Photographers' Laboratory is a film processing and printing studio in Akasaka, Tokyo owned by Toshio Saito. For decades, Saito has worked closely with some of the most widely known fine art photographers in Japan. In 1974, he printed much of the work on display at MoMA's landmark "New Japanese Photography" show, the first major exhibition about Japanese photography outside of Japan that included photographers like Daido Moriyama, Shomei Tomatsu, and Masahisa Fukase, among others. Today, Saito continues to work with many of these same artists in addition to new generations of fine art and commercial photographers who seek out his expertise.
We visited Photographers' Laboratory on a sweltering day in September, grateful for the cool recess of its basement location. The lab is a cluster of cramped rooms loaded with decades' worth of equipment and machines. Watching Saito and his assistants at work, it was unavoidable to think how their work becomes increasingly obscure even as the popularity of photography grows exponentially. Fewer and fewer people will ever see the inside of a darkroom or have their photographs printed by hand. A sad reality for sure. And we rued only too late the irony of documenting the lab's work with a digital camera, an act -- using the instrument of their demise -- that seemed ruder and ruder as each person asked, "digital?"
But perhaps Photographers' Laboratory offers an antidote to technology's rush to make the past obsolete. By specializing in the upper reaches of his craft, Saito's future is possibly safer than most, or at least the horizon still distant. Or, more simply still, perhaps he's less concerned with these uncertainties as he just continues working the way he best knows how.
Made in collaboration with Papersky Magazine.
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