Editor’s note: In early 2018 I invited Paul McKay to tell the story of how he created Analogue Wonderland. At the time, it was a new online store based in the UK selling everything from photographic film stocks to developing chemistry and film photography accessories. Each year since then, I’ve invited Paul back to give us an update and for year 3 I thought we should make it a little more official. So, it’s over to Paul…and Emma.
Take it away.
Introducing Emma, our new marketing assistant!
I’m Emma (@ejlloydarton IG ) and I have been with Analogue Wonderland since January 2021. I started as a warehouse operative, helping to pack and fulfill orders and being in a constant state of film envy. More recently, I have moved over to a marketing position, helping Paul as a marketing assistant. I help to produce creative content including blogs, Tiktoks, infographics, and assist with planning other special events (check out our birthday celebrations this week!).
I had been a big fan of Analogue Wonderland long before I got a job here, the wonderbox was at the top of my Christmas list so it feels surreal to be a part of the team now! Since the launch of Analogue Wonderland Paul has written retrospective blogs all about the business and his plans for the future. This year he has tasked me with the challenge of writing our three-year retrospective. I hope I can offer a different perspective as a new member of the team alongside our birthday celebrations.
How I fell in love with film
My introduction to film photography began at university whilst studying for my degree in Fine Art. We were introduced to both digital and analogue photography, ranging from setting up studio lighting to how to produce a darkroom contact sheet. Of course, it was film photography that I gravitated towards.
The university experience was a unique way to approach film photography. Although it was educational and I learned a lot about processing film, making prints and most of the early basics, it wasn’t a straight photography course. Being a Fine Art degree I came at analogue processes from a very creative angle, trying lots of alternative techniques such as solarisation, experimenting with liquid light and chemical manipulation.
My photography lecturer was amazing and encouraged me to try all sorts of wacky processes (chromoskaedic sabbatier being my favourite, but we were forced to stop once we found out how hazardous the chemicals used in the process were). So it was a less traditional learning experience and I sort of skimmed over a lot of the beginner lessons like lenses, filters, and dove straight into the artsy stuff which I still find so exciting.
My experience with film photography at university
Quite a few of my friends at uni also worked with film in their artistic practice, some have graduated and others are still working away in the beautiful university darkroom (I’m not at all jealous…</3). We shared similar experiences in that, although we tried lots of artistic and creative techniques, the university offered us quite a closed view of film photography.
We were very fortunate to have all sorts of cameras to try out, but in terms of film it was only ever ILFORD HP5 that was on offer. Going via an educational route, budget and limited resources are always an obstacle. And I believe I have surprised both myself and the university friends since joining Analogue Wonderland. There are more films to try than we ever thought possible, I felt a bit cheated after leaving university only ever having tried HP5. There is so much out there! I think my generation of recent art grads are still feeling very excited about film. Yes it’s an old technology, but to us, it’s brand new! There is so much to film to try, lot’s more techniques to learn and it offers so many creative avenues to explore.
Life at Analogue Wonderland
I’m still learning so much about film photography everyday and am constantly firing questions at Paul. Having a job in film photography is still very much a ‘pinch me’ moment, so I want to make the absolute most of being here and learn as much as I can. My university lecturers gave me the impression that analogue photography was very much a niche area in the creative world, something to have a bit of fun with, but there was no way I could make a career out of it. I could definitely see where they were coming from, but analogue mediums are growing and there is a rapidly increasing interest from my age group. I feel very fortunate to have found a job in an area that I love despite the doubts my lecturers had about the future of film!
3 years on…
We are back to writing our retrospective article in May, when our actual birthday is! (The last article was written in November around the 2.5 year mark), so hopefully that is an indicator that this year has been slightly calmer and that we are on the way out of the gloomy COVID days. The last year has certainly been challenging, with a lot of changes to navigate as a business. But fortunately, alongside these challenges our team has also grown massively, which has of course been a massive help. We have grown so much that the marketing team has been pushed out into an overspill office until we can find bigger warehouse space. I joined in January, thankfully missing Christmas-in-the-time-of-Covid, which from what I’ve heard was absolutely manic!
Then we have also had Brexit to navigate, which from a business point of view has been a bit of a nightmare. Imports now take a lot longer and are more expensive, making it much harder to manage stock logistics. Exports are also much more expensive, which sadly makes buying film from us far too costly for some of our customers abroad, prohibiting their orders due to extra courier charges and customs logistics. We used to be able to ship packages to Ireland in a day or two, now film is held at the border, charged for, and might even disappear completely! But we are hoping the Brexit confusion will calm down over the coming months – especially with the new EU ‘Online Business’ rules due to be improved in the summer.
