Lab Chats: Hillvale Film Lab, AU

Name: Hillvale Photo
Location: Melbourne, VIC, AU
Established: 2013
Film formats: C-41, BW, E6 – all sizes below 4×5
Scanners: Fuji Frontier SP3000 & Noritsu HS-180

Who are we chatting to?
Name: Jason Hamilton
Position: Co-Founder
Film stock of choice: Portra
Camera/lens of choice: Mamiya 7 system
Quirky fact: To create the Hillvale Cubes we had to remove the plastic spools out of 50,000 35mm film canisters. We had a team of 30 friends help us out.

Tell us about the history of your lab. When, where and how was Hillvale born?
Hillvale was born from a broken down film processor that was being disposed of by a lab in a small country town that was killing off the analogue side of their business. Andy Johnson (co-founder of Hillvale) and I rescued the machine in 2012, and learnt how to rebuild it and run it ourselves. We began developing our own film in Andy’s parents’ garage, started processing film for friends and then it began to snowball. We were still working 9 to 5 jobs during the start up so we began installing ‘drop boxes’ around Melbourne in other stores, bars and cafes, where people could drop off their film and we would pick it up and develop it after hours.

Introduce us to the Hillvale family.
Over the past six years we have grown to a small close-knit team of around eight people. Currently two are travelling around Australia and the world. We encourage everyone to get out there, to travel, take photos and further their own practice.

Tell us about what makes Hillvale unique.
The ethos of Hillvale is built on accessibility both by location and price point, making it affordable enough for people to try it out whilst still getting a professional service.

Hillvale, as much it is a service for the film community, has become a creative outlet for us to work on projects that further benefit photography.

Once such project was the iconic Agfa film box that resided above the corner of Lonsdale and Russell Street in Melbourne’s CBD for many years. Sadly, in 2018 it was torn down and we were lucky enough to salvage parts of the main sign (thanks to a quick thinking individual on-site). We couldn’t be more happy to give this icon the new home in Melbourne it deserves. This is our dedication to photography.

Hillvale have their own Sunny16 and Holiday film. Are there any other film stocks on the horizon?
Stay tuned for more.

You’ve not only got the lab but also Hillvale Gallery which opened in 2017. What has 2019 got in store for the gallery?
Hillvale Gallery started as some extra space in the warehouse where we run the B&W dip and dunk processor (being that they need a much larger space and equipment to run). We painted up part of this warehouse and built a movable wall to create the gallery space.

We are launching an exhibition on April 10 for Sarah Pannell’s most recent project and her first major publication that is co-published by Perimeter Editions and Hillvale.

After that we have a few others in the works so keep an eye out if you are in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s packed to the brim with incredible creatives. We’d love some insight into the film community in the city.
There’s a lot of really good photography coming out of Melbourne at the moment. Check out Hoda Afshar, Sarah Walker, Emma Phillips, Laurence Watts and Sarah Pannell to name a few.

Is there a particular body of work that you’ve processed that is memorable?
We develop film for a lot of amazing people, as well as working with them on certain projects. We can’t talk about what comes through directly. We have been working with photographer Ryan Cookson on a project which will be launching at Hillvale Gallery later this year. We helped support the project through a Hillvale Project Grant. Ryan came to us with an idea to document a story on “spinning” in South Africa.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out shooting film, what would it be?
If you’re interested in photography, it doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting film or digital. Digital can be an aid to learn how to use the camera’s manual settings before transferring those skills over to film. Each format has a purpose. It’s all about experimentation and play.

Also, if in doubt, turn the flash on and don’t open the back.

Lasting thoughts or anything else you’d like to share:
Check out the Flat Film Archive if you love the design and history of 35mm film canisters.

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