New Lab on the Block: The Grain House Hopes to Rebuild the Film Community in Cebu + Beyond

This lab proves the VisMin film photography community is thriving.

(SPOT.ph) To say that film as a medium has gained popularity is quite the understatement; just take a look at the number of Tiktoks and IG accounts dedicated to it—but access to film-developing labs can still be a problem. If you live outside Metro Manila, then you may have encountered the all-too-familiar problem of using up a disposable camera only to find out you have nowhere to get it developed. And in a pandemic, the chances of a new shop dedicated to developing film opening up seem slim—but as one lab in Cebu proves, not impossible.

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PHOTO courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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PHOTO courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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A film photographer himself, Jonathan Kim Canoy started developing his own film in 2020, because virtually all of the labs were closed at the start of the pandemic. As it turns out, it just made more sense for him to turn his passion project into a full-blown business. Even before he officially opened The Grain House Film Lab, Canoy was already developing rolls for friends. Then it grew by word of mouth “until the number of orders for the processing got out of hand so I needed to do it full time,” he said.

 A Personal Decision 

 “I really wanted something for myself, which was to own a business and pursue photography. It was like a ‘now or never’ thing when I took a leap of faith—I finally had the courage to leave my corporate job, be self-employed, and pursue what I love. Before this, I was working as an HR professional in a known pharmaceutical company in Cebu,” Canoy shared in an e-mail interview with SPOT.ph.

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Scenes from around Metro Cebu during the first few months of lockdown.
PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy

But when we think back to the start of the pandemic, we think of the nothingness—the emptiness of days, the closed establishments, the lack of choice, the inactivity. It’s easy to think of that as uneventful, but perhaps it was really more restive than restful—the perfect time for ideas to germinate. What was one to develop if he shot nothing? So we had to know—what exactly did Canoy shoot that led him to develop his own rolls?

“I mostly photographed stills, the empty places in Cebu while strolling around the city on weekends. I also started to shoot street photography—kay (because) I was working in a pharmaceutical company, I had the chance to go out. I was drawn to stillness in empty places when the lockdown started kay (because) I wanted to document how life was during the pandemic. It was something nga to look back on inig kahuman sa (after the) pandemic and to relive the feeling na somehow we managed to survive one of the most difficult times na we experienced together as a society.”

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PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy

Why Film? 

“I think different people have different perspectives and desires [as to] why they shoot film. Ako, I really practiced a lot so I could have a ‘trigger discipline’—not just because film prices are rising but because I want the direction of my work to be intentional, not more on trigger happy photos," Canoy added.

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He explained that he doesn't want to be only known as the guy who started an independent film lab in Cebu, but also as an artist who's serious about photography. Currently, he's exploring the wonders of documentary photography as it allows him to take snapshots of various moments in life that may have a historical value in the future. "Maybe soon I’ll focus on street [photography] more—or start to shoot fashion, portrait, and commercial [work on] film.”

He goes on to wax poetic about the sense of belongingness in the process of shooting in film. “It’s also a great, exciting experience while waiting for the rolls to be processed. Thinking about that scene you just recently photographed, asking yourself ‘Did I nail the exposure?’, ‘Was the subject in focus?’” 

But he has grander goals in mind. He wishes to foster a community of film enthusiasts and photographers through The Grain House. “In the end, film connects people. It builds great relationships in my experience.”

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A peek at Canoy's workspace. 
PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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"I am using Paterson Tanks for the processing, and an Epson Perfection V600 for the scanning. I am currently upgrading my scanning materials to make the scanning even faster and make my workflow easier," Canoy tells us.
PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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"Once the rolls are all set, they will then be loaded to the developing tank by using a changing bag or a room nga in total darkness—wala’y light leaking from doors or windows. The film development comes next, pouring the photographic chemicals to make the images pop out of the negatives. Once mahuman ug process from the developer down to the final wash and Photo-Flo, the film is hung to dry before scanning them." 
PHOTO BY courtesy of Jonathan Kim Canoy
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How to order from The Grain House 

The Grain House accepts orders even from those outside of Metro Cebu. The process is pretty straightforward. You fill out a form online, pay, get confirmation, then send over your rolls. You can also opt to get your film pushed or pulled (processed for a different ISO, so the exposure changes). It takes around five to six business days to get the scans, and you can choose to arrange to get the negatives back. Printing is currently not part of the services.

The Grain House is at 30 San Antonio Road, Jagobiao, Mandaue City, Cebu. For more information, visit their Facebook page or their Instagram page. 

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