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Make analogue great again: Photography

Don’t call it a comeback: for these Berliners, old-school formats like vinyl, film and tape never went away in the first place. Now they cater to a niche but growing crowd of enthusiasts.

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Sabine Alex with her mobile darkroom,a Mercedes bus named Kurt. Photo by Pavel Mezihorák
Don’t call it a comeback: for these Berliners, old-school formats like vinyl, film and tape never went away in the first place. Now they cater to a niche but growing crowd of enthusiasts. But of the three, it’s undoubtedly analogue photography that continues to capture the hearts and minds of the young and old alike. Here are two analogue avengers keeping the spirit alive in Berlin.
HOME IS WHERE YOUR DARKROOM IS Thanks to a van named Kurt, Sabine Alex is never far from a place to ply her craft. “When I shoot, I have to take my time,” Sabine Alex declares as she pours a cup of tea and offers a tour of her self-built darkroom in her small, cosy studio close to Ostkreuz. Despite the 31-year-old’s calm, patient demeanor, her schedule is far from leisurely. When she’s not leading her Mobile Dunkelkammer (“mobile darkroom”) workshops or running festivals and meet-ups as co-founder of the organisation AnalogueNow, Alex is behind the camera herself, taking large-scale vintage portraits at festivals and markets for €10-15 apiece – “like a photo booth that smiles and talks,” she jokes. Before permanently relocating to Berlin in 2014, the Dresden native spent two years on the move, touring German festivals, schools and museums in a bright orange Mercedes minibus named “Kurt” that she personally fitted out with photo processing equipment. Now, she spends less time with Kurt and more at her Lichtenberg home base, guiding groups of up to five people through the basics of photo developing (€89 for a nine-hour session) or giving more specific lessons like the monthly colour film special (€80 for two hours). Courses are in German, with English available on request. Together with friends, Alex established AnalogueNow three years ago; their first festival of workshops and photo exhibitions, held in 2015, drew over 1500 people out to Lichtenberg. After a second successful fest last year, they put it on hold to apply for public funding, but have kept busy with monthly Fotostammtisch gatherings, a Photo Weekend in October and a live demonstration at November’s Day of Analogue Photography. Despite sometimes wishing she could have a break to pursue her own creative projects, Alex’s passion for photography is what keeps her going. Whether in a van or a studio, she says, “The magic [of the darkroom] never ends.” — AD/RB See workshop schedule at www.mobile-dunkelkammer.com
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Fotoimpex’s Mitte store sells dozens of kinds of fi lm,including the “house brand” Adox. Photo by Dustin Quinta
FILM SAVIOURS More than just a store, Fotoimpex is Berlin’s ground zero for all things analogue photography. Tourists wander into the Fotoimpex store on Alte Schönhauser Straße, attracted by the displays of disposable, Polaroid and Lomography cameras. Professional photographers pay for packs of Kodak Portra 400, while others drop off envelopes of negatives to process for €5 or develop on contact sheets and scan to CD for €9.90. Long-time sales clerk Artur Kowallick puts up a new flyer for his side business Camera Minutera, offering black and white portraits taken with an old box camera. A sticker nearby reads #FilmIsNotDead. Indeed. But there’s more to Fotoimpex than a simple storefront. An hour away in the town of Bad Saarow, you’ll find an acre-sized warehouse and factory complex devoted to the manufacture of photographic film from brands that founder Mirko Böddecker has “saved”. “I kind of slipped into this,” explains the native West Berliner, who was only 19 when he founded his company in 1992. The young photography enthusiast had become fond of certain film brands from the Eastern Bloc, from ORWO to Foma, and when he noticed their disappearance after the Wall fell, he saw an opportunity. Using the money he’d received from completing his civil service, he began buying up film at flea markets and printing his own catalogue. In 1994, he opened his first shop on Rheinhardtsraße before moving it to its current location four years later. The digital revolution over the ensuing decades would not hinder Böddecker’s vision one bit. Instead, Fotoimpex helped save a number of struggling film manufacturers from 2002 onwards, from bringing back Agfa printing papers to acquiring Ilford’s coating machine in Switzerland after their second bankruptcy. The real coup came in 2003 when Böddecker acquired Adox, the revered German fi lm brand that dates back to 1860. At the Bad Saarow factory, Fotoimpex now produces a full range of films, papers and chemicals under the Adox name. Although Böddecker acknowledges that it’s difficult to keep his venture profitable nowadays, he’s proud that Fotoimpex remains “the only analogue photography shop in the world which has its own production”. That production is only set to increase: this year, Böddecker unveiled plans for a new factory building in Bad Saarow that would double the size of their current complex. Meanwhile, business at the Mitte store remains steady. Another staff member, Sabrina, who also works at the longrunning Neukölln shop Foto Braune, comments that the fascination for analogue photography among younger customers “strangely came at the same time as social media. It slowly crept up on us.” — AD Alte Schönhauser Str. 32B, Mitte, Mon-Sat 12-20
Three photo workshops Analog Fineprint Service At his own darkroom/lab by Landsberger Allee, photographer, author and Fotoimpex employee Mark Stache holds affordable German-language introductions to film development (€75 for an individual session; €45 per person for groups of 2-3, bring your own film). Cotheniusstr. 5, more at fineprintservice.de Stattlab Originally founded at Stattbad Wedding, this photo and screenprinting collective offers weekly black and white photography workshops for indiviuals or small groups in German or English (€85/person), as well as special offers like “Pinhole photography in a coffee can”. They’re also hosting a Christmas market on December 1 with holiday card workshops, Polaroid possibilities and a chance to see for yourself what they do. Drontheimer Str. 34, Wedding, more at stattlab.net Berlin Foto Kiez Organised by veteran British photographer Michael Grieve, these five-day intensive workshops are only for those truly committed to taking their photography to the next level. €900-1300 gets you Englishlanguage instruction by pros like Antoine d’Agata and Bruce Gilden, plus a closing exhibition at Studio Cherie in Neukölln. More at berlinfotokiez.com