Born in the closet of a Parisian apartment, this DIY film company has been exploring the possibilities of analogue processes from the beginning and they have no intention of slowing down.
Texts by Hudson Brown
The rest of the photographic world might have been discussing whether film could survive the arrival of digital photography, but Frenchman Lomig Perrotin wasn’t listening as he was busy making DIY film in the closet of his Parisian apartment. That tiny space housed the beginnings of what has become the world’s smallest film company, Film Washi. Perrotin has long been familiar with the darkroom, having observed his amateur photographer father working with an enlarger beneath the safelight many times. This sense of self-learning never left Lomig as he has always preferred the contemplative nature of film photography compared to the modern opportunities of the digital landscape.
“Made from the inner bark of trees and shrubs like Gampi and Kozo, this strong and transparent material is the basis for Film Washi’s range of ghostly paper negatives.”
Inspired by the use of paper negatives by photography pioneers such as Henry Fox-Talbot and George Eastman, Perrotin had initially worked on a cliché-verre series – the act of drawing or etching on top of photographic negatives – but soon discovered that creating a roll of film that replicated this process was what actually fascinated him. First experimenting with tracing paper and common plastic to less than desirable results, Perrotin eventually came across washi. This fibrous paper material was originally popularised in Japan hundreds of years ago and has since become commonly used in arts and crafts like origami and watercolour painting. Made from the inner bark of trees and shrubs like Gampi and Kozo, this strong and transparent material is the basis for Film Washi’s range of ghostly paper negatives.
Despite selling more than 25,000 rolls since Film Washi’s beginnings in 2013, Perrotin doesn’t see the appeal in growing unnecessarily. And while he’s expanded from his closet into a much larger space in Saint-Nazaire on the west coast of France, his aspirations are only to continue supporting the analog film community.
IMAGES—PetaPixel. Shot on Film Washi V 100 ISO, Panchromatic film on Gampi paper
“Eventually, the company will have to be a little bigger so I could realise all the projects I have in mind, but I don’t think it will ever compete with other film manufacturers,” explains Perrotin. “The only ambition I have is being able to keep making my films for the analogue photography community. I consider staying small enough to adapt to whatever hits the market to be a key part of this goal.”
Since Perrotin’s creation of Film Washi’s original film, the brand has since expanded to include a variety of handcrafted and specialist film conversions from stock that was often intended for industrial or non-photographic use. Coming in film formats such as 120, 135and various sheet-film sizes, many of these have been created from products that were originally intended, including motion picture soundtracks, automatic machines, military surveillance and even X-ray machines.
“The film photography industry is notoriously wasteful, but since the launch of Film Washi, the sustainability of the company has been one of Perrotin’s main concerns.”
“These films can still be photographic even if they were meant to be used for X-rays or sound, but of course if you shoot it in a camera you will have some special effects – that is precisely what interested me,” describes Perrotin. “I wanted to hack these films stocks from their original purpose and bring it to the customers to offer them an aesthetic effect that they cannot achieve with classic brands.”
The film photography industry is notoriously wasteful, but since the launch of Film Washi, the sustainability of the company has been one of Perrotin’s main concerns.Producing and packaging his film using recycled materials, many of his tools, such as the 120 rollers, 135-cartridge loader and IR glasses, are also made from environmentally-conscious resources.
“Recycling has been in the DNA of Film Washi since the very beginning – simply because there was no other way to produce these films,” says Perrotin, explaining that he even had to construct his own spooling machine in order to effectively make the most of the recycled 135 film cartridges.
Perrotin evidently wants the best for analog photography, but he doesn’t mind at all that digital has become the dominant format. Pointing to a period during the 1980s when the silver required to coat film was outpacing global production, he suggests that this limitation ultimately led companies like Kodak to pursue the idea of digital photography. And in this ‘twisted’ sense, digital has freed up analog photographers to push the boundaries of the film industry, leading to a host of incredibly creative projects. “I would never want to go back to the ‘golden age’ of film photography,” says Perrotin. “This time is much more interesting to my eyes.”
However, time remains the biggest issue for Film Washi. As word of Perrotin’s handcrafted films continues to spread, there is only a limited amount of film that he can produce. But he sees these challenges as a way to push the company forward, as it requires him to optimise his practice as much as possible. And while his Saint-Nazaire workshop is already beginning to overflow as more photographers try out his paper negatives, what’s certain is that Film Washi will stay true to its roots of always being hands-on and fundamentally experimental.
“I hope that in the future I will be able to move into a dedicated working space,” says Perrotin. “But don’t worry, for many aspects of my work, there are simply no machines available. I have to build them myself – so the DIY spirit will never leave Film Washi.”
You can meet Perrotin at Focus Photo Texas if you’re in the neighbourhood on the 10th or 11th May. Perrotin will be running workshops and talking about his films and paper on both days. Gobe has no affiliation with Focus Photo Texas.