Lab Chats: Carmencita Film Lab, ES

Lab: Carmencita Film Lab
Valencia, Spain
Established: 2013
Film formats: 135, 120, 110, 220, 4×5, 8×10, Super8, 16mm
Scanners: Fuji Frontier SP-3000, Fuji Finescan 2750, Noritsu HS-1800

Who are we chatting to?
Albert Roig
Position: CEO
Favourite film stock: The Portra family
Camera/lens of choice: Any that produces 6×6
Favourite piece of work: I always fall for the classics, usually black and whites, but I recently discovered the work of Robert Capa in colour and I’m super fascinated by it. Perhaps because of my sailing past when I was a kid, I am drawn to Capa’s images taken during a sail race in Norway in 1951.
Quirky fact: I never knew the real reason behind our name, Carmencita, until few months ago, I had a theory of my own that was a bit more romantic than the truth! The name was obviously made up by my partner, Miguel.

Tell us about the history of Carmencita.
We were born in 2013 in the garage of Miguel’s house. He purchased a SP-3000 to work on his own film, but it turned out to be more complicated to set up than he initially expected. During those troubled weeks we met over Facebook – I was working in the US in another lab with the same scanner – and we began talking to see if there was any way I could help him.

Some months later we finally met back in Spain. Miguel got the scanner up and running. He had the machine and the experience in mini-labs and I had the know-how of the US, so it was quite a good match!

Contax 645 – Zeiss Planar T* 80mm f/2.0 – Kodak Portra 400 – © Sylvain Bouzat

How many people make up the Carmencita team?
At the moment there are 26 people on the team including Miguel and myself. The lab has escalated really quickly in the last five years and we’ve gone from being three DIY guys to a legitimate infrastructure that enables us to process around 45,000 rolls a year.

We have a department for each step of the process; in total seven departments including the design and R&D. The whole process is now sort of standardised as there are many steps to making the images we create so it needs to have a structure. The majority of the team works in the scanning and editing area and the rest of the departments consist of one or two people taking care of each duty.

What makes you different from other film labs?
We believe the quality we offer combined with our level of service results in a unique experience that makes the process of shooting film even more human.

Our motto has always been to provide quality that speaks for itself, taking care of every step of the process carefully. In the recent years we have reinforced our service to be able to provide answers to every client, even after the job is done and delivered months ago.

We approach film photography as a beautiful community that we are lucky to be a part of, and contribute in any way we can. For us, it’s as simple as treating each roll not as if it was our own, but even better. We deliver the service we would like to experience ourselves.

Nikon F90X – Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D – Kodak Ektar – © Paul Karl

How has the lab changed over time?
The lab has changed A LOT. As mentioned before, we went from processing around 5,000 rolls a year to 45,000. We started in the garage, moved to a room in a flat, then to small office which was barely 70m2. Two years ago we moved into the city to a 140m2 building and we are now able to say we have finally merged facilities with the place next door, working with around 340m2 of space.

On another level, Carmencita has had to evolve into more of a company structure, moving away from the little DIY style we had at the beginning. Now everything is labelled, controlled, reviewed and analysed along the process. To be honest, sometimes it seems less ‘fun’ than it was at the beginning, but being able to provide quality film processing for over 2,000 photographers a year certainly makes up for it!

What is the biggest challenge when developing and scanning?
The biggest challenge is to completely understand the photographers’ expectations of their final images whilst still being realistic on what we can do with the exposure they shot. This is why we put a lot of emphasis on providing feedback and helping photographers to keep shooting to get the results they want for their images. And of course, we have to achieve all of this within the time frame we have to work on the film.

Leica M3 – Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 – Fujifilm PRO 400H – © Daniell Bohnhof

Are you noticing any particular trends in what you’re receiving from clients?
I think it has shifted a lot over the years. There was a clear trend coming through from lifestyle and wedding photographers; looking for luminous images with very creamy skin tones.

Nowadays, I would say it has diversified a lot, to a point where the challenge is to be able to adapt to so many different looks and photographers, but it’s also been a breath of fresh air for us.

“We approach film photography as a beautiful community that we are lucky to be a part of.”

Is there a particular body of work that you’ve processed that is memorable?
A complicated question! There are many, you can find the ones that grabbed our attention on our monthly Best Of posts on our website.

I remember a series of portraits of women who had survived breast cancer. I enjoy the many projects that involve kids in their day-to-day life, and we’re able to go on some really surprising travel adventures through the photos of some clients.

Again, there are thousands of photos (sometimes really awkward ones!) that run through our screens every day, and I wish I could remember more, but one of the reasons we publish the Best Of blogs is to give a shoutout to all those photographers that produce beautiful work through the lens of a film camera.

Contax T2 - Kodak ColorPlus 200 - © Gavin Host
Contax T2 – Kodak ColorPlus 200 – © Gavin Host

Who should we be keeping our eye out for? What rising talent is coming through your lab that we should know about?
Wow! That’s an incredibly difficult one. There are many many people that surprise us constantly, many great photographers use film occasionally and some use it consistently.

On a personal basis, I particularly enjoy the work of Michael Ferire, a young photographer from Belgium that started from scratch but is now shooting for big brands, and is super passionate about the film process.

Another photographer that I believe produces beautiful candid work is Tamara Aptekar. For portraiture I could name Theresa Pewal and for wedding related images, Pasha Lutov in Ukraine is really taking it to the next level.

Again, these are some photographers that I see coming up from my little corner inside the film photography world but there are several established photographers that use the lab too, that are definitely worth following. If you are hungry for more, stay tuned for our Best Of blogs.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out shooting film, what would it be?
It’s funny because I’ve often been asked this question in interviews and during the podcasts I do for Traveling Light.

My advice is to take it easy, experiment and learn to love the medium. Film photography is not for everyone, those expecting fast results and perfectly accurate colours won’t be happy. But if you are looking to step outside the digital world, enjoy the image-taking process and be open for unexpectedness then you are in the right place.

Learn and ask! My mentor used to say, “The only stupid question is the one not asked.”.

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