Featured photo: Local photographer Jaffa Graves dived deep into his love of photography about seven years ago. (courtesy photo)

For a brief second the shutter expands, flooding the lens with light as it passes through the aperture. The near-instantaneous action reacts with the blank canvas of the film, imprinting an image of the world onto the sheet. It’s this capturing of a specific moment in time that captivated Jaffa Graves many years ago.

“Photography has consumed my life,” he says. “It’s all I think about.”

Graves is a local photography enthusiast who has been shooting in the Greensboro area for the last seven years. He runs a photography club and leads tours around the city for those interested in shooting scenes. His latest venture, however, involves the behind-the-scenes work of film photography.

When he’s not at his day job as a logistics manager or out shooting on his 35mm camera, Graves is tucked away in the back room of his home office. From the outside, it looks like an extra closet. But within, Graves tinkers with the centuries-old process of exteriorizing reality onto paper.

“There aren’t that many companies that develop film anymore,” Graves says. “There’s still one here called Dalmatian Labs, but there’s a void. I hear about people going to Charlotte or Carrboro or Chapel Hill to get their film developed. That’s why I got the idea to do the developing.”

Jaffa Graves shoots with a 4×5 camera at times, too (courtesy photo)

For the last few years, Graves has converted one of the rooms in his home into a darkroom. He found a deal on an enlarger on Facebook marketplace and thought to himself, Why don’t I do this? Why don’t I offer this to people? And so, he began Greensboro Photo Co.

Growing up in Greensboro, Graves, like many others, took his rolls of film and disposable cameras to big box stores like Wal-Mart or pharmacies like Eckard that would ship them off to be developed. These days the options are slim, with many of the same stores no longer offering the service. In Greensboro, a few Walgreens stores still develop film but Graves thought that he could help fill the gap.

“I wanted to fill the void,” Graves says. “I love developing and I love the scanning process…. The interest is here. A lot of people have asked me about the services and what formats I do.”

Currently Graves says he can develop anything from 35mm to 4×5 film, in black-and-white and in color.

He’s got a small box at Deep Roots Market where interested people can drop off their rolls. For others who have disposable cameras or larger film, the best way to reach him is via email because he’s still trying to figure out the logistics of the business.

“It’s really only been maybe a month and a half,” Graves says. “The business here is to avoid mailing or driving to a different place. Even mailing seems unnecessary. I can meet people, I’m here.”
So far Graves has gotten a few rolls that he’s developed. And even if it’s not stuff he’s shot, it still feels exciting every time he starts developing.

“To shine this white paper with light and then this thing starts to appear like magic, I love that process,” he says.

Really, it’s the whole experience of shooting on film that Graves is enamored with.

“It’s a cliché thing in the film, but it’s about slowing down and having to focus because I know I have to be on point, it’s a fleeting moment,” Graves explains. “The slowdown is more about focusing on what you’re creating which is different than digital and having the immediate response that you have on the back of the camera.”

That’s because in film, the shot is singular. You can retake it, but that last shot has come and gone. There’s no editing in post production or Photoshop involved. Sure, there’s the finesse of how the image is developed, but there’s only so much you can change once the shutter clicks.

And Graves doesn’t have anything against digital photography. He has digital cameras and sometimes uses them for commissions, but his passion lies in film.

“When it comes to being artistic, for me, I love film,” he says. “Nothing against digital, but something about a roll of film exposed by light is interesting to me. The way the photo renders is different than digital, it’s a different look.”

Part of Graves’ hope for the future is to not only develop other people’s film but to grow Greensboro Photo Co. to eventually have a community darkroom somewhere with an exhibition space and a storefront. Kind of like a hub for the local film community, he says.

“I’m as excited to do this for other people as I am to do this for myself,” Graves says. “This isn’t just about developing film; I want to have conversations about the film that people send me…. I don’t want to just be a business that pumps out rolls of film, I would love to have a back and forth about your film, more a community conversation.”

Learn more about Greensboro Photo Co. on Instagram @greensborophotoco. Email Graves to talk about film or get film developed at [email protected]. Drop off film rolls at Deep Roots Market.

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