Featured project: Analogue Wonderland – by Paul McKay
Hi all. My name’s Paul McKay and I am really excited to announce the official launch of Analogue Wonderland at 9am today (BST), Friday 18th May 2018! Analogue Wonderland is a new UK-based online store specialising in photographic film and featuring over 170 different films available for purchase. It truly is a Wonderland of film, ranging from 35mm, medium format and sheet film to instant. My aim is to make film photography fun and accessible for everyone.
I’m in my thirties and so my personal photography history is the mix of analogue, digital and smartphones that you’d expect. The turning point for me was when I inherited my father-in-law’s Olympus OM-1, rescuing it just before it was eBayed. I took it with me on safari in Kenya in 2012, not the best outing to show the benefits of film but still, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed taking photos with it.
Three weeks later when I received the negatives and prints I was officially hooked.
Since that moment I’ve suffered the inevitable accumulation of cameras: at last count over fifteen across 35mm, 120, 110, Instax and Polaroid, each time convincing myself that I was buying this one for a specific reason! But I’ve also got in the habit of carrying an average of three cameras around with me wherever I go, so they do all get their moments in the sun.
However, the Olympus OM-1 continues to be the star of the show. It is a pleasure to use and versatile with the great lens system – the 50mm f/1.4, 28mm f/2.8 wide-angle and the 200mm f/4 “safari lens”. In addition – the fact that it was used to take photos of my wife as a baby, and can now repeat that same process one generation on, is a wonderful feeling.
There are three factors that we see coming together at the moment that make it the perfect time for launching Analogue Wonderland:
- A growing number of films and vendors
- Film photography market stability
- “Next generation” curiosity
In some depth:
A growing number of films and vendors
2017 was the best year for new film launches since the 1990s. Ferrania, Bergger, Japan Camera Hunter and others all brought new films to market and I believe that the industry has reached a turning point. The decades-old debate of film “vs” digital has been put to bed, with internet arguments turning more to, “will the iPhone kill DSLRs?” as a sign of how technically good digital imaging has become. The latest sensor research has cameras seeing better in the dark than the human eye – a big turnaround from the days of ISO 3200 being the practical limit! So undoubtedly we’re entering a stage of photography where people’s smartphones will be their “every day” snapshooter, professionals will need the better tech and speed of workflow that only large digital cameras can contain, and film photography will continue to be the slow analogue hobby loved by millions of people worldwide.
Film photography market stability
We’re also experiencing an inflection point. From the point of view of film manufacturers, the turmoil of the early 2000’s has largely subsided and remaining industry today is comprised of companies either as much smaller versions of their former selves (Kodak Alaris, Polaroid Originals), or moving away from film entirely to make a new life in related fields (Fuji). But there is also a third category arising: small independent vendors either using old machines and emulsions on a different scale (Ferrania, Kosmo Foto), or using modern digital technology to create new and exciting visual experiences (Dubble, Revolog, Lomography, Kono!)
“Next generation” curiosity
Finally, there’s the incredible fact that many photographers and artists currently leaving secondary school/college/university have never seen a film camera being used! Their parents will have moved onto digital early on in their lives or even before they were born, their schools will have dismantled darkrooms and replaced them with computer labs before they attended, and any Polaroid film they came across was so out-of-date to be useless. But these photographers and artists are starting to find analogue cameras – either in their parents’ (grandparents’?!) houses, at flea markets and in charity shops. Not to mention highly-visible campaigns on Kickstarter such as those by Lomography, Hamm, Ondu etc. And, of course, they are realising that these cameras are gorgeous to hold, incredibly fun to use, and still in near-perfect working condition.
This new generation is not necessarily looking for technical perfection or instantaneous results from photos taken with these cameras (that’s what iPhones are for). Instead they are looking to enjoy the process and the time invested – and we all know that, in the world of photography, the analogue film experience is best-placed to deliver this. In fact, as part of the research into the launch of Analogue Wonderland we commissioned a survey of people interested in photography and out of everyone who doesn’t currently use analogue photography, 58% said that they’d like to! This really made us reflect on how big that market would be if we could help them and teach them to add film to their existing photography set-up.
So we observe the three things coming together at once: a wider acceptance that film photography is here to stay, a new crop of film manufacturers that are perfectly suited to the smaller and more agile industry that analogue has become, and a huge influx of new photographers curious and excited about getting their hands dirty with an image-making process that’s now over 100 years old!
By working closely with the smaller film suppliers as well as the large; by focusing solely on the films rather than be distracted by the bulky, expensive, complex (beautiful) cameras; and by including videos, articles and descriptions to help lead new film photographers into the medium, we hope to make it really easy to become a member of this fantastic community.
