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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Developing Business a Snap for Photographer

Before coming to Moscow, you may have brushed up on your photography skills, bought loads of film or even splurged on a new camera to capture the majesty of Red Square and St. Basil's cathedral.

And though you may struggle with finding the perfect angle for a shot or get up at some God-forsaken hour to catch the sun rising over the Kremlin towers, taking pictures is still the easy part - its finding quality film developing and printing where the problems begin.

With this in mind, photographer Vitaly Teplov, 38, started up his own lab in 1998. Fotolab Professional, located on the grounds of the Moscow Architecture Institute, can develop any type of film and do any kind of printing, he says.

Having tried a number of times to set up a professional lab before succeeding, Teplov opened Fotolab without outside investments, relying solely on his own resources and his photography experience - which began at the age of four.

Surrounded by gigantic Japanese and German film-processing machines, Teplov recalls his career.

"When I first started doing photography, laboratories were either located at a business or they were completely closed to the public, such as the Itar-Tass lab, where equipment was really good.

"If you had a friend at one of these places, you could ask them to develop and print for you, but it wasn't convenient or fast. And if something got ruined in the processing, you couldn't do anything about getting compensated."

In Soviet times, professional laboratories that were open to the public didn't really exist. A few small film-processing places could be found around the city, but photography wasn't seen as a possible hobby. If you were a photographer, people assumed you were a professional.

Photographers "had to have a place at which they worked and a laboratory was, as a rule, supposed to be at their place of work," says Teplov, "but all over the Soviet Union there were those who worked as freelancers. The laboratories open for their use were small and inadequate compared with those at, say, Ogonyok and other publishing houses."

Photography wasn't the only thing on Teplov's mind when he opened Fotolab. "I opened the lab because I wanted to make money," he says.

From his commitment to his craft and his customers, it is clear that he sees pleasing clients as the key to making a profit. "We can do generally anything that a client is able to express in words."

Teplov's customer base extends as far as Ukraine - he regularly receives film for developing and printing from artistic photographers in Kharkiv and Kiev.

A mechanical engineer by training, Teplov worked as a professional photographer for 10 years before opening his laboratory.

"I loved photography even in childhood. Photography was my father's hobby. He gave me a lesson on how to operate the camera when I was only 4 years old." Teplov recalls that his first camera was a Zenit 3M, now a rarity.

Teplov took up photography in earnest at the end of his studies at the Moscow Institute of the National Economy, now the Plekhanov Academy of the National Economy. "During my fifth year of studying at the institute, I was already very drawn to photography." After graduation, he went on to work for several years as an engineer, but kept photography as a hobby.

Determined to make up for not having a photography degree, Teplov enrolled in evening courses at various institutes to learn advanced techniques. "I didn't want to learn or work by trial and error," says Teplov, who, along with studying after work, sought textbooks on photography written by Western experts.

Teplov says he probably would not have been able to work professionally as a photographer if not for perestroika. "In 1988, I started photographing in order to make money," he says.

Teplov recalls that his first serious photo assignment was shooting works of art - paintings, crystal, chinaware - for museums and independent artists who where putting together books and catalogues of their works.

When Teplov was starting out, jobs for photographers were rather scarce.

"At the time ? publishers like Independent Media did not exist. Our [Soviet] magazines didn't have a lot of illustrations - only a lot of text. Also, I was quite young and not in a position to have the opportunity to photograph for those magazines."

But all of this changed when Western-style glossies hit the market. "In 1993-94, Cosmopolitan appeared. It was a breakthrough for Moscow," recalls Teplov. "The first magazine that worked with photographers on a freelance basis was Cosmopolitan. And with that began a new era for photography in Russia."

Teplov worked for Cosmopolitan photographing perfume bottles, cosmetics and other women's trinkets.

Though he still photographs in addition to running his laboratory, he no longer shoots regularly for Cosmopolitan and says he has done too much of that kind of photography. "I can't compel myself to take pictures of those things in such a large volume as I used to."

Now, when he isn't busy at the lab, Teplov prefers to photograph interiors for magazines, and also works for NTV Design doing video shoots for TV shows.

Teplov says photography esthetics in Russia lag behind the West. He attributes this to the lack of exhibitions and present-day culture.

"Only in the last year have there been a lot of exhibitions, but still there are too few. Four years ago there were almost none. There should be just as many exhibits as in New York," he says.