Josh Moates, photographer and founder of Indie Film Lab in Montgomery, shares why he got into the film processing game and how a business decision has impacted his art.
I’ve been taking pictures since my mom gave me a 35mm camera for Christmas when I was in high school and for the last 10 years, it’s how I’ve made my living. When I re-discovered film in 2004, it changed the way I thought about photography, and then it changed my business.
A big chunk of my work is weddings, which I love shooting. But in Alabama, I couldn’t charge enough to make shooting film for my clients a truly cost effective option.
Still, I couldn’t shake my belief that shooting film for an occasion as special as a wedding was important to me and to my clients. We all know the quality of film photos outshines that of digital, and for me, the quality of my composition is better when I’m shooting film. It stokes my creativity, and not just when shooting happy couples. I have been a 100% Kodak shooter for years because of the new PORTRA line and the classic look of TRI-X.
When shooting weddings, I use Kodak’s PORTRA color negative films because how easily they scan and how amazing the colors are. The skintones are truly the best of all the other film brands I have shot. Especially the new Portra 800 – it’s super awesome for lower light situations. Thank goodness for that film, it has saved me in so many hard to shoot situations.
And I love, love love TRI-X for black and white; it has the most classic look of any black and white film. When I look at a TRI-X photograph, it almost looks like it has a soul. I keep it loaded in my Leica M6. Not to mention it is the most versatile film ever. It can be shot at pretty much any speed. I mainly push it to 1600, but I have shot it at 3200 with great results.
I enjoy photographing anything that relates to Southern culture and history—landscapes, architecture and people. But my favorite subjects are always people. Trying to capture someone’s personality in a split second and then share that moment is a challenge that keeps me coming back.
When I look into the faces of my portrait photos done on film, I see an added layer of depth, a layer that enhances and underscores what I’m trying to express.
The point is I wasn’t going to stop shooting film. Instead, I decided to find a way to make it work for me. So I took a leap, gathered some partners, and we bought our own lab equipment and scanner. Kim Box, my partner in my photography company, came onboard, as did my shooting assistant, Asheley Willet, who is absolutely integral to the process. He has a degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama and is the technical guru who makes everything come out just right.
The original intent was to just process our own film and let the equipment pay for itself. Once we started, we were really happy with the results and shared some shots on a Facebook film shooters’ group. “Who did your lab work?” kept popping up in response to our posts. When I told those asking that we did, they wanted us to process their film too. The light bulb turned on overhead, and I saw a void in the film-processing market just waiting to be filled.
To process the film, we use Kodak Flexicolor chemistry in our color processors and Duraflo RT in the BW machines. The chemistry has been consistent and very stable and we depend on it to deliver top notch negatives for our clients day in and day out. We figure why not use the best chemistry we can get.
In response, in 2012, we created Indie Film Lab, and in less than a year, it has grown into one of the largest film-processing labs of its type in the world. We had some growing pains initially, but we’re moving full-steam ahead.
Indie Film Lab is more than a successful start-up company. It began as a business decision, but it has moved far beyond that for me. Now, it is my way to play a part in the film community and in the renaissance of film, and as a huge film fan, that’s just cool.
Shooting film again has re-awakened my passion for photography, and I suspect it has done the same for many others who started in photography when digital was “king”. I love that now my company is a resource for other artists that shoot film and that we give them a great product. There aren’t many things that give me more satisfaction than doing what I love, on my terms, and being successful doing it.
So I guess the morals of my story if you’re looking for some, are: Don’t be afraid to walk through the doors life opens for you; if you’ve got a great idea, push to make it happen; and never underestimate the value of good partners.
Indie Film Labs road tripped to Vegas and WPPI the 2nd week in March, documenting their adventures with Kodak film. You can see the team’s journey on Instagram, Facebook and on Twitter @IndieFilmLab1
Click here to find more information on Indie Film Lab online.