Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Visit to Blue Moon Camera in Portland, Oregon

Jim Hair at the counter with customers
In late May, I was in Oregon for a week, and before I left, I set up an appointment to meet and interview the folks at Blue Moon Camera and Machine in Portland.  You may have heard of Blue Moon Camera (BMC) as a place to send in your film for development. That is one of the services that they offer, but the store is so much more than that.  Started in 2001, which of course, is about the time that digital started making inroads into general photography, Blue Moon Camera and Machine is a place that caters to lovers of analog processes.  Yes, they sell refurbished typewriters in the store, but their main business is film-based photography.  I spoke with Jake Shivery, the co-founder of BMC, and he is proud of their film-processing and production of optical prints for their customers.  The printing is so good, that professionals have chosen them to produce prints for gallery shows.  Of course, BMC does black and white, C-41 color, E-6 transparency film, and now, ECN-2 development for the Kodak Vision films. The Vision films (sold by the FPP store) are beautiful color 35mm cine films that have a remjet layer that must be removed during the development process.  Few commercial labs do this for the simple reason that the carbon in the remjet will contaminate the chemistry.  Cinestill has already removed the remjet layer before they sell it to you, but you pay more for their version of the Vision films because of that.  Blue Moon Camera is now one of the few labs that will process the Vision films in ECN-2 chemistry.

Jim Hair of BMC (now retired) told me how much the store and employees are involved in promoting analog processes and serving as a conduit for film photographers and the involvement in the local arts community.  It's no wonder that people in the Portland area come into the store for more than just film processing.  Jim likes to use a 4x5 rotating back Graflex SLR, and took my photo outside the store.  He's an extremely knowledgeable and likable fellow, and an excellent photographer.

BMC sells used and new film cameras and accessories, film, paper, and chemicals. No digital, period.  While I was there, I had to make sure that I didn't drool on the counter.  This is the kind of photo store that I remember from before digital became the driving force in camera sales.  One display case contained a number of well-crafted pinhole cameras from several companies. That may be the first time I have seen that in a camera store of any kind.  The used gear is usually sold on consignment, but it does some with a guarantee. Lots of different films for sale, including Polaroid. There was even short-dated film on sale, which I took advantage of, and I bought a bunch of Fomapan 100, Agfa APX 100, and some other oddball rolls of 35mm.

David Paulin
In talking with David Paulin, I found out that BMC is the sole place for your Minox film and developing.  If you are a subminiature shooter, you probably already know this.  They carry color and b&w emulsions loaded into Minox cassettes.  I should point out that all of the sales people dress professionally. The men had white shirts and ties.  In the photo here, BMC looks timeless as David Paulin stands at the counter, backed by shelves of film cameras.

While there, I also interviewed Bill Lee, a hobbyist photographer from Vancouver WA, which is just across the river from Portland.  Bill likes to use 120 film with older cameras, especially in 6x9 format.  We shared our experience with older cameras, and why we like to use them.  Bill especially likes to shoot city architecture, and the special look that the older cameras give the images is what makes them nostalgic as well as contemporary. Of course, he uses BMC to process his film.
Jim Hair with his 4x5 Graflex SLR!

Everyone that works at BMC is a photographer, and I have to say that I am quite envious that Portland has such a store.  When I stepped in, I felt that I was "with my people."  Furthermore, I like the way that they support and nurture film photography.  Sure, it is a niche business.  However, the way that film photography has been ascending in popularity is a sign that BMC will have continued success in what they are doing.

I greatly enjoyed my visit, and you can listen to the interviews on the Film Photography Podcast on Episode Number 206.  I thank Zeb Andrews for setting me up for the visit, and sorry that I missed him, as it was his day off.  Jake, Jim, and David were so very accommodating, and I thank them for their time and for the bag of BMC swag!  The Film Photography Podcast also received 3 gift certificates for developing and printing, which were given away at the August FPP Meetup in Findlay, OH.

Blue Moon Camera and Machine address: Blue Moon Camera, 8417 N. Lombard Street, Portland, OR 97203

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