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On the upside!
Despite the dreaded Brexit and covid situation, we were fortunate enough to have another great year in business. We launched another Kodak competition, this time focusing on Kodak Tri-X film. We had over 1,000 entries and the quality of the submissions truly blew us away.
We also launched the Analogue Wonderland Community Fund. For the last year, customers have had the option at check out to add a tip, this money has been collected into a fund to help the community. We launched a competition where members of the community pitched their ideas and products with the chance to win some funding from us. The winners were announced earlier this year and we have some really exciting projects to look out for, from modular cameras, a print selling website, eco-friendly darkroom processes, online film courses, and the renewal of a Lawlette 16mm film processor.
The project I am most proud of is #sheheartsfilm, which we launched for this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations. I wanted to bring women in film photography into the spotlight, so we launched a competition to share work for the chance to be featured on the Analogue Wonderland blog and encouraged women to share their photography via the hashtag on Instagram.
Since its launch, the hashtag has had nearly 4,000 posts! We have recently published a list of female photographers to follow too and I am so pleased to see the female film community growing and grateful for the support this project has received.
We have seen exciting developments from across the film industry, too. Most noticeably a huge rise in demand for reloadable point and shoot cameras. This is something we are very excited to see, they are perfect beginner cameras and we hope they will make film photography more accessible to new film photographers! Plus they are much better for the environment than disposable cameras. We have written several blogs on making film photography more sustainable this year, and starting with a great reusable camera is a great first step.
Some new films have also landed on our site such as Street Candy MTN100. It is also packaged in their unique cardboard canister, MTN100 is a panchromatic film for both outdoor and indoor photography. It can be processed as a normal black & white film negative OR with a reversal kit to produce direct positives. Beautiful contrast, fine grain, and rich details.
Finally, something there has been a lot of buzz and excitement about is the new Kodak film cases which fit both 120 and 35mm films They come in a stunning range of colours, some of which are very different to Kodak’s classic style, including an olive green and a beige colour, but we can’t wait for them to drop on our site.
Analogue Wonderland turns 3!
All week we have been celebrating our third birthday! We went big this year, introducing special limited edition holographic stickers and a scratch card in every order throughout our birthday week (while stocks last). Every card was a winner, featuring prizes ranging from free photographic film pins to up to 50% off future purchases. We have also been running party games over on our instagram this week. Hopefully some of you saw the activity, got involved, and enjoyed the games!
The future of Analogue Wonderland
We have big hopes and dreams for the future of Analogue Wonderland. Starting with a bigger premises so we can stock even more lovely film stash for the community. We want to continue to build on the wonderbox subscription community and we have a few more top secret projects.
We hope as we move out of COVID that we can engage more with the film community in real life! That means photo walks and hopefully The Photography Show in September. We also have our fingers crossed that we will see Kodak and overall film availability improve as the COVID influence on global supply chains starts to diminish, so that we can always have your favourite films in stock. And of course, there are new exciting products on the horizon.
My wishes for Analogue Wonderland
As for my future at Analogue Wonderland, well I am just excited to be here in general! But I would love to continue building on the blog section of our website. We have started a great ‘how to’ series which has been going down quite well. I want to build on our ethos of ‘making film photography fun and accessible for everyone’ by starting up more of these educational resources, whether that is blog articles or youtube content, so that beginners always have a place to turn to. I want to build a supportive and educational platform that feels inclusive and friendly. I would also of course love to continue building upon the #sheheartsfilm project to encourage more women to pick up a camera.
The appeal of film to me is its creative potential, its unpredictable and experimental nature. I love using analogue technology in such a fast-paced digital world. It forces us to slow down: there is a process between execution and the final result which makes me feel more considerate of what I am shooting. I think starting with film equips you with the best skills to be a well-rounded photographer because it forces you to understand so many more of the technicalities surrounding photography, instead of relying on an automatic digital camera. Hopefully, my artsy background can push me to think of new creative ways to get more people involved in film photography at Analogue Wonderland!
I have loved the Wonderbox (although I cannot seem to use up the film as fast as it arrives and am getting quite a back-log!) and AW have become my go-to retailer. I hope everything goes well for them, it is great to have a service like this.