Community darkroom and analogue photography studio opens in Amherst as hobby grows – The Union Leader

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Cloudy skies. High 47F. Winds light and variable..
Cloudy skies with periods of light rain late. Low 34F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 60%.
Updated: November 14, 2021 @ 2:50 pm
Photo Retro in Amherst has two new darkrooms with enlargers. Customers can use them for $12 an hour. Owner Jason Lane, left, shows a visitor inside a darkroom.
Brooke Flanagan holding a portrait on black glass Ambrotype. Customers at Photo Retro in Amherst can pay for an Ambrotype of themselves with area photographers on hand to take their portraits.
Photo Retro in Amherst has two new darkrooms with enlargers. Customers can use them for $12 an hour.

Photo Retro in Amherst has two new darkrooms with enlargers. Customers can use them for $12 an hour. Owner Jason Lane, left, shows a visitor inside a darkroom.
Brooke Flanagan holding a portrait on black glass Ambrotype. Customers at Photo Retro in Amherst can pay for an Ambrotype of themselves with area photographers on hand to take their portraits.
Photo Retro in Amherst has two new darkrooms with enlargers. Customers can use them for $12 an hour.
AMHERST — Veteran photographers and hobbyists have a new place to develop film and old-time mediums from antique cameras. Primary owner Jason Lane of Brookline said Photo Retro, located in the rear of the retail strip mall at 141 Route 101A in Amherst, is also a place for enthusiasts to hang out and talk shop.
“It’s more of like a destination location,” Lane said.
The store celebrated a grand opening on Nov. 5 and through the weekend, welcoming longtime photographers, returning hobbyists and young amateurs looking to learn more about photography.
Johnathan Vail, a member of the Nashua makerspace MakeIt Labs, said he’s dusting off his old film cameras after years away from the hobby, and was playing with the idea of creating a darkroom in the makerspace before Photo Retro opened.
“I’m excited about this,” Vail said during his Nov. 6 visit.
Folks can elect to use the darkroom for $12 per hour, or become a member for $200 a year, which comes with a number of benefits, including nine free darkroom hours per calendar year.
Lane said the store has two dedicated darkrooms, each named after famous photographers — Robert Capa and Imogen Cunningham — with three enlargers per room to project negatives onto various size prints, and large sinks for developing.
He plans to set up a small gallery space to feature local photography.
In the back is a studio for taking portraits using old cameras. One of the rare novelties they offer are photos on black glass plates called Ambrotypes. Visitors can pay for prints or the original Ambrotype, which is a retro objet d’art and counter to the digital era of screens and copyable files, Lane said.
“What’s kind of cool about it is you get the actual thing that was in the camera that captured the picture, and it’s very unique,” Lane said.
The space will hold regular hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday to Sunday, with four regular area photographers on site, like longtime Nashua portrait artist Sid Ceaser.
“As the business grows and there’s more interest and stuff, we’ll expand the hours,” Lane said.
Ceaser said he remembers Cameraland in Nashua was a regular hangout spot for photographers to mingle and shop, but it closed about a decade ago.
“Since that closed, there hasn’t been that in the area,” Ceaser said.
Ceaser said he hopes Photo Retro will fill that role as a hub for people young and old who identify as members of the photography “tribe.”
Lane is also hosting workshops in black and white photography. For $100, a person can get two day-long courses.
The remainder of the space will be used for production of dry plate negatives for Lane’s pre-existing business Pictoriographica.
Lane’s wife, Kelly Lane, and New Boston-based mechanical engineer Max Afleck are partners in the business. He spent roughly $10,000 setting up the new space, mostly dipping into his dry plate production budget and a credit card. Most of the enlarger equipment was donated.
“Photo Retro sort of came out of the fact that I needed to expand the dry plate making business out of my basement,” Lane said.
Lane, who is a high-tech lens designer for Elbit Systems of America in Merrimack, founded Pictoriographica in 2017, making old-fashioned dry plate negatives in his basement with the help of neighborhood high-schoolers. About a year into the business, Afleck joined as a partner.
In 2018, they raised over $41,000 on Kickstarter to produce plastic holders for the glass plates, with a new injection molding system. The dry plate products are available on sale at the shop as well.
The niche business has been growing about 40% each year, and they ship products all over the world, Lane said. This year’s revenues are around $130,000 to $150,000, with profit being about 5-10% of that.
“The profit margins are real narrow,” Lane said.
Lane has found strong demand for old photographic media that have been out of large-scale production for decades as interest in the analogue photography hobby steadily increases, and the major companies remain more invested in digital photography.
Eventually, Lane hopes to expand to a larger production space and branch out into discontinued films from the mid-20th century like orthochromatic and non-curling films. Lane said he sees demand growing in those sectors and plenty of untouched market share since major companies are struggling to keep up with demand.
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