Art

Cardinal Labs Is a Film Photographer's Wet Dream

Alan Alarcon, 26, and Rich Ramos, 25, outside Cardinal Labs.
Alan Alarcon, 26, and Rich Ramos, 25, outside Cardinal Labs. Photo by Giovanni Mourin
Rich Ramos and Alan Alarcon know what it's like to schlep all the way north to Deerfield Beach just to get a roll of film developed. The friends who started quarantine as photographers are leaving 2020 the entrepreneurs behind Cardinal Labs, a film photography lab and creative studio.

The partners saw a need to provide South Florida film aficionados their developed images with same-day turnaround and without a crazy commute. [Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; see end of article.]

"All the places down here stopped doing one-hour or same-day delivery. It was so unreliable," Ramos explains. "We just had to make a way or find a way. I would drive to Fort Lauderdale and then all the way down south to get it scanned."

The friends, who've known each other for four years and are both photographers, operate the lab similarly to the online retail behemoth Amazon. Ramos and Alarcon promise customers their images by the end of the day. It's about speed and efficiency for them. Traditional places like CVS and Walgreens can take up to seven to ten days to process film.

The lab almost didn't happen, though. Ramos, who's also a DJ, was considering decamping to Los Angeles, but through a small-business loan as an independent contractor, Ramos received the loan and they opened Cardinal.

Out of the lab, they're selling film, cameras, and renting out the space as a studio. Prices to develop and scan range from $8 to $15 for 35mm, $10 to $16 for 120mm, and under $10 for services like scanning, developing, color corrections, and digitizing tapes.

"Some kids don't know how to use lights. It would be good to provide kids a space where they can work and not be stressed on time and bread," Ramos says.

"We want to showcase different artists in the space too. These artists don't have places to showcase their work, and it's really important," adds Alarcon.
click to enlarge Alarcon and Ramos inside of Cardinal Labs - PHOTO BY GIOVANNI MOURIN
Alarcon and Ramos inside of Cardinal Labs
Photo by Giovanni Mourin
The pair took about five months to build out Cardinal, installing central AC, putting up walls, and purchasing $11,000 worth of equipment. Not only are they the only local film lab in Miami, but they're seeing a positive community response; they say people have told them they've picked up a camera because they have a place to have their images developed.

"There's a certain look to film," Alarcon says. "I found my grandma's point-and-shoot and just started. I didn't know anything, and I messed up the first roll. But I kept trying — and I loved it."

Adds Ramos: "Film has more meaning. I can take a thousand [digital] pictures, but I have to make sure to get the shot right on a 36[-exposure roll], or it's over. I'd rather get it right the first time versus going home to edit. I didn't finish college, but I took three years of photography at Miami-Dade, and I learned to do everything with my hands."

One of Cardinal's pillars is to connect people in the city.

"What I want most out of this is to build a community," Ramos says. "Everyone in Miami is either a hater in the same community or just off on their own with their friends group. I want film to generate work for everyone, and hopefully, this pushes people to support each other."

Cardinal Labs. 1547 NW 28th St., Miami; instagram.com/cardinallabs. Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Correction published 12/9/20: As originally published, this story implied Cardinal Labs is the only Miami darkroom to offer quick-turnaround service. The above version reflects the corrected text.
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Christian Portilla is passionate about people and her city. She covers community, culture, and lifestyle in Miami and abroad. Follow her work on roamfreewrites.com.