Film photography lives with a young generation


Kevin Moriarty

(Missoula Current) Missoula’s only photography store, The Darkroom, opened in 1978 and offers used photo equipment spanning decades.

Current owner Michael Patterson bought the store in 2006, just before the economy crashed. He overcame the economic recession and his business is now booming, thanks in part to the resurgence of film photography.

Popular camera manufacturers Nikon and Canon released their last film cameras in the early 2000s. When photographers began to embrace digital technology, many never looked back to the film era. Digital offered major advancements to photographers, including instantaneous feedback of shots and the ability to store hundreds of shots at once on a memory card.

However, film photography has captured the hearts of a younger generation who have grown up with digital technology. “85% of my movie theater customers are under 30,” Paterson said.

It’s 2022, but Patterson said he’s been selling 5-6 cameras a week.

Film photography has exploded in popularity over the past few years and especially since the pandemic. The once dying art has made a comeback in today’s digital world with many users enjoying the analog experience that film photography offers.

Knowing that there are a very limited number of shots on a roll forces users to slow down and really think about what they are doing and when they are capturing.

“The downside of film is that it costs you for every frame. But on the other hand, it makes you think of them a little more,” Patterson said.

Another intriguing aspect of the film is not knowing what a photo will look like for several weeks until it is developed. The element of anticipation and surprise is another factor that has drawn some to film photography.

Patterson estimates that his store develops well over 150 rolls of film per week. Before the pandemic, that number was closer to 60.

“People were locked up. They have new hobbies. They got into other things,” Patterson said.

His store also saw an influx of used gear as people cleaned out their garages and storage rooms during the pandemic.

For Patterson, photography started out as a hobby and slowly turned into a lucrative hobby. Patterson photographed weddings and portraits for several years, all on film.

“Shooting a wedding on film was stressful because you didn’t know what you had until you developed the film,” he said.

Originally located on Third Street near the Good Food Store, the Darkroom has moved to several locations since opening, but now resides underground at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main St. downtown.

In addition to the wide selection of used cameras and lenses, the darkroom offers photo editing services, photo printing and will develop film.

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