We are incredibly excited to introduce our guest and friend on the blog today, Stephen Frizza! With 22 years of experience in the film industry, Stephen is a passionate and seasoned darkroom technician, and the co-founder of Sydney's Rewind Photo Lab.
With Sydney's COVID restrictions easing, we had the great pleasure of interviewing and photographing Stephen, discussing his life behind the darkroom and beyond. Read on below for an interview full of interesting stories and Stephen's insights from the past and of the future, you'll even catch a glimpse of Stephen's first ever photograph taken (at 7 years old!). Without further ado, let's get into it!
Who is Stephen Frizza?
I am a 37 year old Sydney based Darkroom Technician with 22 years of Industry Experience behind me.
Are you originally from Sydney? Where else have you lived?
I was born and raised in Sydney, spending my younger years between the north shore and central coast. I spent my early adult years living in Sydney's eastern suburbs.
How did your journey of becoming a Darkroom Technician begin? What were your first interactions with film processing and what drew you to it?
I was given my first ever camera for my 7th Birthday and encouraged by my mother who is very keen on photography.
During high school, Photography was offered as a subject and I found myself excelling at it. Heavily encouraged by a very good teacher with genuine passion for the medium I was encouraged and given access to the school darkroom outside of school hours. I experimented heavily with many processes and techniques and found time would elude me in the darkroom.
Stephen's first photo taken at 7 years old.
You have worked extensively in the analog industry in Sydney, can you tell us briefly about your work experiences? What are some of the main industry changes you have witnessed in the past two decades?
While I was doing my Diploma in Commercial Photography and Photography in Science Applications I started my career working for Australia's leading Mini lab called Platinum Imaging. It gave me a footing into the industry and was located close to the Australian Centre For Photography which together became a hub for many photographers and enthusiasts.
I went on to study Fine Art Photography and when my education finished I left Platinum Imaging to join Photo Technica. As one of the youngest staff in Australia's Leading Professional Photo Lab, surrounded by some of the best technicians in the world, I became a sponge for learning the craft. I made it a personal mission to absorb as much information and skills as I could from the masters who came before me. By 2005, digital photography began to threaten the old ways in the photographic Industry. In Australia I watched on as over 300 photo labs closed their doors.
I began to be called nicknames like "A swordsman in the age of firearms". I watched on as Kodak, Polaroid, Ilford, AGFA, Konica and many others fell into bankruptcy. I experienced the death of Kodachrome, Colour Infrared film, Cibachrome and hundreds more exotic photographic products relegated to history.
It has been heartbreaking seeing great darkrooms literally razed the ground and great technicians retire or pass away, but on a brighter note I have survived long enough to see the rebirth of materials such as Kodak T-max 3200, Kodak reintroduce Slide film, Ilford to launch new product lines with Ilford Ortho 80 and Fuji with Acros II. I see a bright future with a young generation greatly appreciating the tactility of film photography and I hope I have been a part in creating that and to help nourish its continuing growth.Photograph by Frederick M.
Tell us about Rewind Photo Lab! How did the lab begin, who is the team behind it and how has your business adapted to the changing market, especially now with COVID-19?
Rewind Photo Lab was Founded by Paul Trujilo and myself in 2016. Together we saw a need in the industry as many photographic labs had closed and services were becoming slow, expensive and inaccessible. Rewind was built to provide a high quality, fast and affordable photographic service to the community. It is a huge goal of ours to keep alive the medium of film photography and introduce new services to the community. Over the past 3 years I have seen a huge resurgence in film photography and the staff at Rewind have been big players in that.
Covid-19 has been a huge challenge not just for Rewind but the entire community. Many higher budget projects with local and international fine art exhibitions have been placed on hold, Big Clients in the magazine industry have ceased Publication and professional photographers with international campaigns have had those projects scrapped. Rewind is very thankful for the huge amount of support it has seen as we navigate these challenging times. The photographic community will get through this and a bright future lies ahead.
Rewind Photo Lab; Glebe, Sydney.
What has been your proudest accomplishment/s so far in your career?
It might sound like a joke, but the fact I'm still here! I have endured trial by fire! A lot of people especially during the most turbulent years of the GFC 2008-2010 had heavy doubts about myself. Many not only wanted to see me fail but went out of their way to set me up for it. In hindsight as damaging as those days were I look back on those dark times and feel they only made me stronger. I'm proud to say when times were tough I never abandoned analog photography. I have not merely talked the talk, but walked the walk and proved my place in the industry.
