Featured project: Creating Kosmo Foto Mono 100 – by Stephen Dowling
Kosmo Foto started life back in 2012 as Zorki Photo through my love of film photography. Some people collect Contaxes and Leicas; I collected Zenits and Zorkis. If you said the creation of the blog was partly fuelled by an interest in Soviet cameras, you’d be completely right.
I started the blog at the beginning of 2012 but my posts were sporadic, sometimes reposting others’ film pics with a few lines of text. I’d created a blog without really thinking what it was supposed to be doing. Then I found myself with a 9-to-5 job for the first time in years and no meaningful demands on my spare time – which for someone about to hit 40 was either a cause for concern or celebration.
Towards the end of 2012 I decided to make the blog something more serious, at least to me. I’d travelled a reasonable amount, and had a few dozen interesting cameras. I’d even shot some decent pics with some of them. Why not create my own analogue photography blog?
It took a while for me to find the right tone for the blog. It’s at least partly a review site, in that I review cameras that I’ve used. Before the advent of my sister site World on Film – a celebration of film photography and far-flung places – I’d also write travel pieces about places I’d been too and shot film.
As the blog has developed, it’s created new categories and areas to write about. Broadly, I cover topics and areas which include reviews (film cameras, lenses or film types), industry news, Kosmopedia: (a reference for interesting cameras or films), and 52 Photo Tips, a series I’m doing in collaboration with Charlie and Tori from Film’s Not Dead. We’re about halfway through. It’s a series of tips for those new to film photography. Expect a bunch more of these to hit the blog over summer. I also have a feature called Single Frame.
The blog has created something else, though. As of last November, Kosmo Foto is now a film brand.
Creating Kosmo Foto Mono 100
I first got the idea of creating my own film after seeing Bellamy Hunt launch Streetpan 400 back in 2016. I was deeply impressed. And it got me thinking – could I do the same?
That started a year-long search for a factory that would make it, and then the many different things that had to come together before it was a film I could sell.
The packaging was one of the most enjoyable things to work on. Along with my interest in Soviet cameras is an affinity with many other things Eastern Bloc. I really love the graphic art that was used in the USSR and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. This was a simple, bold school of graphics with bright colours. It adorned everything from stamps to matchboxes to camera manuals and public posters.
A designer at my work, My Mate Does Art, got the concept in a flash. He created the packaging and that iconic colour scheme and logo.
It was just after I announced the film that I learned the name Zorki was still a registered trademark in Russia. So I took the decision to rebrand. The name Cosmo seemed to have a lot of those retro cues. Change it to Kosmo, and add “Foto” instead of “Photo” and there it was. It had the feel of a 1970s-era photo shop that you might trundle past on a tram in Belgrade, Budapest or Bratislava.
Here’s the funny thing: we already had the image of the spaceship in that retro-futurist starscape. Happy accident?
Ready to launch
Since the film was released in November 2017, the results have kind of taken me by surprise. I’m now on the fourth batch, having sold nearly 10,000 rolls so far (head to the shop if you’re interested in buying some).
What’s been pleasing is to see those films being ordered from far and wide: Scotland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Croatia, Canada, India, Costa Rica, Greenland, Chile and New Zealand. The film has been winging its way around the world, loaded into Leicas and Lomos, Prakticas and Pentaxes, capturing life in towns and cities I might never visit.
One thing I wanted to bring back was some of that tangible physicality of the film era. For my first batch, I also had Kosmo Foto logo stickers made. I urged customers to become a “Kosmonaut” by completing a short questionnaire and sharing a few images they’ve taken.
In return, they get a free box of film and a special gift: a sticker made to look like a cosmonaut mission patch, featuring our favourite camera-snapping Kosmonaut.
If you’re a little older, you might remember those mail-order film companies (Truprint was a big one in the UK) where you sent your film off and a week later you’d get your negs and prints back – along with a free roll of film. I wanted to make people excited to open the mailbox. (The first batch of these is being sent out this month.)
I’ve now got two distributors – Maco Direct for Germany and Camera Film Photo for Asia – and they have started selling the film to shops as well. I hope to get a list of those regularly stocking it to put on the blog so people can check if they can buy it close to home.
What’s in store?
Where does Kosmo Foto go from here? More film is the ultimate aim. I have big plans for the coming few years, and hopefully, another emulsion will be announced soon.
I’m also busily designing two new products, one aimed at those travelling with film, and the other something a bit more ambitious; hopefully, something the design-loving film photographer will drool over. Expect to hear more news about the first of those in the coming weeks.
I have a Patreon account where people who like what Kosmo Foto does can help me out. Obviously, I make money from selling the film, but I want that to help fund new products. A Patreon allows me to pay all my hosting and blog costs without eating into the film profits. I’m not making going to make a fortune doing this. Literally every dollar really helps.
I remember sitting down in a cafe in London’s West Hampstead at the end of 2012, writing what would become my first camera review for the site – the oft-maligned Zenit-E; that’s the first step the blog took on the road that led here. I could have no clue that it would one day lead to all this.
I hope the next five years are just as much of an adventure.
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