Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling

By Emma Lloyd

I met Stephen Dowling earlier this year at the Photography Show. Although strictly speaking it wasn’t in the NEC, it was in the pub afterwards with the rest of the film community who joined us. It was great to meet Stephen and talk to him about the future of film, and all the exciting things we had seen at The Photography Show. That being said, we were all a few drinks in by that point, so I didn’t get to ask him all I wanted! 🍻

It is now December 2022, Film-mas is well and truly upon us. So Kosmo Foto and Analogue Wonderland have partnered for a festive treat for you all- a Christmas giveaway! The giveaway is now live on our instagram, check out the post at the bottom of this blog to enter. 🎄

I thought this would be a great chance to talk to Stephen further about Kosmo Foto, his background in film photography and his hopes for the future of the film industry. Read on to learn more about Kosmo Foto! 🎞️

Kosmo Foto: AN interview with Stepphen Dowling|  black and white photograph of Vintage car taken on agent shadow film

(C) Stephen Dowling, taken on Agent Shadow

 How did you get into film photography?


Seriously in 2000. Film was still king. I was a freelance journalist (mostly music) with time on my hands. I’d always been interested in the USSR and remember sitting in a pub waiting for my then-girlfriend, with a copy of Which? Camera I’d bought cos I’d started becoming interested in photography properly. There were listings in that guide for Soviet-era cameras still being sold, like the FED-5 and Lomo LC-A. I found a Lomo LC-A a week later, a FED a few weeks after that, and a Praktica MTL-5B a few weeks after that. That was it. I was hooked.

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| Stephen's Lomography LCA

Stephen's Lomo LC-A

What is Kosmo Foto?


First and foremost, a blog. I’ve been a journalist since I was 17 - more than 30 years - so writing comes pretty naturally. I didn’t start the blog until I’d been into film cameras and photography for about a decade, so felt that I’d built up enough useful knowledge rather than just a bunch of hot takes. It’s been really lovely to see it evolve into what it is now - a blog which publishes other writers aswell, and the home of my film brand. I also sell used cameras too.

The film wouldn’t have happened without two people: Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter and designer Martin Duncan. Bellamy was really helpful after launching Street Pan 400, and Martin is the designer who brought the film packaging to life.

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| Kosmo Mono Packaging

The incredible packaging for Komo Foto Mono film

Tell us about Kosmo Foto


I started Kosmo Foto after a decade of shooting film and collecting cameras but also a decade of working freelance - suddenly I had a job with stable hours and time to devote to something for myself. I can remember taking my laptop to a cafe near my house, ordering a beer and starting the first camera review.

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| photograph of fish taken on agent shadow

(C) Stephen Dowling, taken on Agent Shadow

It has completely evolved. From infrequent posts about Soviet cameras and my own photography it now publishes several posts a week, from new stories about new releases to reviews of cameras and posts from other film photography obsessive around the globe. 

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| screenshot of Kosmo Foto website

Check out the Kosmo Foto website here

Tell us about the films you created. Where do you get the branding ideas?


Kosmo Foto now also has its own film brand. Our films so far are Mono, a 100-ISO film, and the new Agent Shadow 400, which can be pushed up to ISO 6400. Both are obviously existing emulsions, but come with a different take on packaging and design.

Mono is inspired by Cold War-era Soviet art and Agent Shadow by the film noir novels and movies of the mid-20th Century.

Kosmo Foto did something really special for the launch of Agent Shadow – we produced a comic called "The 36 Frames" (drawn by Martin Duncan) that came in a special box made to look like an old briefcase. You can only buy these from the Kosmo Foto Shop.

There are more films in the works, though it’s too early to lift the lid on those yet. 

Kosmo Foto: an interview with Stephen Dowling| Agent Shadow Artwork

What do you think needs to happen to the film industry to keep film alive?


I think we need a reliable supply of reasonably affordable film. The days of getting a roll of colour film for a quid from Poundland are long over – that only happened because people were selling off the remains of a giant film industry of old. Expecting film producers to bring colour films to market that sell for £4 a roll is madness; the industry is a tiny fraction of what it was once, and its size enabled that economy of scale. We're going to need to invest in what's left of the film industry, and that means paying a little more than we used to.

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| photograph of horse taken on Adox Colour mission

C) Stephen Dowling, taken on Adox Color Mission 

What's next?


There will be more details in 2023! I keep getting inspiration from Soviet/East European art, so keep expecting that to be a touchstone.

And Agent Shadow’s world isn’t done yet. Think of it as something like an analogue Marvel Universe…

Kosmo Foto: An interview with Stephen Dowling| Agent shadow sample photo black and white portrait of man in a hat

(C) Stephen Dowling, taken on Agent Shadow

On top of that, Kosmo Foto has started selling film-tested cameras; I’ve started out selling mostly 35mm compacts but have dozens of cameras appearing in the online shop in 2023.

And I do film photowalks in partnership with the larger-than-life Rob from London Camera Project. Come join one to see how much we resemble a pair of mismatched detectives solving one final case…

Kosmo Foto x AW Giveaway!

Thank you so much to Stephen for taking the time to answer my questions. It is so fantastic to see Kosmo Foto grow from a photo blog to an absolute film community favourite, and now film too! We love supporting independent film brands, and hearing the stories behind how their films came to life. We are so excited about this giveaway, a Christmas present from Kosmo Foto and AW to the film community! Please enter, and get to know this fantastic film and all that Stephen does at Kosmo Foto

Happy Shooting! 🎞️📸


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