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Interview—Andy Johnson of Hillvale
Written by Rachel Wilson — 18th June 2015

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Hillvale is in the business of developing and scanning film. They’re open weird hours but you can drop your film in various dropboxes around the city. Recently, we had our very own Hillvale dropbox installed in the shop. It’s like a shiny black piggybank full of people’s memories that’s emptied once a week. I caught up with Hillvale co-founder Andy Johnson to chat about the weirdest rolls he’s ever developed and why film tells stories better than digital.

The dropbox thing has always intrigued me. How did you come up with the idea? Where did you even get them from?
We [Andy and Hillvale co-founder Jason Hamilton] were both working full-time jobs so we couldn’t be open all the time. The dropboxes were a good way to solve that problem, because then we could kind of be open all the time. We found a bulk of letterboxes on Gumtree so we just got them and painted them.
We’re thinking of customising them for each different location. I was in the unisex toilets at 99 Problems the other day, and I was looking at the sanitary bins and thinking they’re a really great design, all a one-way system, so we might base the design around that.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve processed?
A baby being born! You get desensitised pretty quickly to the sexy stuff; they all start to blend into one another. You do end up getting to know a lot about your friends’ sex lives, though!

What’s it like to have an insight to that? Does it feel voyeuristic?
Yeah, definitely! I developed a roll recently where frames one to nine were naked selfies, and then frame ten was a shot of a grandma. It’s weird to see how a person goes from the need to document themselves naked to just going to visit their grandma, and that’s all on the same roll. It’s also cool to see how people curate themselves, to have seen all the frames they’ve shot and then the ones that they decided to upload on their websites or blogs. You can tell a lot more about them as a person from their contact sheets than from the images they publish.

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You produced a run of Hillvale Daily film—will we be seeing any more of it?
We won’t be doing Hillvale Daily again; we’d like to do something more ‘bespoke’ next time around. A bit like Lomography, but better. We’re planning on expanding, as well, so we’ll have the resources to do more.

Who are your favourite photographers working on film locally?
Sarah Pannell, who I work with, is great; Mitch Pinney, Sam Rogers … There’s a guy from Queensland who’s been sending down a lot of surfing shots, he just documents surfing culture really well. He and his mates just made their first zine and sent it down to us—it’s awesome. His name’s Andy Staley.

What kind of work do you do yourself?
I do some commercial—I just shot Foo Fighters for a Japanese magazine called Rockin’ on 69. I also just shot a series called Business Trip with Jason. We just took loads of photos of us wearing business suits and looking bored in loads of places throughout Japan. It was a cool trip; we hired motorbikes and came back with 98 cameras. We want to make it into a zine. Other than that I guess Instagram is probably the best representation of my work.

That's Andy on the right and Jason on the left. From the series 'Business Trip'.

That’s Andy on the right and Jason on the left. From their series Business Trip.

Andy’s top camera picks
The Beginner’s Best Bet: Olympus MJU zoom. ‘We sell these in the shop. They’re only $40 and they’re good for people who usually use disposable cameras, but much better quality.’
The Cult Camera: Mamiya 7ii. ‘Everyone says this but they’re simple to use and they have great clarity.’
The Rare Find: Canon Autoboy Sure Shot del Sol. ‘It’s powered completely by solar power! No batteries or anything.’

You can find Andy and Hillvale on Instagram.

An edited version of this interview was originally printed in The Good Copy Gazette Issue One, which is available from our shop for the princely sum of nothing.