Situated in Brisbane’s upcoming creative neighbourhood of Milton, Racquet Film positions itself as central to everything film photography in the city. Here we speak to marketing manager Sam Attwood, who was inspired to support Brisbane’s artistic community in any way possible.
Words by Hudson Brown
Equal parts photo lab, agency and gallery, Racquet’s rise to prominence as one of Brisbane’s leading photographic communities has followed a steady evolution. Created by Sam Attwood and Chloe Brescia, the initial focus was on running a pro bono agency that supported more than 40 of Australia’s top photographers. But when they found themselves developing film on the road between jobs to keep up with demand, they decided that opening a photo lab was the next logical step.
“Between all of our photographers, we were developing a heap of film and ended up with a fair bit of equipment,” says Sam. “Coupled with the fact there wasn’t another lab in Brisbane that filled our specific requirements, the film [processing] side of Racquet grew and grew until eventually we opened to the public.”
“Going over every scan and making custom adjustments and creating client profiles isn’t like a production line.”
The launch of the photo lab was received with great excitement from Brisbane-based photographers. Initially operating out of a spare unit for six months, Racquet’s newfound popularity led to the opening of a sleek space in Brisbane’s inner-city. As word moved quickly about a new lab in town, the processing element of Racquet soon overtook the original photo agency concept. “The agency definitely came first and has been somewhat surpassed by the lab,” Sam says. “As we expand, we want to reignite the agency aspect to match Racquet’s growth as it’s something we’re still very passionate about.”
Racquet is considered amongst the top echelons of Australia’s film labs, because it specifically promotes quality over quantity. As the go-to spot for many of Brisbane’s most experienced photographers, Racquet is capable of scanning and developing 35mm, 120mm and black and white film, as well as C41 and E6 using modern rotary development. One reason many photographers keep coming back to Racquet is that a technician personally inspects every image that enters the lab. That way, they can make small adjustments depending on the desired white balance and the film stock used. Ivy Zhang, Racquet’s Head Lab Technician, was working at one of the biggest film labs in China before coming to Racquet for its focus on quality. She says, “Racquet was a big shift for me. The volume is steady, but the culture is a lot different for me. Going over every scan and making custom adjustments and creating client profiles isn’t like a production line. I really enjoy it.”
Before Racquet, there was an evident void of photo labs available to Brisbane’s film photography devotees. The community now has an approachable lab that’s also large enough to support a gallery and showroom, which is dedicated to presenting work by Racquet members alongside Brisbane’s most gifted photographers. The space showcases more than just exhibitions, with it being loaned out for a range of creative projects. Anyone is welcome to pitch an idea, which the Racquet team reviews on a case-by-case basis.
The idea of building a creative community is one that stood out to Sam long before he started working in photography full-time. Having often found himself behind the camera in his former role as a marketing director at a large hospitality group, Sam was also aware that many creatives are poorly compensated for their talents. When he finally decided to make the leap into photography full-time, his combined photographic and marketing skills resulted in Racquet Studio, a photo agency that worked on a pro bono basis.
“I realised that by representing photographers and creating a community, we could work with bigger brands who inevitably had larger budgets,” Sam explains. “Then, we could lump those brands together and do major scale work that allowed us, as the strategic side of the campaigns, and the photographers to both get paid fairly.”
“Film is definitely becoming more popular on a global scale and that’s evident in the rolls we take.”
Racquet Studio has worked alongside many leading local and international fashion brands, coordinating a 40-person strong network of Australian photographers during the agency’s infancy without taking a cut of the artist’s fee. Instead, Racquet’s end would come from the strategic plan behind making these large-scale campaigns happen. Featuring a portfolio of clients that includes the likes of Topshop, Wrangler, Elwood and Afends, Sam regards the collaboration with Topdeck Travel for the ‘Racquet Studio Road Trip’ as the agency’s most successful undertaking to date.
“[The project] involved flying German photographer and Fuji ambassador Bob Sala to Australia,” says Sam. “He and another ten or so Racquet photographers travelled the east coast shooting for roughly 14 brands over the course of a week. It was a great trip and the first time I saw the pro bono model truly work.”
“The best advice would be to get a decent prime lens on a working camera body, and not fret about film stock as you find your creative voice.”
Sam’s move into photography might have been slightly longwinded, but with his mother being a professional photographer, it wasn’t actually such a huge paradigm shift. Having learned from a young age to shoot film with a Canon A-1, once he began working on campaigns professionally, he became a believer in hybrid photography so that he could keep digital backups. However, when it comes to making a selection, “film prevails nine out of ten times.”
“I like shooting film more because it slows me down a lot, helps me compose photos better and essentially eliminates the time I have to spend editing,” Sam explains.
With the photo lab almost constantly busy, Sam has taken a step back from working on campaigns, although he hopes to get back to shooting soon enough. In the meantime, Racquet remains focused on catering to some of the country’s top photographers, although Sam finds it incredibly rewarding when people drop by with their first-ever rolls of film. For those looking to get into shooting film for the first time, Sam offers some advice that will hopefully lead to more usable shots, as well as a way to progress as a photographer.
“It’s very easy to get sucked into the gear arms race and worry about what you’re shooting on. I think the best advice would be to get a decent prime lens on a working camera body, and not fret about film stock as you find your creative voice,” says Sam. “Also, embrace mistakes. If you shoot film they’re going to happen.”
Sydney and Melbourne like to steal the headlines when it comes to Australia’s creative output, but Brisbane is without doubt a worthy contender. For the city’s creative community as a whole, Racquet provides an important local hub where artists from across the country can interact and support each other. Sam is hugely grateful for the community that has built up around the photo lab, but saves a special mention for Sydney’s Rewind Photo Lab, who helped out during a one-time “perfect storm” of staffing issues, a medical emergency and the unwavering growth of the brand.
“It’s all about awareness and getting more people into the realm [of photography], regardless of where their rolls end up being developed,” says Sam. “Film is definitely becoming more popular on a global scale and that’s evident in the rolls we take and the number of new customers and first-timers coming through our doors.”
As the business approaches 100,000 developed rolls, between the agency, the gallery, the community and the photo lab, Racquet’s influence on Brisbane’s creative scene is there for all to see. While Sam says Racquet Film might not be “a traditional lab, nor the fastest”, you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere that cares for film more. And with strong backing from a community that’s eager to support a top-notch photo lab, Racquet is here to stay.
Hudson Brown is a Melbourne-based freelance writer when he's not travelling the globe. His words have been featured in the likes of SBS Food, Treadlie Magazine and Paper Sea Quarterly, while he was previously the editorial assistant for small footprint living publication Assemble Papers. He is also a regular contributor to Concrete Playground where he covers the latest art, culture and gastronomic happenings around town.