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Burlington's Light-Works Lays Film Processing to Rest 

State of the Arts

click to enlarge MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen

Put away your old-school cameras with that reassuring click, click, click sound - it's the end of the darkroom era. After 30 years of business, Burlington's Light-Works, Inc. has closed down its film stock processing operation due to the abundance and ease of digital technology available to photographers. The studio will continue to process digital work for consumers and business clients.

To commemorate what he dubbed "The End of Film," Light-Works founder Marty Feldman and his staff decided to throw a funeral last Thursday night. Attended by a smattering of Vermont photographers, former employees and others wanting to pay their respects, the funeral was intentionally conceived as a morbid affair. "Black optional," read an email invitation. Hors d'oeuvres were served on tables previously reserved for processing equipment, and drinks could be obtained from Porta-Mix bins filled with ice. Fujifilm QuickLoad sleeves - which simplify the loading of now-prehistoric 4x5 film into cameras - were used as koozies for the mourners' beers and sodas, in keeping with Light-Works' environment-friendly business approach.

Upstairs in the studio's viewing room, a small casket sat on a table surrounded by gravestones, drying racks for filmstrips and an 8x10 view camera, which was given away at the end of the festivities to be used as "a door stop or a planter." This dimly lit space served as the funeral parlor and final resting place for the darkroom process at Light-Works. Guests were invited to inscribe a personal epitaph to film on clear filmstrips and place their canisters into the coffin. Light-Works plans on turning these messages into a shrine that will be displayed at this year's South End Art Hop in September.

According to Feldman, the overwhelming cause of the film shutdown at Light-Works is the lack of business from professional photographers and artists seeking to make slides from film. He says many will be troubled by the end of traditional processing, although digital has definite advantages over film, and customers for the latter were few and far between.

"One of the biggest problems that we're going to start to see [concerns] artists who paint and draw who need to have their work converted to photographic slides for jury," says Feldman. "We've been doing that for years, [but] now we can't do that anymore because we have nowhere to process the slides in a closed, high-quality environment."

Although the loss of business is a crucial factor, Lindsay Raymondjack, Light-Works' current production coordinator, said at the event that over her three-year tenure at the studio, she personally had only two filmstrips developed. "It's definitely bittersweet," she added. "I've always thought that film has a soul and digital photography lacked that quality."

This melancholy sentiment was echoed by Shelburne photographer Jim Westphalen, who brought his film to Light-Works for more than 13 years. "[Digital photography] still cannot perform like film," he said. "There's a subtlety of tone that you cannot capture digitally." However, Westphalen acknowledged the importance of moving with photography's technological advances, saying, "The choice is either embrace it all or find a new career."

By the end of the proceedings, everyone had shared some memories and some drinks, and said goodbye to an old friend and an outdated process. Overall, Feldman is pleased with how the somewhat somber night turned out.

"We just felt like we wanted to have a gathering for people who for years and years and years were connected to us," says Feldman. "We were a part of their world, part of their business, part of their life, and we wanted to celebrate what it all meant to us."

Film processing, R.I.P.

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