Frank Dautant in Dubai.
I am in Analog the Room talking to Frank Dautant who is one of the founders of this trendy analogue photography space in Dubai.
By Christopher Osborne
Image courtesy Dev Blaskovich
I am in Analog the Room talking to Frank Duatant who is one of the founders of this trendy analogue photography space in Dubai. Frank is a big man with a warm heart and is perpetually welcoming.
The store has been converted from a warehouse in what used to be a very low-income industrial area in Dubai. Next door is an interior designer, and directly across the road is BHM who is amongst other things the local Ilford agent. The Al Serkel arts quarter is just a few minutes walk away.
There is a steady stream of people coming through the door. Some head for Digit, the upcycling clothing store that lives on the mezzanine floor and others browse the selection of analogue cameras or bring in cameras for repair. Others buy film or drop off film for processing. “Obtaining enough film to keep the fridge stocked is a continual challenge”, Frank explains. “In a good month, Analog the Room processes 350 rolls of film”. That is an impressive statistic for a store that opened at the beginning of June 2022.
Analog the Room also holds a monthly exhibition on its walls, and visitors browse the prints or simply play on the space invaders console.
Portrait of Frank Dautant.
I was curious to know how Frank became involved in photography. “I was always surrounded by photography and cameras”, explains Frank. “My Dad used to shoot at the Indie 500 as an independent. And my Grandfather used to document his travels. We had slide nights where he would show us images of cruises that he and his wife had been on or a series on bridge building projects that he had worked on in Venezuela”.
“My first camera was a Kodak Electomatic 110. Then I had a Canon A1 and later my Dad gave me his Canon F1. I still have it. I’m a Canon guy. My Grandpa had a load of Polaroid Type A & B. I started doing battery conversions”, Frank explains.
“At university, I always had photography in parallel to my studies. I went to Australia to complete a Master’s degree in Food Process Engineering and kept taking photographs out there. I moved back to New York and even though I was working in the corporate world, I had my own studio space”.
“I used to spend a lot of time in the Lomography shop in New York. I asked them for a job. I ran retail operations and then moved to wholesale operations. Then I became General Manager for Lomography’s US & Canada operations. Being part of Lomography was good. I liked it. There was always a huge emphasis on putting something new into the market. Lomography had a big commitment to the community. Lomography’s retailers were always encouraged to make a “more” analogue experience. That’s what I liked about the brand. It was run with sweat, tears and love”.
Frank pauses for a moment. “We have some of these values in Analog the Room. It is not about selling. We concentrate on photography”.
“I had been working for Lomography for six years. And then my wife Maria was offered a job in Dubai. Giving up everything I had worked for and moving to the Middle East was hard. We moved to Dubai in December 2019. In March 2020, covid struck. I had zero prospect of finding a job.
“I started trying to figure out who was shooting on film, and who was developing. I spent a lot of time connecting with other photographers. I met Mohammed Kamal, and we talked for four hours. At the end of the conversation, we had agreed to work together”.
“Kamal and I started selling film cameras at market stalls organised by Gulf Photo Plus (GPP). Then we sold cameras at popup events in combination with the Dig-it clothing team. Then we had a stand at Flipside, the vinyl record store. We had avoided having our own space because of the overhead”. Frank smiles, there is an irony to what he has just said in that we are sitting in the physical store that is now Analog the Room. “Getting our own space turned out to be the right thing to do. People know where to find us”.
“We want this to be a one-stop, by-photographer-for-photographers store. We are building a darkroom, and want to expand the training side of the business. And we will continue to support educational institutions in the area”, explains Frank. “We are looking to expand too. We are in discussion with like-minded people in Kuwait, Amman and Riyadh. We want to create a local solution to local problems”.
Images © Frank Duatant and Dev Blaskovich 2022.
You might also be interested in a previous SilvergrainClassics article on “A DIY Photolab in Brussels” https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2022/11/a-diy-photolab-in-brussels/.