• Max Olijnyk

A Splendid New Approach to Photography Retail

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Splendid lab in Wellington is the latest in a growing list of new labs that specialize in old tech; Analogue photography. Max stopped by for a Tui and a chat with Sean & Darren at the lab.

Photography by Max Olijnyk

Texts by Max Olijnyk

Camera stores make me feel uncomfortable. I feel like I have no business in there staring at cameras I’ll never be able to afford, and I feel like the staff collectively rolls their eyes when I walk in. Sean Aickin and Darren Cliff, the photographers behind Wellington’s Splendid Photo, know exactly what I’m talking about. “It’s hard to make the vibe of those bigger stores inviting; they’re just naturally intimidating places,” says Sean, who has worked in photography retail since he was 15. “Here is different because we’re right here and we say, ‘what’s up?’ and you can sit down and chill out.”

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“That’s where bigger stores struggle because they’re set in the older way of doing things – they’re mainly there to sell people $5000 cameras – whereas here, we’re about making you a better photographer.”

The pair opened the doors of Splendid in the Wellington suburb of Newtown in mid-2018, with a film processor sourced on the cheap, a leased scanner and a collection of their own gear. They chose to focus on analogue photography not only catering to growing demand but also, “It was a relatively easy entry point to open a shop. We didn’t have to buy 500K of digital gear that may or may not sell,” explains Sean.

“I think with the main customers of film being so young nowadays, it’s changed dramatically. That’s where bigger stores struggle because they’re set in the older way of doing things – they’re mainly there to sell people $5000 cameras – whereas here, we’re about making you a better photographer. It’s an interesting conversation because it’s so generational.”

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“During the course of my visit, Sean takes apart my old Nikon FM2 and successfully unsticks its shutter, packs up a mail order, and chats with a stream of customers as they drop off their spent rolls of film.”

As well as their developing and scanning services, Splendid sell a full range of film, developing equipment, reconditioned film cameras, local publications and film-themed accessories. They also hold monthly events geared around different aspects of photography. “It might be a photo walk; it might be a night where we go somewhere and drink beers while we talk about cameras and film; or we might commandeer a theatre and have a screening of a movie; it might be an artist talk or a book launch.” Splendid serve Parrotdog beer on Friday evenings, and on Saturday mornings they pour filter brew courtesy of Coffee Supreme. “They’re both awesome local companies that sponsor us. We also have Leo’s Seafood over the road – he doesn’t sponsor us though, we pay full price for that shit.”

During the course of my visit, Sean takes apart my old Nikon FM2 and successfully unsticks its shutter, packs up a mail order, and chats with a stream of customers as they drop off their spent rolls of film. Meanwhile, Darren operates the processor and scanner, working his way through the orders.

“Let’s be honest: there are easier ways for us to make money than working 60 hours in here scanning countless rolls of film,” says Sean, “but it’s about sharing photography. The thing I find very interesting about this industry is: you buy this colour roll of film and you can’t do anything with it without giving us more money. We’ve kinda got you by the balls, you know?”

The pair prefer to keep their future plans to themselves for the time being, but will continue to expand their services with a focus on making analogue photography more accessible and affordable. “Taking the lease here, we didn’t quite know how people were going to respond, but it paid off,” says Sean. “We just bit off a bit more than we could chew, and started chomping like crazy.”

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Max Olijnyk

Max Olijnyk is a Wellington-based writer, editor, photographer and ageing skateboarder. His work has appeared in Acclaim, The Age, Broadsheet, Monster Children, Smith Journal, Turbine Kapohau and Vice. His first book Some Stories was released in 2016. He also makes really good jeans and bread.