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  /  World News   /  Texas photo labs continue seeing a rise in film demand

Texas photo labs continue seeing a rise in film demand

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Everything old(ish) is new again in the world of photography.

Three Austin film labs have seen rising demand for film development, particularly with younger photographers.

Turbo Photo Film Lab opened in October, and owners AJ Gerstenhaber and Holly McVeety-Mill have already upgraded their machine to process 50 rolls an hour — up from 15 rolls hourly.

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“I’m speechless about how crazy it’s gotten,” McVeety-Mill said.

The film trend is not unique to Austin.

In 2022, Kodak told Nexstar it hired hundreds of people since 2021 and was running its Rochester, New York, film factory 24/7 to meet demand. In December, a Michigan-based photo company announced it would start manufacturing Kodak-branded photo chemicals that would be available in 2024. This was in response to the growth and demand for analog photos.

Gerstenhaber and McVeety-Mill, both native Austinites, started their film lab after she began using film in her wedding photography and saw film development was not super accessible locally. Their goal in opening a home-based lab was to offer a more affordable option for people to access the hobby without worrying about the cost, Gerstenhaber said.

The duo also wants to be a resource to people new to film and remove the “gatekeeping” they have seen in the industry. McVeety-Mill said they won’t charge if a roll turns out blank and try to help diagnose issues if a customer’s photos don’t turn out how they want.

“We’re kind of encouraging you to make mistakes,” she said.

A cross-generational hobby

Gerstenhaber and McVeety-Mill said a majority of their clients are in the Gen Z and millennial generations, but they also see many Gen X customers who are picking the hobby back up.

“Both being millennials, we grew up with like all of our photo albums are from stuff that was shot on film from when we were kids,” Gerstenhaber said. “So it’s really fun to look back at that and kind of understand how people can continue to create that now.”

Holland Photo Imaging, which has developed film in Austin since 1981, saw growing demand for film starting in the pandemic, but co-owner Morgan Morrison doesn’t see it as a trend anymore because it has stuck.

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Customers range from younger people discovering film photography to older photographers pulling their cameras back out, Morrison said.

“People will come in and they have their grandfather’s camera,” Morrison said. “People have held on to these things, and now they’re sharing them with younger generations.”

Right place, right time

At Lago Vista Film Lab, owner Richard Johnson said his location next to the University of Texas at Austin is one of the busiest film labs for walk-in customers in the United States.

On a busy day, the lab will develop about 150 rolls of film with same-day turnaround. Nearly all of his customers are in the 18-25 age range, Johnson said. He said people enjoy the physical, personal touch of film cameras and compares the rise of film photography to the resurgence of vinyl records and CDs.

“We just happened to hit the right market with the right product,” Johnson, who opened the lab in 2020, said.

The lab expanded with a second location in San Marcos near Texas State University, and Johnson is eyeing more expansions.

“I think just more people are rediscovering it,” Johnson said. “It’s a technique. It’s an older technology that the industry tried to get rid of and people rediscovered it and just fell in love,”