It is time to have a look at the progress of the Camera Rescue project again, even if we missed the official time of the year we usually do it and it is now 18 months since the last anniversary celebration. And even when most of the future plans outlined in the 5 years celebration article never actually happened. We failed at quite many things in 2022, but succeeded in quite a few that we didn't even see coming back then. There are a lot of positives, but...
Let's start with the bad so we can truly appreciate the good at the end. The last 12 months was a breaking point for the Camera Rescue project financially. Since 2016 the main source of funding for the project has been some software we made to empower circular economy webshops in different fields (not just cameras). However, in early 2022 we decided to shut down the software as the knowhow to run it was needed elsewhere.
So basically we were left without funding.
We managed to finalize the technician class of 2022 and do a round of three fairs around Europe (photo above from The photography show in the UK) without full time staff working on the project, but after that, in autumn 2022, we were officially out of money for the project. T-shirt sales and Outlet drops did not keep us afloat either. You might be wondering, doesn't running a school generate income? Well, it would if the school would actually cost something - but in Finland all studies at all levels are free. So, naturally we don't feel comfortable with making the quite rudimentary technician school cost something. Au contraire, actually Kamerastore.com sponsors the international students of the school to be able to come to study and covers the costs of the teachers and materials. At the same time as the Camera Rescue project was struggling, Kamerastore grew very fast, with many students from the technician school of 2021 and 2022 graduating and getting hired. We could obviously ask for funding for the project from Kamerastore - but that would mean they could hire one fewer student or it would be off from the sponsorships of the international students. At the moment, those two causes seem more important than keeping the rescue project having full time staff.
So instead we have aimed to do the Camera Rescue project on the side of our jobs - as basically volunteer work for most of the year now. One could say that the Camera Rescue project has become a missional hobby for Kamerastore staff. Also the boundaries between the two have become fuzzy after corona hit and we ended up working with only each other for two years - but maybe that doesn't matter. Results matter:
The results of 2021-2022 That being said, a lot of things still got done to promote cameras not becoming trash as a result of unawareness amongst the public at large and to preserve film camera repair knowledge and material here are the highlights:
Technician classes of 21 and 22
Even through the pandemic we managed to arrange two full 8 people classes for camera technicians. We had everything from Masters of Science in Technology to silversmiths to paper factory machinists to musicians in the classes. In 2022 we even managed to include four international students to the classes once the travel restrictions had passed.
We learned a lot about running a self-sustaining technical school. We learned which aspects can be taught and which can't. We learned how hard teaching can be, how much emotional effort it all takes from all the people involved and how attitude matters most. It was honestly much more complex than I had imagined.
The first class was 4 months and the second 6 months. During both classes, the people in the technician area doubled, making the whole space one big classroom with employees and students mixed. There was always someone learning and teaching something. And before your head goes into daydreams about gears and levers, most of the learning in the technician class is not about that. Most of the learning happens around understanding the vastness of the camera world. Our database now contains over 20 000 different kinds of items that have passed through in just the last few years. I bet that even if you are in love with your Brand X model Y camera, every now and then you would still be surprised by a new accessory or lens that you didn't know existed for that camera. Now take that type of surprise and multiply it by the at least 2000 different camera models that are still very much in active circulation and used by the analog community worldwide. That is what most of the learning is about - the diversity of models and how we deal with that. That knowhow is the bread and butter of a camera technician and teaching that in a way that actually sticks, is not actually possible in 6 months. Some of the students got very far (and some had good understanding already when they arrived), but it still doesn't beat the experience of handling cameras in the tens of thousands. Just to prove it, here is a rather silly video of blindfolded camera recognition, where even the most hardcore hobbyist (Nico at the time) was in a bit of a different position than us with years of experience handling different models.
Furthermore, the end goal of training more cameramakers (mechanics that actually repair cameras) found a good way to move forward - when the class of 2022 entered the technician force two of the technicians from the class of 2021 were able to start to work full time on repairs. In the instagram post above, Lauri from the class of 2021 just finished his first Mamiya RB67 full rehaul as the class of 2022 entering the technician team gave him more time to learn repairs. As many will be undoubtedly searching for the answer: we still aim to do a technician class for 2023, but it will be later this year than previous years and most likely smaller too. Bases in Europe
In 2021 and 2022 we tried to set up a Camera Rescue base both in Paris and Barcelona. We were graciously hosted by Nation Photo in France for 8 months and Carmencita in Spain for 3 months. The French base was run by Alex (a beta tester for the technician class interning in 2020) and the second by Heidi (a student from the first 2021 technician class - pictured below with Toni starting to test the first camera that walked in to Barcelona). Both proved that our technician training can truly teach people to be self sustaining camera technicians, even when deployed far from the help of our main knowhow base in Finland.
