By: Brittany Price
What defines a successful photographer? Raw talent, experience and an eye for beauty are among the obvious answers, as these skills are essential in the photographic arts. Ryan Bernal and Austin Gros, two Nashville photographers, entrepreneurs and the founders of Film Box, are of the opinion that it takes more than just skill and experience to make it in the photo industry. It takes a family.
Film Box, a Nashville-based film lab, welcomes photographers and visitors in as part of that family. Situated within a charming, historic blue and white home, this film studio embodies something completely other than your run-of-the-mill, one-hour photo lab. At Film Box, there exists a striking balance between professionalism and comfort. This team provides the highest caliber of photo film processing, while inviting photographers to sit down, have a cup of coffee and engage with a warm community of fellow creatives. The Film Box experience feels like coming home.
The vision for Film Box and an innovative, photographic community came from Bernal and Gros’ recognition that they were a part of an artistic circle with no place to go. Bernal explains, “We dreamed up the idea of a place, in Nashville, that brings photographers to one spot. There are a lot of photographers, but there’s no place that brings them together. We want to have this cornerstone of our community where, if you’re a photographer, you know about Film Box and you’re part of something, of what we’re doing.” This studio was created to support and expand the talents of photographers, to act as a backbone and hub for an artistic community.
Film Box not only develops film, but photographers as well. This begins with their comprehensive ‘Custom Style Profile.’ When a new client walks into Film Box, he or she is asked to provide extensive information about who they are as a photographer: from style and personal taste, to cameras and stocks of film, down to metering and countless other small details. This ‘Custom Style Profile’ enables the Film Box team to begin an ongoing conversation with each individual photographer about his or her body of work, abilities and aspirations. It creates a ‘snapshot’ of the photographer’s professional and personal goals, allowing the knowledgeable Film Box staff to provide feedback and assist the photographer in working towards their dreams.
When a photographer hands a roll of film to the staff at Film Box, those photos are placed in the care of some of Nashville’s most talented, exceptional film specialists. As Bernal and Gros dreamt up Film Box, they spent countless months preparing, processing film, perfecting their abilities and knack for photo developing. Both of the Film Box founders understand film photography because both shoot almost exclusively with film. Bernal has shot and developed film since he was a teenager, rambling about Phoenix with a camera. Gros got a taste of film while shooting weddings and never looked back. Bernal, Gros and their staff are uniquely qualified to provide exactly the type of professional assistance and mentorship that was, prior to Film Box, far too difficult to come by in the photographic community.
Though Bernal and Gros currently work with a large number of well-established professional photographers, their dream is two-fold: to not only cultivate a thriving photographic community amongst existing photographers, but to also educate and inspire new photographers and the creative community at large to keep the medium of film alive. The Film Box team cannot help but get excited about those who want to make the transition to film. Gros was one of those photographers, as he recounts, “When I first started shooting weddings, I was shooting digital. Film seemed like this big, scary thing. My advice to people who are interested is to just try it. You’ll be surprised how quickly you will be able to make the jump.”
The Film Box staff believes that film is here to stay. Bernal insists, “People are turning back to film. Not only does opinion support that it often looks better, but photographers are better off training themselves to be film photographers because it trains us to be better.” He believes that all artists are looking to grow and improve. He sees film photography as that next step. Photo printing, educational ‘photo walks’, workshops, maybe even a community darkroom are in the works for Film Lab. This team will do anything to make sure film sticks around.
Like any good support system, the Film Box team is there to assist and guide those new to the world of film. They even recommend the essentials, to help new photographers move in the right direction. Both Bernal and Gros are fond of KODAK’s PORTRA 400 film. Gros explains, “The exposure latitude of PORTRA 400 is better than anything else that’s out there right now. For someone who hasn’t shot film before, it gives them the ability to miss a little and still get great results.” He recommends pairing this with the cheapest camera body that works with a photographer’s preexisting digital lens, something along the lines of a Canon EOS 3 or Nikon F100.
Film Box opened its door to the public in February of 2013 and within a period of a few, short months, word spread across the country about this innovative new venture. Bernal and Gros have created a business “by photographers, for photographers” and the artistic community has leapt to its feet in support. Bernal recognizes that people want to join the film box community because it provides exactly that: a community, “We don’t just process and scan people’s film, we become a part of their team, their photography family, I suppose. They can’t do it without us, and we can’t do it without them.” After all, it takes a family to raise a photographer.
– Brittany Price