Shoebox Studio - Samuel

Shoebox Studio - Samuel

Shoebox Studio


190 MacLaren St, Ottawa ON , Suite 200 
+1 (613) 979-0620

Interview: Nikki Gillingham, Blue Whale Communications Photography: Marianne Rothbauer, Rothbauer Studio


Tell us about yourself and how you got started. What sparked your interest in photo restoration? Were you always interested in photography?

I grew up looking at family photos and memorizing albums that my grandparents had; no matter how many times I looked at the images, there was always a new story to learn. Long after family members had passed, their photos would hold their stories. Editing and restoring old photographs is a way I can help keep stories alive. Before we had digital images, you might have only had one copy of an image and photo restoration gives it a second life - to be shared with future generations.

I have always been interested in photography and I always had a camera in my hands growing up; my family always encouraged my passions. When I was a teenager my father paid to restore my grandfather’s Rolleicord 120mm film camera for me and I have have been shooting with it ever since.  


Why did you decide to specialize in digital restoration?

My interest in digital restoration started when I was working towards my second degree in Museum Studies. Local museums would bring historical objects to the school that students would be able to conserve and treat in the labs. A museum approached one of my instructors with a large panoramic photograph they wanted to have digitized, restored, and then reproduced. Having an enthusiast background in graphic design, I took on the project and was so pleased with the result. I realized that this project joined two of my passions and that I could create a viable business offering this service to local museums and archives.


What made you decide to break out on your own?

I used to work for a small fine art printing business that rented space underneath Henry’s camera store downtown. I spent three years there being mentored in fine art printing, colour theory, the history of printing, and photography. I already had my chops in digital photo editing and had advanced knowledge in the software we used. There I learned to apply those skills and use those tools to translate images from a screen to material prints. I owe an immense gratitude to my employer for sharing his lifetime of experiences with me. I left earlier this year after deciding to grow my dream on my own. So within a month and a half of leaving that business, I worked on opening Shoebox Studio. And did just that on August 1st 2018.

Anything surprising you’ve learned since becoming an entrepreneur?

I would say the most surprising thing about becoming an entrepreneur is the willingness of others to help my business achieve its goals and grow. I have been absolutely humbled by the response from others to my business starting up in its own dedicated space. Even other businesses’ enthusiasm for promoting Shoebox and truly wanting to see it succeed. Ottawa is an incredible city for small businesses helping small businesses.


“The photograph chooses the paper” - can you elaborate on that? Why is the type of paper important?

I always say “the photograph chooses the paper” or the more holistic “let the image tell us what it wants to be on”. This is a way of saying that not every paper/medium is suited for a particular image. As a printer, I want to create a print that communicates an image’s message as effectively as possible. Things like texture, warmth, brightness all come into consideration. You don’t want an image to compete with the paper it exists on, you want them to lift each other up. For example, if a photographer brings in an image in black and white, it almost always insists being on a warm-toned paper. This gives the image body and life, especially in its highlights. Printing a monochrome image on a cooler-toned paper simply sucks the life out of the image.

You work closely with local artists, and your website talks about Shoebox Studio being a space for collaboration. Why is this important to you?

Making Shoebox a creative space where artist and printer could collaborate is very important to me. The artist, whether they be a painter, photographer, illustrator, made their pieces with intention and I believe they should be just as involved making the prints or reproductions as they were in the original. My job as a printer is to translate a piece of artwork from screen/negative/canvas to fine inkjet papers and being able to collaborate with artists allow me to accurately express that translation.


What are some of your favourite collaborations to date?

Possibly my most favorite collaboration to date is with a local artist who puts on workshops with local elementary school students designing creative panels. The students use a huge range of materials and objects to construct 6-8 three-dimensional pieces that create a single continuous image. I get to photograph these pieces and digitally stitch them together before sending them to an industrial printer. The stitched image is printed huge and mounted on outside walls of the schools. I just think how amazing it would have been to be a young student arriving at school everyday and seeing this massive artwork on permanent display that I helped create.

What’s the most interesting piece you’ve worked on to date? Why?

I’d love to say that the favorite piece I’ve worked with is a previously undiscovered painting by a famous artists. But the truly most interesting “pieces” I get to work with are old family photo albums. Clients come in sometimes with their great grandparents’ album for reproduction work. I’m wildly interested in all the family stories clients share with me and the oral traditions that have been passed down through their family. It’s an incredible privilege to share in those intimate memories with people.


Is there a piece in particular you’d love to work on? What about it interests you?

I wouldn’t say there’s a particular “piece” I’d love to work with. There is, however, a long list of incredible photographers who I’d be thrilled to work with.

When you’re not working or attending shows, what are some of your favourite things to do in Ottawa?

When I’m not working (which has become a rarity since opening) I’m exploring Ottawa with my grandfather’s camera. Walking through neighbourhoods, discovering new little coffee shops, and taking in the beauty of this city.

Tomo Restaurant - Nara

Tomo Restaurant - Nara

Gift Studio - Dasha

Gift Studio - Dasha