Welcome to wonderland
My working life has been spent in sales in a large corporation, where I work on some of the world’s biggest brands and deal directly with supermarket chains across Europe to launch new products and solve commercial issues. This retail and brand background has proven extremely useful in the set-up of Analogue Wonderland. From our first speculative conversations with manufacturers at the start of the year to now, we have faced several interesting challenges:
First, people haven’t always had a positive experience when buying film online and there is an initial reluctance from both photographers and manufacturers to trust it. Clearly this is something that Analogue Wonderland wants to change. As the industry adjusted down in size (by a factor of 50) in the 2000’s there was a proliferation of bulk sales, rogue trading and poor quality management. Many photographers I’ve spoken to about this have stories of sellers who took advanced payment then stopped replying to emails, films that hadn’t been kept at controlled temperatures, and films that had been put into different packaging to obscure the true expiry date. Fortunately, the retailers of today (outside Amazon/eBay) are all highly credible and with great reputations, but the concern around “e-commerce” remains.
The steps we’ve taken to address these issues with those suppliers have been two-fold:
- Installing fridges and stock management systems to ensure that their films are looked after and tracked properly. We want you to receive the right film for you, in perfect condition with a timely & reliable service.
- Committing to present their brands and products in a suitable fashion on the website, and I believe that our genuine love and passion for the products shines through the website we’ve built. Ironically this task was actually made more difficult by the big brands who often lacked a central resource for “sample shots” taken on their emulsions.
The standing wisdom appears to be that either photographers already know how images will turn out (true for many but not for people coming new to the market) or that the packaging will be enough to sell the product. This is where the community has come to the rescue! In return for credit and backlinks they have provided countless images that best-display each film’s unique visual properties This will help new photographers understand the relative strengths/weaknesses of different emulsions.
The second significant challenge has been estimating the initial stock needed for each product. With over 3,500 rolls delivered in the past week, I’m confident that we have enough film for every member of our mailing list to stock up, but we had no idea how those 3,500 rolls should be split across the 21 brands and 170+ products!
This decision is the more difficult because we are trying to bring smaller brands and new films to the community. Additionally, the manufacturers all know their personal best-sellers and relative sales rates, but are unable to compare vs each other. So after many long discussions and detailed spreadsheets, we placed the orders and are excited to see how the community responds when our virtual doors open on 18th May!
The third major challenge we have faced has been with some issues regarding stock availability on big brands – most notably Kodak and Lomography. We were excited to hear from them that this is because of an increase in demand over the last few months. However, this does mean that some lines will be in limited supply at launch until more production comes in. If this is indeed the beginning of a new phase for analogue then I’m hoping that they’re investing into improved manufacturing capacity to prepare for the future!
Our goals for the future are ambitious. We want to become the number one retailer for photographic film in the UK. This honour is currently held by Amazon, who we believe, are not necessarily the best custodians for the future of our community. This is because a fundamental part of analogue film is experimentation, sharing and discussion. We do not wish to be just an online shop but a part of the analogue community, helping it grow and flourish for many years to come.
We aim to bring products and services that today’s film photographers need or want. For example, we have our eye on developing kits and chemicals. We’re looking at bringing film-inspired stickers and patches to market designed by fellow passionate analogue photographers and we’re open to any other ideas that people have!
Our second aim is to broaden the current market for film photography by reaching new photographers and artists. This will require a drastically different approach, so may take some time to bear fruit but we think that attracting new film photographers and spreading the analogue love is crucial for the future of the industry. Our first step in this direction is our collaboration Film Freek – a fantastic young photographer and Youtuber in Birmingham who is leading the creation of instructional videos for the site, to help people quickly learn the basics so they can get straight into creating amazing images.
We’re also working with Digitalab, a wonderful independent photography lab in Newcastle with 78 years of photography experience, and which has seamlessly managed the shift to digital technology while maintaining their development, scan and print service. With the disappearance of good quality high-street developers, it’s essential that photographers all over the UK know where and how their negatives will be looked after. Not only will Digitalab deliver great service, they’re also offering a 10% discount to all Analogue Wonderland customers – a great gesture to helping make film photography even more accessible to everyone. More details on this offer are available on our website.
Looking even further out we are aiming to establish a position within the market to help film manufacturers bring new emulsions and formats for the community. For example, we are currently working on a unique proposition with a film and presentation that hasn’t been seen in the UK market before, with the goal of making it available for purchase by late summer. More to come on this, and as always the mailing list will be the first place to hear about it!
Finally, a heartfelt thank you
We are thrilled with how the community has responded to news of our launch and presence on social media. Our mailing list has exploded in size with people entering The Great Film Giveaway, then staying to keep track of how we’re progressing. We have messages every day on Instagram and Twitter asking questions, giving ideas, or just sharing amazing photos. Plus the support from blogs and websites such as EMULSIVE, Kosmo Foto, ShootFilmCo and 35mmc have helped shape our plans and ideas into something that we hope to be truly valuable for all photographers.
The past few weeks have been appropriately manic and exhausting, but I sincerely hope that on the 18th May photographers will head over to analoguewonderland.co.uk and be pleased with the products and prices on offer. I also hope that we can spark some curiosity and interest from people who have never before considered using film to make images. If there’s something specific that you’d like us to list on top of the current range then please drop me a line and I promise we will investigate!
This store is for you and for the future of analogue photography.
Welcome to Wonderland.
EMULSIVE: If you’re interested in trying out Analogue Wonderland, you can snag yourself free UK shipping by signing up to the AW mailing list (you’ll get a coupon back by email within a few minutes).
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