Giving a poorly thought-out birthday gift to a loved-one doesn’t usually change the course of one’s life, but it did for Gary Wong. When Gary bought a Polaroid camera as a present for his girlfriend some years ago, he made the too-late discovery that the film it needed wasn’t being made anymore. Not one to let a bad gift trip him up, Gary sought out an eBay seller who was getting rid of his film rolls. Stocked up for the foreseeable future, Gary was pleased and his gift was redeemed. But a glitch in the seller’s system meant Gary could buy as many rolls of film as he wanted and shipping remained the same. It was a sweet little opportunity the young Gary wasn’t going to overlook. In fact, it was the springboard for a business idea that was soon to take over his life.
‘Film Never Die started out simply; it was just an eBay store selling the extra rolls of film we weren’t going to use,’ Gary recalls. But his little online shop struck a nerve and he soon found himself embraced by a community of ‘camera nerds’ who weren’t willing to let go of the Polaroid or its retro charms. These people loved old-fashioned picture-taking as they’d always known it, delighting in the pre-digital era and the manual work it involved. ‘Film Never Die has now grown to the point where we have a shop on Bourke Street in the city,’ says Gary, clearly delighted and a little amazed at the route his small business has taken.
Film Never Die now finds itself in the centre of the manual camera community, as Gary and his team have sought to create a hub that embraces all things pre-digital. ‘While I started out focusing on Polaroid cameras, I soon came to love and appreciate so many different models and eras of film.’ He says. ‘I found out about the Hasselblad cameras and just got hooked on the craftsmanship of them. And the quality of the images they produce is just incredible.’ He says. It’s an appreciation that he shares with the many people now part of the Film Never Die community, a group who come regularly to hang out, participate in a workshop or get their film developed. ‘Our aim now is just to create that welcoming place that invites anyone interested pre-digital film to come and learn.’ He says.
For Gary, it’s been interesting to see how different generations interact with pre-digital cameras. ‘People are first and foremost amazed by build quality of the machines when they handle them,’ he says. ‘A lot of the younger people who come to Film Never Die are from the ‘disposable age’, the things they handle in their everyday lives have never been built to last. The cameras we are showing them are solid metal with metal gears. They come to understand that these machines are a work of art, they’re an investment and they’re beautiful.’
And it’s not just the cameras themselves that are lavished with attention at Film Never Die, it’s the developing machines that are coaxed back to life, too. ‘It’s hard to find those old developing machines now as they were really just junked with the advent of digital technology,’ Gary says, ‘but we have a FujiFilm one here now and we can develop colour and black and white film as well as digitize the negatives!’ And with that, Gary’s back to work, ensuring that film will never die – at least not on his watch!
And with enthusiasts like Gary at the helm, it’s likely that film will never die!
Ground Level/640 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD 3000 | (03) 8899 7586 | www.filmneverdie.com