Rapid Eye was the brainchild of Lee Williams a young Welshman fresh out of college looking for new challenges and hoping to make a living in the photographic industry. When he arrived in London he discovered that unlike at college there was nowhere he could print his own colour images in the darkroom. And so a simple idea was born, open a space where people could come and rent darkrooms to print their own colour images from negative or learn how to do it. With no money but a lot of enthusiasm, and a grant from The Prince's Trust, Rapid Eye first opened its doors in East London in 1996. After a brief spell in its embryonic space in Clerkenwell, Rapid Eye settled in its current location on Leonard street and has remained there ever since.
Through turbulent times Rapid Eye has persisted and over time added film processing services and various digital services to reflect the changing nature of the industry but has continued to champion analogue photography and colour darkroom printing as its core belief. As the dust settled from the initial excitement of the digital revolution a new breed of young, passionate photographers emerged with a thirst for a return to analogue film photography and a connection with the processes involved. A need to feel a physicality that was absent in the digital domain, to have more hands on control of the process and to work within the limitations of the medium. As well as continuing to support a die-hard core of analogue film photographers, Rapid Eye quickly established itself as a hub for this new generation of inspirational photographers, both professional and amateur alike. These people wholeheartedly embraced what for them was a new way of working, allowing people to find individuality and uniqueness in an otherwise, sterile, homogenous, over-retouched digital world. Lee’s wife Sebi soon joined him in running the business and in 2017 Rapid Eye expanded to take over a second floor of its home building, allowing it to expand the number of darkrooms, scanning stations and film processing capacity to meet demand. Now we are expanding again.
Rapid Eye remains as committed as ever to delivering the highest quality professional photographic services to its loyal customer base and now The Photobookcafe represents a new chapter in the life of Rapid Eye and will, we hope, become the focal point for its customers. Situated 100 yards further down the road at Leonard Circus, the new premises will provide even more floor space for more film processing, and other services to accommodate the increasing demand we have for our services and our acquisition of BDI following the retirement of the Legendary Brian Dowling. Whilst the basement expands our lab services the first floor provides an opportunity for us to create a new, more comfortable environment for our customers to pick up and drop off their work and to buy essentials like film.
We could have left it at this but Lee had a bigger vision for the space. A place where people can meet to share their work, knowledge and experience. A place where we can continue our commitment to sharing and educating by running workshops, talks, screenings and mini exhibitions. And also a place where you can relax and enjoy a cup of ethically sourced coffee or tea and maybe a tempting little snack while you wait for your films or decide what film to buy for your next shoot.
But beyond this Lee had a bolder idea. Over the years we have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of photographers producing photobooks and have seen thousands more working tirelessly to produce and self-publish their own photobooks and zines. Each photographer puts their heart and soul into these publications but often they do not find as wide an audience as they deserve. Lee’s notion was simple: use all the available space in the new premises as a publicly accessible library of these self-published photobooks so that everyone can come and browse them, find out about them and get inspired by the incredible work that photographers across the world are producing. And so The Photobookcafe was born, an extension of Rapid Eye but also a new and exciting venue for people to come and browse the library, attend book launches and generally celebrate the photobook in all its glory. We intend to create one of the largest public libraries of self-published photobooks and zines in the world, and on top of this, through this website also create a searchable database of as many self-published photobooks as we can, the more the merrier. So now we need your to help us with this. Please visit our contribute page to find out how you can submit your photobook or zine to the database and help to make this happen.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Photobookcafe very soon…