Sadly it also proved that the cameras in the aforementioned locations were of a way too low quality for commercial sustainability. When in the Nordics 20 - 40% of cameras brought to us need only technician level attention (are sellable with less than 1 hour of work), in Southern Europe the percentage is from 5 to 15%. That coupled with the higher cost of rent and logistics also made the outpost model of Camera Rescue financially unsustainable.
Setting up the bases outside of Finland was, however, very good for understanding more of the challenge facing the future of film cameras - there is an even bigger need for repair knowhow in the decades to come than our Nordic camera quality would have led us to believe. Also it proved how good people and partners we have met through our efforts, are.
Fairs in Europe
We also visited the four biggest photography fairs of the year as a kind of farewell tour. Most of these were already booked & paid before Corona and Brexit and were planned in our 2020 Euro Tour. The stops included The Photography Show in the UK, Salon de la Photo in France, Photopia Hamburg in Germany and Fotomässan in Stockholm. The costs to attend all of them was above 20 000€ which drained the budgets of 2021 and 2022 too. The idea was originally that having an Outlet section in the fairs would have covered most of the costs - but once Brexit hit the UK, we could not realistically bring a ton of random cameras in and out of the country without a massive (and expensive) customs headache. So we did the tour in 2022, but got none of the expected sales returns. It was fun though! Meeting a lot of you face to face and just chatting and figuring things out about the industry and the local communities. Driving the Cambulance 4000km is always enjoyable.
Santacolor film in 2022 The war in Ukraine comes very close to us in Finland as our grandparents still remember the last time Moscow tried to pull off a special operation that was supposed to be over in weeks. When the same happened in Ukraine, three generations later, we had to act somehow. The old Santa RAE 1000 and 125 black and white films were of Russian origin and mostly hand-spooled in Russia (by good people from the analog community with nothing to do with this war). Despite the BW Santa stocks also being a source of financing for the CR project - and we had over 30 000€ worth of it in stock - we decided that that money shouldn't be ours to keep anymore. In a few weeks, 20 000€ of the stock had sold worldwide and, with all the revenue from the donated to help with the refugees escaping Ukraine. But that wasn't the end of the Santa film story. We had 20 000 empty film canisters and heard news that there was another film stock in town that could be put into those little film canisters. A color stock rich in reds and greens, just like Santa would like it. This time it came from America. To see if Santas color stock would be the gift that the analog community wanted for 2022, we did a crowdfunding. 1500 of you guys pitched in and a bit over 15 000 rolls of film were sold. We decided to spool 25 000. Those were also sold and now in 2023 another 25 000 rolls will be spooled before summer.
Finland is not the cheapest country in the world to hand spool film. In fact, labor here is quite a bit more expensive than most of the world. This time it doesn't actually matter though - it is actually partly the whole idea behind the Santacolor project.
There were two big motivators to get Santacolor out. First, the obvious and public one - it is a whole new film stock for the analog community to enjoy. Secondly, the one we didn't tell anyone about until now - we planned the whole project so we could employ some of the Ukrainian refugee ladies in town. We don't really care if this film makes no profit as long as it creates jobs for those who could really use one right now. Now that the spooling over and we have had feedback from the great women we employed on the project, we are happy to say it was very well received.
While publicly a Santa Film project, the crowdfunding, organisation around manufacturing and spooling process was managed by the VALOI team, mostly by Arild - slowing their own R&D and development while working on this, so a public kudos is well deserved!
We stopped counting
In 2021, just before our 5 year anniversary, we achieved our initial founding goal of rescuing 100 000 cameras. Starting off we had expected it to happen with a global movement of the analog industry and community working together, something the project would just facilitate with online tools. However, in the five years we noticed that the bulk of the camera shops and repair personnel in the world were either too busy, too small, only local or just unmotivated in working together with a global perspective in mind. After inviting many of them to come over to meet us, let's just say that the results were surprising. Some claimed to have years of experience in repairs and once they came to us they asked “What is that?” when they saw a shutter speed testing machine. Others used the visits as holidays to be mostly drunk. One walked in and on the first day demanded to be taught Leica repairs of a complexity that even the Leica factory doesn't do anymore.
