Rewinding the roll
Scott’s Photo keeps film alive; photos by Sarah Killip
Thirty-six undeveloped exposures had been stuck behind the lens of my grandfather’s 35mm film camera for at least fifteen years before my dad and I uncovered them. Wrapped around the reel and tucked under dusty cardboard were the last frames he shot before he passed away.
This roll brought me into Scott’s Photo by Rowe on East Avenue in Rochester for the first time, carrying with it a wonder that hasn’t faded in all the years since. The 1990’s YMCA pool that I (with my bangs and navy swimsuit) learned to swim in, my mom with her black loafers, and my dad and his high-top tattered white Reeboks that those thirty-six frames brought to life drenched me with nostalgia. But the film-bug quickly became more than just reliving old memories for me.
When I set off to travel the country and live out of a car for four weeks last September, the one thing always by my side was my grandfather’s35mm camera, and Scott’s was the last place I stopped at before I hit the road. The vintage red and gold Kodak sign can be spotted from a few traffic lights over.
Jim Brennan is the store manager at Scott’s Photo and has worked there since he and the original owner opened the doors in the mid 1980s. But when film sales started to decline, the owner decided it was time to close shop. Scott’s was days away from shutting its doors permanently before Richard Rowe of Rowe Photo saved the store in 2011.
“The shelves were pretty much empty, and people were sending their farewell cards and good luck cards,” Brennan says. “We had such a good reputation for our services that we offer and the quality that we deliver that Mr. Rowe just said, ‘you know, we got to do this, we got to keep this going.’ And it really has taken a turn in the last five to ten years, because the resurgence of film is crazy.”
Brennan explains that their customer base has always remained loyal, but it’s the younger generation that is the driving force in bringing film back.
“It’s cool and retro and something they’ve never experienced before. Our median age went from sixty-year-olds to now twenty and thirty. It’s a whole new generation that’s getting into photography in a different way,” Brennan says.
What makes Scott’s even more special is that it’s one of the only places in Rochester photographers can go for everything film. Sure, you can get rolls developed at drugstores or Walmart, but those stores don’t return your negatives, and they take over a week to return a digital copy of images. Scott’s develops in-house, three days a week, so you can have your film and your negatives back the same day if dropped off early.
What draws a lot of people to film—including me—is the quality. The images are so much more wholesome and rewarding than digital. The tones and the grain are unmatched, and the process of taking a photograph is just different. Even if you shoot manually on digital, you can click away as many times as you want, but on film, there’s a limit. Each shot taken means that much more and carries a heavier weight.
“You have to make every picture count,” Brennan says. “Once that roll is done, you can’t wait to see what happens, you can’t wait to see how it turned out. There’s an excitement level to it all, and that’s something you don’t get with digital. You take a picture with your phone or your camera, and you think, ‘oh that’s nice,’ and then you never look at it again. Here you have to wait until you’re done with your vacation, and you have the film developed to see the results.”
Aside from the excitement that brews while waiting to see your photos, Brennan also notes that a lot of photographers enjoy the challenge of using a film camera and says it might be the biggest draw to the art.
“You have to work for it. You have to know what shutter speeds do, you have to know apertures and film speed and all that—there’s some thought behind it. I don’t know if challenge is the right word, but I think it’s the thrill of making the photo what it should be that draws a lot of people in,” Brennan says.
Being able to see the country through my 35mm lens was just as exciting as seeing it through my own eyes, and if my Pentax had been automatic instead of completely manual, or if I were solely using digital, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the process of capturing the moments as much. But keeping film in stock can be difficult—at Scott’s and all over the world. What many don’t realize is that Kodak doesn’t have numerous factories producing film like they once did—they have one plant, and it’s in Rochester.
“Most film manufacturers got rid of their film manufacturing equipment because they thought it was a dead medium, so they’re working with very limited production materials,” Brennan says. “It’s not the film or the acetate itself, it’s the machines that spool it. Kodak Rochester is making 35mm color film for the world. They can be making film twenty-four hours a day, but they’re distributing it all over, so Scott’s has as much of a slot of getting it as a little shop does in Taiwan.”
When it comes time to develop, Scott’s doesn’t have a darkroom with bins and chemicals in the back—the process is all automated.
“We get the roll of film, retrieve the leader out of it, splice it to a card, and then the card with notches in it matches up with a gearing system in the film processor and that pulls it through at the exact speed needed to go through all the different chemistry,” Brennan says. “Then it hits the dryer, and we go from there. The equipment needed isn’t really being produced anymore, so it’s really important for us to keep it maintained and fresh.”
At Scott’s, customers can have their film scanned digitally or printed. There are also kiosks people can attach their phones, cameras, or flash drives to and select either a “print now” or “pickup later” option. Picking up prints later is cheaper and encouraged as the process is more involved and easily tops that of drugstore photo centers.
“The people who work here are all experienced photographers and printers, and our equipment is calibrated. Our printers have an eye for the quality that is expected, and it makes a big difference,” Brennan says.
The staff at Scott’s have been there for years. That’s not common in retail. It’s a group of passionate individuals who really enjoy the craft, and that commitment is something that their customers carry as well. Brennan doesn’t foresee the rise of film changing anytime soon.
“We’re lucky we’re still here, and we’re lucky it’s a newfound passion for a lot of people,” Brennan says. “And it’s not just the younger age group using film either, now people will see rolls of film hanging and say, ‘That’s all film? You still do film? I’m going to get my camera out.’ They’ve experienced it all—they watched the decline and are now getting back into the excitement of it.”
Scott’s has allowed me to bring life to a lens my grandfather left behind—staining the pages of photo albums with faces he never had the chance to meet. A local treasure amid Rochester city streets, Scott’s Photo by Rowe is an essential part in keeping moments alive and making every frame count.
Located at 1755 East Avenue, Scott’s is open Monday through Saturday and also offers video transferring, photo scanning and restoration, framing, equipment, and more. To contact, call 442-3140.