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Film is Not Dead in the Queen City

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway(CCLEX) Photo by yours truly | Minolta X-700 with Agfa APX 400

I started my film photography in 2019 in Singapore. Unlike in the Philippines, where film seemed to only flourish in Manila almost all film labs and shops that I know of are in the metro in Singapore, I can just go to the local lab, buy film and get my rolls processed within the day.

When I left Singapore last year, one of the things that I always thought about was, "How am I gonna continue shooting analog back home?" I didn't know of any film processing lab in Cebu at that time and with the rising cost of film, sending rolls to Manila just to be processed was too expensive. I stored my cameras for a few months until my friend discovered a photography shop in the city that processes film. Ha! Imagine my excitement. I finished a roll of Superia XTRA 400 in record time. The feeling that I always get when I finish a roll and wait for my negatives and scans never gets old.

Around the same time, I got invited to join Film for Newbs Cebu (FFNC), a film photography group in Facebook based in Cebu. I was surprised. I didn't know film thrived in Cebu. Finally, a group of active film shooters in my place. I was beyond happy. I got to chat with a few members about how they got into film photography.

A photo during FFNC's group photo walk around Cebu City

I asked Keith Matugas, one of the admins of FFNC, how the group came to be. It started as a group consisting of close friends she introduced to or met through film photography. Being a beginner herself, Keith envisioned a very welcoming group accommodating beginners in film, particularly in Cebu. And in a span of 4 months, FFNC grew to 400+ members with very little to no effort in promoting the group. The Cebuano film community basically just found its way to each other.

Photo by Keith Matugas | Yashica M with Fujicolor C200 (expired 2017)

Croix Gimena, a member of FFNC, has always been a fan of the "film look" since high school. He often saw these photos on Tumblr and Instagram. Back then, he had no idea those photos were film photos. It was just that the photos gave a different vibe than the digital photos we see today. His discovery of Geloy Concepcion's Instagram sparked his interest in finally diving into film photography. And 3 months ago, he finally bought his very first film camera, a Ricoh KR-5 Super II. Croix said it was the best decision he's made so far this year, and because of that, he met new people with the same interest, especially in FFNC. For Croix, doing film is his own kind of catharsis.

Photo by Croix Gimena | Ricoh KR-5 Super II with Ilford HP5+

One of the things that make people hesitant to try film photography in Cebu is the lack of labs and film sellers. A few labs in the past had to close down, and most of them would send their rolls to Manila for processing. The processing cost (develop and scan) and shipping fees make film photography very impractical to Cebuanos. Factor in the waiting time (some labs make you wait for 2 weeks plus shipping delays of about a week). Films are usually bought online, too, as there are minimal stocks in the city. Film photography is not cheap, especially if you are from Cebu.

This made Sir Max La Magna, an Italian living in Cebu, open his own darkroom lab, MaxLab. Shooting film since 1995, Sir Max had solo exhibitions in Italy and has worked with Italian magazines. He also taught photography and darkroom in schools there. He initially opened a lab because he found it hard to have his films developed and printed in Cebu. He decided to open his doors to the local community with the hope of keeping the art of silver film photography alive not just in Cebu but in the Philippines. He wishes to do seminars and one-on-one analog photography and darkroom courses in the future (hopefully after the pandemic).

Sir Max La Magna in his darkroom at MaxLab

Jonathan Kim Canoy started his film journey in February 2020; just a few weeks shy before the country was put on lockdown. His first camera was a Minolta XG-SE. While starting to learn how to shoot film, he also started to explore its depth. He eventually decided to develop his own rolls during his first few months of shooting film. Developing his own rolls, according to Kim, made him realize that film photography is what he wanted to do with his life. He aims to be in a band and play music, but “Film Magic” is the main reason he is also pursuing this unsung passion. And like Sir Max, he opened his doors to fellow film shooters in Cebu. He also does photo shoots featuring local bands in the city. With film, of course.

Photo by Jonathan Kim Canoy | Canon AE-1 Program with Fujicolor C200

Sir Max and Jonathan inspired me to develop my own rolls. I already got my equipment and chemicals. I guess it's high time I start developing my film, too.

FFNC already had two photo walks around Cebu City, with more to come. We constantly talk about film photography, gear, how-to's, and everything to know about film photography. We have barely scratched the surface of this wonderful medium. Knowing there's a film community in Cebu that's very supportive and open, I know that film photography is very much alive and will keep thriving in the Queen City of the South for many years to come.

Sir Max La Magna showing us personal prints from MaxLab.
FFNC members brought various film cameras during our first group photo walk.

Whether you're from Cebu or not, and you want to learn or explore the wonders of film photography, join us on Facebook! Search for Film for Newbs Cebu, and we'll gladly welcome you with open arms.

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