The Negative Space – a Portrait of a Local Film Lab

By Joseph Irvin

The last decade and a half have been a rough time for people shooting film, watching Kodak in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, the discontinuation of favorite film stocks, rising prices, and the closing of film labs around the world.  For those shooting motion picture film and particularly small-gauge film, it’s been a bitter struggle.  Thankfully, we hit rock bottom, survived, and I think things are a lot healthier now than in the early-mid 2010s.  For those living in the USA there have been just a few places a budding filmmaker (or old pro) could send their small-gauge film for processing and scanning, most on the West Coast or the East Coast.  For someone living in the middle of the country in the state of Colorado it’s not an ideal situation but Denver’s local lab closed its doors about 5 years ago (and they never did Super 8 anyway).

A skilled film preservationist at work

Thankfully a digital scanning house started up not long after that called The Negative Space, run by one of the people from the old lab.  My current workflow has been to send all film to California for processing then shipped to The Negative Space for scanning, and I’ve been extremely happy with the results.  There-and-back shipping turnaround time isn’t the best in the world, though Negative Space has streamlined the process now by offering to send your film out for you if you ship it to them undeveloped.  I like the price and that helps a lot.  Dropping off/picking up two projects at the time, I was able to visit the great place and they were gracious enough to let me take pictures too.  Of course that gave me some time to talk shop with the owner Nicki Coyle and learn more about the operation.

Nicki reviewing 16mm footage from my new short film

The company is small but growing and I take it they have an increasing amount of business these last few years.  If you buy enough Criterion Collection DVDs or blu-rays (and read the technical notes they include) then you might have come across the company Lasergraphics at some point as it is one of a few that make high-end scanners for motion picture film.  That happens to be the scanner Negative Space operates and the results are fantastic.  If you’ve never seen a 4K (5K? 6.5K?) scan of Super 8 film you’re missing out: the format will surprise you!

Some not-too-well-stored home movies belonging to my boss’s dad

I had two projects at the time: a 16mm/Super 8 short film that I’d co-directed with a couple friends and some 8&16mm film shot by my boss’s dad around 50 years before.  I wouldn’t have been able to take pictures of screens or film footage if these weren’t my own projects.  Besides motion picture services, Negative Space will also scan 35mm still film on their Lasergraphics scanner.  I was able to get ~5000DPI scans from this roll of Tri-X and while I’m unused to such large files it gives me a lot of real estate with which to work.

A 100% crop of the above image

As you can see great time and care was spent cleaning up the old films and I shot quite a few exposures as that happened.  Nicki has worked a lot with museums and archives to help preserve old/damaged films.  It’s reassuring to know that your film is in experienced hands!

The old 16mm film had to be completely respliced
With a brand new leader

In the near future Negative Space will have their own full-service chemical processing lab up and running.  Once that is done I will no longer have to send my film outside of Colorado.  Next up for Negative Space is more still film services: ECN-2 developing and selling their own spooled 35mm motion picture film like Silbersalz, Midwest Film Co, and the old Seattle Film Works.  I’m looking forward to trying some Vision 3 films without the characteristic Cinestill halation.  Negative Space isn’t the only new lab/scanning house that’s started in the last few years but it’s certainly the closest to me and I’m proud to support them.  It’s a good feeling knowing that I’m a small part of the new film resurgence!

Technical note: all images were taken with the Nikon F2A and the 35mm f/1.4 AI’d Nikkor K-series lens.  Film used was Kodak Tri-X 400.
Labs: Denver Digital Imaging.  Scanned by The Negative Space using a Lasergraphics Stanstation 4K scanner, finished by myself using Affinity Photo.
You can find my the sum total of my work at The Resurrected Camera or for my photo project work, my Instagram: @thefamouspdog.

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About The Author

By Joseph Irvin
Joseph Irvin is a Colorado-based composer/photographer/filmmaker. He started shooting film after rescuing his grandpa's 35mm cameras from being neglected in a drawer. Since 2014 he has operated the photography blog The Resurrected Camera and is currently shooting a photo project documenting the Colorado tourism industry.
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Christof Rampitsch on The Negative Space – a Portrait of a Local Film Lab

Comment posted: 03/09/2023

This is totally awesome! Even though I don't shoot motion film ('just' b&w stills), I grew up with 8 mm home movies, later super 8 (in colour!) and it is an experience that I miss. It's too easy now, everything on an iPhone. Setting up a projector was an Event reserved for a weekend and we usually had to beg my dad to do it, since he had to do all the work - we just sat and watched our silent former serves on the screen. If I needed another hobby (I don't) this would be it.

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Gideon Liddiard on The Negative Space – a Portrait of a Local Film Lab

Comment posted: 04/09/2023

Excellent stuff, while I've never dabbled in cine, I appreciate the work required, and a business like this doing well is great to see.

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Joseph Irvin on The Negative Space – a Portrait of a Local Film Lab

Comment posted: 05/09/2023

Thanks for your thoughts guys! I'd love to see people write articles dealing with motion picture film here.

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