Do you also take photos? How do you find your experience and knowledge as a lab technician influence your photography?
I do take photographs but there is no set theme or style to my work. Almost all of my photography is experimentation and testing of available analog products so that I can advise professional photographers how different products will perform for them. In this way I guess being a lab technician has strongly influenced my work.
Shot on Kodak EIR Color infrared film; Stephen Frizza
What is your favourite camera/medium and film to shoot on?
Bronica ETRSi with E135W back. The Bronica systems are so underrated, easy to use and still very well priced considering what they do.
My favourite film for general shooting of colour is Portra 400 and for Black and white is Astrum 100, 200 and 400.
I understand you also collect film photographs by others, How did that begin? And can you share with us a favourite from your collection?
I began collecting film photographs after a tragedy that occurred in the early 2000's. A deceased Australian fashion photographer from the 1950's ,60's and 70's had his entire life work of black and white fashion images sold off for a few dollars. The buyer was a company that wasn't interested in the photographs, they were after the silver the film contained.
They put his life works in a bath of bleach and erased an entire life of work and an interesting historical record of Australia's fashion.
I later learned of another man in the USA called John Rogers who was acquiring large archives of photographs from ailing newspapers. The arrangement was that he would take the archives and digitise them then take a small portion of royalties as newspapers sold the images in the future. John and his company could not possibly scan the number of images he received and archives were mistreated, mixed together and Illegally sold off. The company was investigated by the FBI and John was sentenced to prison. As a result certain archives were sold off and I felt a compulsion to buy what I could to save them. I then began hunting for other important works that have their future at risk and look to preserve these endangered images.
My favourite is this portrait of a boy from the Solomon Islands, shot in 1920 on glass plate the title of the image is listed "The missing link" ...it was on sale for $10 and if not bought destined for landfill. This simple portrait of a boy from 100 years ago has always captured my imagination as to who he was and what his life was like.
"The Missing Link", 1920.
What does a typical day in your life look nowadays? What part of the day do you look forward to the most?
A typical day for me is at least 14 hours of work with an extra few hours of photography research during the evening, I generally spend about 16 hours a day 6 days a week focused on photography. the other hours I sleep. On the 7th day I fit in a bit of photography and take care of non photographic / work related interests. I have held this schedule since 2003.
The thing I look forward to the most each day is the photo that makes me think "Wow" and the new photographic thing I learn each day.
Apart from your work, what else brings you joy?
I love the arts. Especially ceramics ,cinema and painting.
The chance to get out on a weekend road trip and explore new places.
A good meal with friends or interesting company.
Photograph by Frederick M.
Where do you find your source of inspiration?
From a deep desire...Possibly obsession to make analog photography a medium more and more young people wish to explore and keep the magic of it alive.
I am also very inspired by an older generation who paved the way for myself. The experiences they have had and the skills they have learned.
I could live two lifetimes and still not learn all there is to know. it's endless. On another note I think photography is a very important and special medium, that we take a moment to record the things that matter to us and share those images with others. It allows us to remember where we came from, and share who we are and what matters to us.
Where do you see the future of analog photography heading? What are your long term goals with Rewind Photo Lab?
I once read an article from 1938 on Kodachrome announcing that with the invention of this colour film will be the death of Black and white Film within a few years. 82 years later I find myself still processing hundreds of rolls of Black and white film a day. There has always been fear mongering but the industry endures.
I firmly believe in a bright future for analog for those who seek it. Rewind is here to help keep film photography alive and well and support and give back to the photographic community. We hope to bring many new services in the future expanding upon photographers choices and ideas in their photographic journey.
Photograph by Frederick M.
If you were not a photographic lab technician, what career would you be in now?
In a fantasy life I would have been a Ceramicist, I have a huge passion for it and the work of Josiah Wedgwood, Josiah Spoke and John Dwight.
Connect With Stephen!
You can follow Stephen on Instagram @stephenfrizza.
Drop by Rewind Photo Lab!
Rewind is a photo lab in Sydney, specializing in film processing, scanning and professional printing.
Address: Shop 5/2-12 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe NSW 2037
Special Thanks To
Innkeeper Studios for providing a beautiful studio space for us to photograph Stephen in! Find them online here: https://www.innkeeperstudios.com/. You can also read our past interview with the founder of Innkeeper, Daniel Francisco Robles, here!