We check in on Toronto's preeminent digital-photography darkroom to see how they've stayed ahead of the curve in an ever-evolving industry.
While working as a photographer in New York City around the turn of millennium, André Souroujon noted a lack of professional-quality printing services positioned to take advantage of the emerging dominance of digital technology. “I’ve been a photographer for many years. I was a commercial photographer in Toronto and then I moved to New York for about six years doing editorial photography—everything from Fortune Magazine to The Village Voice,” he recalls, “And then I decided when the whole digital wave was coming that there wasn’t really anything dedicated to digital photography—the future lab, so to say.”
Moving back to Toronto, Souroujon opened Pikto (55 Mill) in Toronto’s Distillery District in 2003, offering everything from printing services and workshops on fashion photography to digital-darkroom and studio rentals. While Pikto is focussed very much on the digital aspect of photography—”most of the professionals have moved to digital; actually, just about all of them,” he says—that doesn’t mean film has completely vanished.
“We do printing and scanning and we do process black-and-white as well,” says Souroujon. “But there are big issues with processing, because the machines are not meant to run a few rolls; they’re meant to run a lot of rolls in bulk. That’s why we stopped doing C-41 [colour negative film] about a year and a half ago.”
The people who are still taking advantage of film tend to fall into one of two groups, say Souroujon. “There’s some people that are maybe starting—some students or younger people that want to experiment who have never tried film,” he says. “And definitely there’s fine-arts and portrait photographers who are still hanging on to their film. I think it’ll always be there for certain people. It has a certain magic to it. But I don’t see a lot people doing 100 per cent of their work on film—it’s going to be more and more rare to find people doing that.”
Souroujon believes the reason some people are still drawn to film isn’t so much the way it looks—which he thinks can be largely emulated digitally at this point—but the idea of producing a tangible object. “That’s maybe what people kind of miss these days: the end product. It becomes a real object,” he says. “A lot of the printing we do is chromogenic prints, which are basicallysilver halide prints. So even though it’s digital, it’s still very much in the tradition of photographic prints.”
This is further reflected in the way even the casual photographer chooses to print select images. “It’s become different now,” says Souroujon. “Instead of printing thousands of prints a year, like you used to with film, what they’re doing now is, if they really like an image, they want to put it on their wall or give it as a gift. There’s all sorts of new things you can do, including canvas wraps and plexi mounts, and you can do photo books as well. With our photobook software, you can actually connect and make an Instagram photobook. It’s really for when you have a special image and the screen doesn’t give you that feel. The end product of photography is still some sort of object.”
With CONTACT in full swing this month, an especially busy period for Pikto’s lab and digital darkroom has come to an end, but the in-store gallery is still operating at full tilt. “There’s about 500 shows around the city [during CONTACT], and we print a lot of them and frame a lot of them, so it gets extremely busy in March and April,” says Souroujon. “Then May tends to be more people coming to the gallery rather than producing work.”
Pikto’s gallery—currently displaying Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s “A Co-existence: Lost in the Wake of Zionism”—is an essential component of the business for Souroujon. “The gallery is where photography is meant to be. It’s all about the art of photography and the emotion of photography.
“So, to just do products and services was one thing, but we wanted to also feature photographers. We’ve seen a lot of photographers develop their careers going through Pikto, and it’s one of the most rewarding things that we do, for sure.”