Lab Chats: PhotoVision, USA

Name: PhotoVision
Location: Salem, Oregon, USA
Established: 1968
Film formats: 35mm, 120, 220, 4×5, and 8×10. C-41 and BW process.
Scanners: Fuji Frontier SP3000, Noritsu S-1800, Epson V750 Pro (4×5 and 8×10 only)Who are we chatting to?
Name: Stephen Wood
Position: Software Engineer
Film stock of choice: Fuji Pro400H
Camera of choice: Pentax 6×7
Quirky fact: My photography journey started as a Photoshop journey when I was 11 years old and Photoshop 3.0 had just been released.
Please share your favourite piece of your work.
My wife. This was the day I met her… I was doing a photo-walk and through a mutual friend on Facebook, she volunteered to model for me. It was entirely out of character for her to do something like that. It was also the first frame I had ever taken on 645 and my second roll of medium format film.This isn’t much of an image technically speaking, but there’s lots of nostalgia here. This was shot in 2014 shortly after we had decided to take film seriously again. We had watched it struggle for years and listened to industry experts who said “film is dead” and asked us why we would do such a crazy thing. I had decided I’d try shooting some 35mm for the first time in with a beat-up old Nikon N2000 and my 50mm Zeiss. This picture calms me and reminds me of the many evenings I spent here surfing.PhotoVision recently celebrated its 50th birthday! Tell us about how the lab came to be.
The lab was purchased in November 1968 by my grandparents, Howard and Donna Wood. It was their way to help put their four children through college. My grandfather worked for the local power company as an engineer, which left my grandmother running the lab (and camera store) at the time. The lab and camera store became a place for both my father and uncle to work as they were growing up and eventually was turned over to my father to run, which takes us to today.

Introduce us to the PhotoVision team.
The PhotoVision team is currently 23 (soon 24) strong with a wide range of experience in the photographic industry, nine of which have more than 20 years experience in the industry each.
We’d love to hear more about the founder herself! Tell us about Donna Wood.
Donna is now in her early 90’s and no longer does any work in the lab, but that doesn’t stop her from carrying a little point and shoot camera to every social gathering. She struggles to get around these days and has memory troubles, but she does her best to make her rounds at the lab every Tuesday to say hi to everyone, new and old. She is astonished by how the lab has changed over the past six years and can’t believe that people still love film as much as they do.

Being established in 1968 there’s obviously been plenty of changes in the business over time. Tell us about how PhotoVision has evolved.
Over the years the lab has undergone numerous changes. Initially, the lab stayed with its original structure as a camera store and lab. The lab later separated from the camera store and began working as a wholesale black and white lab for grocery store chains in the northwest states. That lasted all the way up until the time of the one-hour photo craze and minilabs, which worked perfectly as a way to transition the lab since the wholesale work was drying up. Through the ’90s and early ‘00s, the lab operated as a premium one-hour lab and small professional lab. During this time we differentiated ourselves by doing what we have always been good at – color correction. We color and density corrected every frame, even if it was from a disposable camera. We also worked directly with local area wedding photographers during this time, learning how to deliver consistent products for each of them while still maintaining their unique visual styles. As the later ‘00s, digital photography, and the recession came in, we once again found ourselves changing our business model to be more of a catch-all for any and all photo-related products. From books, flat cards, t-shirts, and buttons, to design work, video transfer, and prints, we did it all, as long as there was a photo involved. Then, in 2012 we stepped back towards film and we’ve never looked back.
Printing is obviously a very important facet of PhotoVision. We’d love to hear more about this side of the lab.
It is where it all started. We’ve always been a print-oriented lab and we actually think about our work with film photographers as being no different, even though we aren’t always making a print today. That being said, our hopes are always for images to be printed—even if we aren’t doing the printing. We believe wholeheartedly that printing is an important part of the artistic experience as well as the experience of the holders of those images, which goes far beyond our own lives. Prints are a way to tell our stories and share our experiences that last longer than we will and are immediately relatable across language and even cultural divides. There is real power in that.

You conduct workshops with some incredible photographers, all over the world. Tell us more.
Absolutely! I don’t travel to as many workshops as I used to, but they are still one of my favorite parts of what I do. I believe education is one of the most important parts of what we do, both as a lab and as photographers. This year we will be sponsoring a number of workshops around the world, but we will also be speaking at the Hybrid Collective workshop in Tennessee along with a few other labs.
Is there a particular body of work that you’ve processed/printed that is memorable?
Probably Erich McVey’s early work, in particular, one of his editorial shoots from 2015, which he called Wild Thing.

Who should we be keeping our eye out for? What rising talent is coming through your lab that we should know about?
Oh man, I wish I could answer this from my own recent experience, but because I am no longer a main part of the production team, I’m going to have to defer to the cool work they have seen. Definitely check out the incredible work from 
Tara Bielecki for her wedding photographs!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out shooting film, what would it be?
Learn the fundamentals. It’s always surprising to me how few people really have a firm grasp on exposure and the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Lasting thoughts:
I think as photographers (and maybe more generally for society as a whole) we spend too much time looking for shortcuts to work that really can only be accomplished through continuous hard work. Learn what good photography looks like – once you feel like you know what good images are, stop looking at social media for “inspiration,” in reality you are just sabotaging your creative process. Get out there and fail, it’s the only way you will really learn this stuff.

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