business of memory preservation — also known as digital archiving. “Digital archiving is definitely the main reason why we’re still around. And yes, there’s all these businesses where you can mail it off to and things like that, but that’s at risk of your original going out of state or out of town. And so people were a little leery of that,” Alexander reflected.
The renewed interest in film and physical manifestations of memories has seen Picture Perfect booming since the pandemic. The unprecedented success has also motivated Alexander to relocate operations to a more centralized location. Alexander hopes that Picture Perfect’s new location, which will be located at 1721 Carlisle, near the Whole Foods, will ease the difficulties of traveling into the city’s Heights neighborhood. He also sees the new location as far more accessible to students. As a UNM Fine Arts Alumn, Alexander hopes to provide easier access to a craft and profession for which he continues to have passion.
“I would love to just sit at the counter and just talk to everybody every day. Unfortunately, I have projects, deadlines, and things that we got to get taken care of. But I love it. I actually just love seeing people getting sparked by what photography can be and what happy accidents can be,” Alexander said.
The new location will have a tentative opening at the beginning of July. Alexander noted that the space afforded by the new location would allow for more gallery aesthetics.
Picture Perfect location until July is located on Juan Tabo and Menaul and is open from 10-6 from Tuesday to Friday and 10-2 on Fridays. The local shop offers prints, film scans/developments/digital archiving, and much more. Updates are often posted on their Instagram page.
Nearly a third of film photographers are younger than 35 years of age, and “support for the traditional film is growing,” says Ilford Photo. The company, best known for its analog photo products, reported these findings after doing an international survey of film users.
https://c20beb6d056fe34f402c6ff096fe7e0c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlThe “comprehensive” survey was conducted at the tail end of 2014, and “thousands of users” from over 70 countries around the world participated. “The results were inspiring,” says Ilford.