We have also had good experiences and partnerships, but out of the dozens of attempts to work with “repair professionals” globally, way too many have ended in disappointment. For an eternal optimist and a person that trusts people at their word, this has, at times, been a bit too much.
At the same time when I have lost track of how many times there has been a challenge trying to unite people/companies globally, we have also had to stop counting in Finland. After 100 000 cameras we had no official counters on the camera rescue front page - my best estimate at the moment is that we would be somewhere around 170 000 cameras.
In short - if we would actually look at just the results in terms of numbers - the one doing most of the camera rescuing is not the project's fruits globally, but Kamerastore and Cameramakers teams here in Finland.
Is there a way forward? Can enough film cameras be rescued for next generations?
The camera rescue project's goal has always been to rescue enough film cameras for future generations to use. Our yearly recap articles mostly go through ways we have failed at trying to do this. Yet it is not the whole truth.
Firstly, I know from feedback that we have actually inspired a lot of people to go for it. Enthusiasts scouring flea markets, solo entrepreneur driven shops popping up around the world and even some of the big players of the market opening analog photography related ventures because of our actions. Just to be clear - the film photography revival has nothing to do with us, and we cannot take any credit for that. We just have planted some seeds of “Hey, remember that we will need rescue cameras too in order to keep them around” into peoples minds that are already excited about film.
Secondly, we are learning and getting ready for the future all the time. We were a team of eight people here in Finland six years ago - now we are 35. This growth can now already promise the Finnish film photography community that there are enough cameras and know-how for there to be a future extending into the 2040s. In a few years we can make that promise to the Nordics and maybe one day to the whole of Europe. Thirdly - The news of new cameras arriving to the market has surfaced in 2022. Not only is there a seemingly endless amount of plastic reusable disposable cameras being launched this year, but also a “new” Leica and promises of three new Pentax film cameras, as well as hints from MiNT camera. Particularly the Pentax announcement was a huge surprise - we were expecting new film cameras to enter the market by the end of the decade - but not by one of the prominent Japanese brands. In some ways, that announcement already fulfills the dreams this project was founded on.
So what will the project do in 2023?
Every year the need for the project's core mission has become more apparent as it is more and more clear that film is here to stay. Every year, there are also more people around the world doing camera rescuing by themselves. Is there a need for the project's original strategy anymore? Is there a need for trying to globally unite - when almost everything we have tried in that realm has failed? Probably not. Result wise it would be just smarter to double down on what works in Finland and keep the actions of Camera Rescue focused only on two things:
Hosting a location where learning can happen (Technician school and internships)
Still making more noise about the central mission of rescuing film cameras from oblivion to the larger public (YouTube and Instagram).
These two tasks we should be able to manage without any full time staff working on the CR project. This would mean no fair tours, bases around Europe or tests into creating apps for the community. I think we can all live without those just fine. It will also mean the project stops buying cameras from individuals (you can still sell to Kamerastore though) and only focuses on helping with old repair shops or crazy sized things like the 1728 new in box cameras we found a few years ago.
What I still dream we could do - is get up to speed creating online content. This has been a goal for years - but the truth is that good enough quality content is very time consuming. And time we seem to constantly lack - or I guess alternatively we lack money. For example this great material was made by Linus - an intern that came in the summer of 2020 - but even though it looks simple it took him a week of fulltime work.
Especially editing and finalizing videos properly takes time and if we find any new funds for the project - we probably should use them to have an editor work on material that we record. We have had 10 recorded videos sitting waiting for some time to edit them since the summer of 2020. Setting up a Patreon or such donation schemes are actually illegal in Finland for a company, so we can´t do that, but a simple way to gather something is if you use this link while shopping on Kamerastore.com. It allocates 10% from the value of your purchase to the CR video creation budget!
And that is it for the sixth year of Camera Rescue. A lot of smaller things happened - but this write up is long enough already. As you can see - we enter the year 2023 with a lot more questions than ever before - but mostly they are practical strategic questions of how to allocate our now much more limited resources. In the big scope of things the film camera world has transformed completely in six years and so many good things have happened. So many people around the world have started to both rescue forgotten cameras around them - and to understand that the condition (and therefore value) of film cameras varies greatly.
It is a time to rejoice for the camera rescue mission - it is stronger than ever before.