Camera geek-turned-entrepreneur Bellamy Hunt, the founder of Japan Camera Hunter, is one of the key figures keeping the film photography industry alive and kicking with his homegrown business.
Picking up a vintage camera and a roll of film isn’t what most of us think about nowadays when talking about photography. But, for Bellamy Hunt and his business Japan Camera Hunter, analog photography is everything. At the core of his company is a bespoke camera sourcing service, via which he scours his home city Tokyo for collectable and rare vintage cameras for his customers. Since 2016, he has been producing his own line of film and a range of film photography accessories, all in the hope of revitalising a now-niche industry. He talked Hive Life through the value of winding through roll after roll of film in a modern era saturated with digital photography.
Bellamy initially moved to Japan over 15 years ago, but after 5 years of teaching English, he took a job at a photography supply company. “I was an apprentice. A full-on, suck-it-up 1000-yen-an-hour apprentice,” he remembers. “I had to clean floors and make people tea, which was a bitter pill to swallow at 30 years old, but I did it.” Photography had long been one of his passions. “It all started when I was 14. I was given a camera by my father. Well, I say ‘given,’ but actually I commandeered it,” he laughs. From there, it grew into a lifelong hobby, and thanks to Japan’s strong vintage camera market, his obsession only grew.
Working as an apprentice had given Bellamy all the necessary skills and connections he needed to make his new business work, but he’d never planned for it to grow as it did. “I thought, I’ll do this for a couple of years, then go back to England,” he says. “But, once I started working for myself, I thought, I don’t really want to stop.” More than a decade later and Japan Camera Hunter has grown from its humble roots as a camera sourcing business to an international icon and propagator of analog photography, clocking in with over 130 thousand Instagram followers.
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Despite his growing online presence, Bellamy didn’t want his services to become less personalised. “People still want to email and know that they’re talking to me,” he says of his approach to customer service. “Gradually, over the years, I’ve built relationships with traders and owners of camera stores. And it’s not a case of once or twice popping out with them. I mean going out for dinner, talking to them for years, buying from them and selling to them. I’m in an enviable position here,” he adds.
With an online store that ships worldwide as well as deals with retailers around the world who stock his Japan Camera Hunter products, Bellamy is able to reach a much wider and global audience. His first line of film, Streetpan, is a high-contrast black and white film. It’s symbolic of the classic film look, but isn’t so much a monetary venture as a ‘labour of love.’ “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s making loads of money… oh God, it doesn’t make any at all,” he laughs. “I just wanted it to be visible. It’s encouraged others to work on similar projects and it’s given an indication to some of the other larger companies that say, ‘Hey, look. Film isn’t dead.’”
So why exactly would someone want to shoot film over digital? “It has a different set of creative parameters,” says Bellamy. “Of course, the digital camera is indispensable. But, the more alternative creative outlets we have, the more creative we can be, and film gives you the opportunity to change the way you take photographs,” he explains. “When you sit down and think, wait a minute, this is costing me a dollar a shot, you take a bit more care about how you shoot things. It’s a very personal act, which is appealing to me.”
Others seem to agree. “I get messages from people every day about how happy they are with my film. I can go on Instagram and search Streetpan and see pictures from all over the world. And that’s a really cool feeling,” says Bellamy. “You see famous people like Chris Hemsworth and Jason Momoa shoot film. Frank Ocean was at the Met Gala with a Contax T3 film point-and-shoot camera and it’s certainly helping it reach the public eye.” Could film cameras be part of a wider trend to hark back to the way things were? “People want retro,” says Bellamy. “Vinyl has come back hugely, for example. But, there are also a lot of younger generation photographers who are taking their first steps into film.” he explains and Japan Camera Hunter wants to help them do that. “We’re always working on something to make film photographers’ lives more exciting. People sometimes ask me, ‘Don’t you get bored of cameras and all this stuff?’ The answer is, ‘No. No, I don’t!’”