WICKER PARK — A film processing lab founded in Miami has opened in Chicago.
Bellows Film Lab, 1702 N. Damen Ave., opened last week. The store processes and scans all types of film and promises turnarounds in as soon as one hour, owner Marcello Peschiera said. The store also sells film stock and analog cameras.
Bellows is a new type of film lab, one which emphasizes speed and convenience for the Instagram age, Peschiera said. All film is processed in-house, he said.
“Nothing gets mailed out. The scanners that we use, whether they might be the same age as the other film labs, we’ve done a lot of modifications to be able to just go straight to digital platforms now instead of a printing process and then extracting files out of it,” Peschiera said.
The Wicker Park store features a large front area with couches, Pac-Man and a film vending machine. Peschiera hopes the space will act as a community gathering point for photographers to meet and to hold workshops and events.
Peschiera’s love of film goes back to when he began experimenting with his dad’s camera while growing up in Miami. One day, his dad dropped him off at the zoo with a telephoto lens, which cemented his passion for the medium, he said.
“I’m like 10 years old, 11 years old, and had his [a] super crazy telephoto lens, and I was taking pictures of animals and stuff, and I’m like, ‘This is incredible.’ At an early age, I kind of found out, ‘OK, I love photography,'” Peschiera said.
After taking photo classes in school, Peschiera became a professional photographer and cinematographer, working on commercials, music videos and other projects. He still works full-time while running both Bellows locations.
At the same time, Peschiera started developing film for himself and friends out of his house, a practice that quickly proved overwhelming.
“I was doing the work for myself, plus like 10 of my friends, and it got to a point that I’d come home from shooting super super late and I would still have like 100 rolls to process for all my friends and scan and everything. And it got so crazy that I was like, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore,'” he said.
Peschiera took a break, but the experience made him realize there was a real demand for film processing and scanning in Miami. At the time, there were no companies developing film in the entire city, he said.
After a motorcycle crash in fall 2020 led to downtime from work, Peschiera started thinking seriously about opening his own film lab.
“I’m like OK, wait a minute, I need to do something,” he said. He “started planning it, planning the machines, doing all the stuff that I had been prolonging for so long.”
Peschiera opened the Miami Bellows location in January 2021, and it immediately proved popular after gaining a national following through the store’s social media accounts, he said.
Photographers — including people from Chicago — began shipping their film from around the country to get it developed, Peschiera said.
“I was sitting at the counter in Miami, and it was like a bunch of packages from Chicago, and all different people. And I’m looking at it and I’m like, ‘Why are there so many packages coming from Illinois?’ Just in general like all over Illinois,” he said
That sparked his interest in the city. After a trip to Chicago where Peschiera met local photographers and artists, he started looking at real estate, he said.
“And for us, having the streamlined service, it kind of was like OK, if we can bring this to Chicago, it might be good because now people feel more more motivated to shoot film,” he said.
Eventually Peschiera found the space on Damen Avenue, which is ideal for having a lab in the back and a large communal space in front, he said.
Peschiera said his goal with Bellows is to attract all kinds of photographers, from professionals to the rookies. So far, the response to the Chicago location has been “incredible,” he said.
“At any moment, you’ll find customers that are seasoned, shooting campaigns, bringing us you know, 30, 50, 80 rolls of film, but then you have a photographer who bought a disposable and they’re like, ‘I want to try this out,'” he said. “Here, everybody’s treated the same.”
Bellows Film Lab is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
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