FilmX is getting physical with KC’s photography scene

Story developing.
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Travis Young in the FilmX lab. // Photo by Chase Castor

[Editor’s Note: Several stories from June’s issue of The Pitch, hitting stands on the 1st of the month, feature photos shot on film and developed by FilmX. Make sure to pick up a copy to see further work from Young.]

In an age of TikTok and instant dopamine hits, creating and savoring honest art takes practice. There has been a clear resurgence of analog appreciation when it comes to music and vinyl records, but what about visual art? 

Film photography offers an authenticity that is unmatched by the digital world. Creators are starting to band together to re-introduce the lost art form of film development to the community and make it more accessible for everyone involved.

Our photographer Chase Castor sat down with our other photographer Travis Young to talk about…photography.

The Pitch: What’s your history with photography, and how did film and its extended world become part of your work?

Travis Young: My dad was a hobbyist photographer, and he put a camera in my hand as a kid for fun. As the years went on, my dad slowly stopped playing with cameras, and I was riding the inverse curve of that fallout. In high school, I would photograph a lot of my friends’ bands and started doing senior and family portraits. Then weddings. I got to college and started working for the University Daily Kansan and learned journalism/sports photography. After traveling around photographing KU Basketball, I did a season with the Kansas City Chiefs’ in-house photography department. I’ve been bouncing around ever since.

Film became a huge part of my work after a second attempt on my own life—maybe six or seven years back. I got myself into therapy and realized I spent so much time avoiding my feelings, emotions, and trauma. I had no verbiage or awareness between my body and my brain. I was trying to connect ideas to emotions and sync everything up.

For those curious about film photography, what’s so special about it? Why would anyone go through the extra trouble if everyone has a decent camera on their phone?

I think about this constantly. As tech gets better, cameras get exponentially better. The ability for any single person to make a technically correct image gets easier and easier. We start to expect more from cameras and are quick to absolutely destroy images. There’s way less tolerance for images that are too dark, too blown out, out of focus, etc.

I think we have less excuses to make bad photos, so we’re quick to call images bad because the gear is so good. Like, “Yo, this shouldn’t be dark or out of focus—this camera is dope. I spent a lot of money for this to not happen.”

And then you have film cameras, which stopped improving in the ’90s. The images we get back are often underexposed, blurry, out of focus—and somehow, these awful photos are the most amazing things ever. It’s always super fun to get these images back.

I think there’s magic that happens when making images becomes a gamble. Film images are not promised, and any sort of return feels really good, even when the images are bad. 

Is it harder to shoot film?

Absolutely not. Disposable cameras exist for a reason. My parents and all their homies used film back in the day. They’re garbage image-makers, but they have more photos and albums than I’ll probably ever make in my professional stretch. 

I think the difficulty with film comes with whether or not you can take a photo and trust the process. And then you have to do that 36 more times until the roll is finished, which is awesome, but it’s jarring at first. Most of us are wired to make moves we know and can see.

Digital photography is like, “Yo, make your photo! Okay, now look! Oh neat, but maybe it’s a little dark. Try it again!” You correct as you go based on what you see in your photos. The process is incremental, linear, and in real-time.

Film photography is like, “Yo, make your photo! Okay neat! You made a decision! Oh, you only get 36. Also, you paid for this. Oh, also, I’m sensitive to light. So like, be careful. Hope all these decisions worked out for you!” And then it isn’t until a week or month later when you’ve finished your roll and got it developed that you find out if you messed up or not. And when you have messed up, there’s no fixing it. You just live with it, absorb it, and then trust that you’ll do better next time.

What is FilmX? 

FilmX started as a small side project for me. Using a film camera helped me look at my life in a way that wasn’t scary. It helped me acknowledge my own existence in a way that didn’t make me feel broken. I avoided therapy for so long. I just didn’t want to admit to myself that I needed it. Film helped me without ever feeling like anything was out of place.

After seeking help from mental health professionals, I wanted to find an accessible way to spread that feeling. I wanted to share film photography with anyone because it changed my life so much. So, I decided I would just buy a disposable camera every month, give it to a random person, then tell them I would develop and scan it for free.

I just want to help people slow their lives down for just a second and acknowledge the very life they’re living. What better way to do that than to make a photo? 

After developing and scanning a handful of disposables I wanted to start curating all of those quiet little moments people have and just show everyone that acknowledging yourself in the life you live doesn’t always have to be obvious or a grand gesture. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

So, that’s the heart of FilmX. It sort of evolved when I decided to make a dedicated space for the film process. As the space grew and I started dumping my own money into it, a few friends hopped on board and we formed a tiny collective. We pooled our money to pay for film chemicals and help each other develop and scan film, just for us.

Eventually, their friends wanted us to process their film, and then their friend’s friends—out of nowhere, it just snowballed. 

The more support we received, the more we invested in better chemicals and equipment and accidentally became a totally capable film lab. The support has been really neat. I never really had much interest in making it a business, but I did realize that if I had more support, especially financially, the easier it would be to introduce film photography to more folks.

I guess FilmX is a DIY, punk operation of film nerds helping film nerds.

What’s the journey of the film from drop-off to delivery?

Film gets dropped into a lockbox outside the lab. I bring it inside the lab and put a sticker with a number on it to help me keep track of rolls. I have two film processors— one for color, and one for black and white—and it gets processed on the appropriate machine. 

After processing, I hang the film to dry. That usually takes up to 8 hours. When the film is dry, I scan it and turn it into digital files. Film is generally a negative image, Our software inverts the images into positives. As I’m waiting for the computer to run the inversions, I cut the negatives and put them into archiving sleeves.

I deliver a download link via email, and the physical negatives are archived and ready to be picked up locally or shipped.

Follow along with FilmX’s journey or reach out to Travis on Instagram @filmxlab

Categories: Art