Dada Shikako, a Bushwick based photographer, describes the desperate moment that led him to create a 24 hour film vending machine at 110 Troutman Street called FILM FILM FILM.
“It was 2 am. We needed Kodak Portra 120mm film. We had nowhere to buy it in the city and we were calling friends to see if anyone had a stash at home,” he says.
The vending machine, located right outside of the Bushwick Community Darkroom, has been welcomed by film photographers who have faced the similar predicament of low-accessibility to photo supplies. With a holographic exterior that mimics the silver halide found in film, the vending machine dispenses 35mm and medium format photo film, Polaroids, disposable cameras, and film-related memorabilia.
The Brazilian born photographer says he was inspired by the hyper-accessible vending machines popular in Japan. He first conceptualized the idea of FILM FILM FILM over five years ago when he noticed the low proportion of film photography stores in Bushwick, a neighborhood with a large community of film photographers who prefer the high dynamic range and experimental methodologies of film.
A number of the city’s larger photography stores, like Manhattan’s Adorama, are Jewish owned and close from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday in observance of Shabat and are closed for a full week during bigger holidays such as Passover and Sukkot. The businesses’ websites are not open for transactions during these times and leaves many photographers with no access to film over the weekend.
The pandemic presented a new dilemma as local photography businesses were forced to close. With limited social connections and mass unemployment, these challenges coincided with an increase of free time that led more people to explore analog art techniques.
Coincidentally, Shikako moved to a new apartment during quarantine and met a neighbor who owned a vending machine business. Within the week, Shikako bought a former soda vending machine, drove it from Times Square to Bushwick, and, after months of modifications, branding, and maintenance, FILM FILM FILM finally opened last October and accepts cash and credit cards.
Shikako maintains the machine daily, cleaning it and keeping it well stocked with the in-demand Kodak Portra film priced at $13 and popular Kodak “Fun-saver” disposable cameras, priced at $20. He says the disposable cameras sell the most on weekends, when residents spontaneously purchase the technologically simple and playful alternative to DSLRs and camera phones.
Attached to the vending machine is a convenient contactless drop box to get film processed and printed for prices starting at $9 for 35mm film and $14 for 120mm from the Bushwick Community Darkroom. The popular E6 slide film can be processed for $15 in partnership with Mono No Aware, a non-profit film photography collective.
As a film enthusiast himself, Shikako spends a lot of time searching for rare, expired, or discontinued films that are cult favorites, such as Kodak Ektachrome, Fujifilm Velvia, and the recently discontinued Fujifilm NPH. The vending machine, which accepts cash and credit cards, has varying inventory and prices depending on film availability. Shikako has added a ‘scavenger hunt’ element to FILM FILM FILM in which he hides rolls of film throughout Bushwick for anyone to find.
In its six months of operation, the vending machine has been burglarized, suffered from rain leaks, and vandalized numerous times-including its very first day of operation. It has now been modified with bulletproof glass, a roof, and security cameras. Nonetheless, Shikako says he receives thankful messages from customers across the city.
“I see sales at 2 am for 20 packs of film,” he says. “I got a call from someone who said ‘I had a job, I couldn’t find the film, and it was 1 am when someone told me about the machine so I drove in from Queens’.”
Shikako finds that providing a niche resource for the community is the most fulfilling aspect. He has been keeping an eye out for high foot-traffic areas for additional vending machines. Loaded with Kodak “FunSaver” disposable cameras, he hopes that the FILM FILM FILM vending machine will encourage more people to shoot film.
Top photo credit: Vanessa Hock
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