And there we go again. Living in Toronto is great, but apparently not when you like to photograph with film. The amount of ‘professional’ photo labs has shrunk dramatically, leaving only a few ‘reputable’ labs to do one’s developing and/or scanning. And I’ve tried about all I could find here. Some great ones are out of business (like Caribou Lab), and others not in this area (Carmencita Lab in Spain, for example) are excellent but just too expensive to send negatives to on a regular basis. And then there’s TIW (Toronto Image Works).

I’ve had mixed results with this lab in the past. It’s conveniently located downtown Toronto, and has a good reputation. It should, being founded by one of Canada’s leading photographers, Edward Burtynsky. During 2014 I’ve send quite a few rolls there with usually good results. They come at a price, but hey, I guess that’s life for a film photographer who doesn’t have the time or resources to develop his own film all the time. There have been a few snags though. Like me complaining about scratches on my negatives, the rep (or tech, who knows) at the front desk explaining that’s due to the pressure plate in my camera (which it wasn’t). All this while he’s handling my negatives without gloves and pointing flaws out on the celluloid with his fingers. Very professional.

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I received my latest results from 2 rolls of color film (Fuji Pro 400H) and I was again disappointed. Very grainy scans, clear scratches and/or dirt on the negatives and an absurd delivery method. Usually the scanned files are uploaded to an FTP folder where I can download the whole batch at once. Now though it seemed that that file was too large to download from their FTP server (as prompted by that server), forcing me to download the files one by one. This also showed (by file details such as upload time, file size, etc) that some files had been edited but didn’t show any hint of improvement over the others.

Thus I write an email to complain and ask for an explanation. Citing my previous experiences with this company, attaching visual proof of the grainy scans, scratches, file irregularities and other mishaps. I mean, in this day and age such things should not be possible, especially not for a lab like this. I’ve sent much more questionable rolls of film shot with horrible and ancient camera’s to, for example, Carmencita Lab, and received incredible results, including the lab tech’s feedback. Timely, flawlessly and at a (not counting shipping) reasonable price.

Well, I did receive response from no less than the General Manager at TIW. It reads like this:

“..At this time, I just wanted to acknowledge that I have received your email.  I would like to go back and pull your order, take a look at the scanning and see where anything went wrong and what we can do to fix these issues for you. I assure you, you will have a response tomorrow once I have had a chance to look all over and speak with my technician. We would like to keep you as a satisfied client.  We do have a good reputation for a reason.  I want to make sure we keep it that way. Speak with you tomorrow.”

Which was encouraging. So I wait. And the next day passed without a word. Hmm, wasn’t that what I was promised? A timely response, at least? But no. So, I had enough and wrote the dear GM:

“I was initially encouraged by your email, though have lost most of that enthusiasm. Today has passed without the assured response from you. I do not know how to respond to this, other than that I kindly request you to have the negatives still at your lab (two rolls of Fuji Pro 400H) be sent to my home address, saving me the time and trouble of driving downtown to pick them up. Thanks in advance.”

Paying $15 in parking for a 2 minute pick up and setting foot in this lab which will, no doubt, aggravate me even more, is not something I’m willing to do at this point in time.

Without the context and history of previous disappointments at this lab, my actions might seem harsh, but I do have this context and history. And enough is enough. It seems that unknown, amateur photographers who don’t generate a whole lot of revenue don’t seem to matter much for labs such as this one. It’s a good thing I didn’t win Scotiabank’s Contact 2016 Portfolio Reviews Award and I wasn’t awarded a $2,500 credit towards Toronto Image Works. Or maybe then I would have been taken seriously?