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Local Man Keeps Film Processing Alive


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By Max Harding

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Sharp Photo and Portrait has all of the needed chemicals and materials in order to develop film into the foreseeable future. © 2016 Max Harding

Even though much of the world has moved on to digital photography, film photography still holds a special place in photography shop owner, Bill Eklund’s, heart.

Eklund owns Sharp Photo and Portrait, a shop that services both digital and analog needs. The act of film development is something he doesn’t want to lose. He is part of a film renaissance where young people are finding old cameras at garage sales and are using them. Eklund hopes to offer a place where film buffs can go for all of the needs that their hobby requires.

Originally from Eau Claire, Eklund moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to pursue a job in film development at a place called Pro-X. After a few years, Eklund caught wind of a one-hour photo lab opening up in his hometown. The place was called Hart’s 1-Hour Photo. Eklund was almost immediately brought onto the team and quickly put to work. As time went on much of the staff didn’t like where the business was going.

“It took about two years for the old owner to drive the business into the ground,” Eklund said, “That’s where I came in.”

The old owner ended up selling all of the assets of his failing film lab to Eklund, who quickly put it back on track. This left only one thing to change, the name, Hart’s 1-Hour Photo.  Instead of spending the extra money on something new, Eklund rearranged the letters on the sign. All he had to do was buy the “P” and Sharp 1-Hour Photo was born.

After 30 years, Eklund has created a profitable business on top of what he does with film. He says that he offers film processing as more of a service than a business. When asked why he keeps developing Eklund admits he has a soft spot for the photography medium.

“I have been developing film since I was 13 years old, which is 47 years ago now, and once you start, it kind of gets in your blood.” Eklund said.

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Bill Eklund plans on expanding his development capabilities by purchasing a machine that will allow him to offer E-6 slide film processing. © 2016 Max Harding

When many rolls need to be developed, the lab in the back of the shop comes to life. There are two automated processing machines that, when in use, fill the room with a light whirring sound. These machines make it easy to process rolls in a short amount of time. This is only for color, however. Black and white film is done the old fashioned way, in a darkroom. As red light fills every corner of the darkroom, photographs are carefully placed into chemical baths and then hung up to dry.

Not only is Eklund keeping the practice alive, he is also passing on this knowledge to his employees and children. His son, Spencer Eklund, has been involved with his father’s craft for much of his life.

“I’ve been officially working at the shop for almost 14 years,” Spencer said, “but I’ve been doing this [developing film] for about 30.”

Bill Eklund says that a new generation of photographers come to his shop wanting to learn the craft.

“We employ many young people who have just discovered the craft,” Eklund said. “I want to be here to educate them.”

For what the future holds for film, no one is completely certain. This renaissance trend could continue and film could become a part of everyday life again or the medium could fizzle out and die.

Much of the evidence points to a widespread revival of the medium however. Kodak, the manufacturer of most film in the world, had reported that sales of their film between 2013 and 2015 had increased by five percent. This is a sharp turn in contrast to the rapid decline of sales that the company saw in the early 2000s.

Whether this revival is a fad or if it’s here to stay, Bill Eklund says he is committed to film.

“We plan on being the last place to be developing film in the country,” Eklund said, “maybe the world.”

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Local Man Keeps Film Processing Alive