Nostalgia consumes me. I collect old cameras and old friends. I remember how to open the lenses on Kodak#1a Brownies and Minox folders. I have a number of old film boxes, Kodachrome II, Extar 25, Panatomic X and Fuji Reala. But all this pales to what happened recently. A friend came across an old straight tray Argus slide projector at a yard sale. This was the style where you put a little metal edge sleeve around the slide. A magnet connected to a small arm in the projector would move the slides in and out, sliding them in front of the projector lamp for display.
But this isn’t the nostalgic part. Along with the projector were included 4 large cases of slides. Each case held 10 of the trays and each tray holds 36 slides. I went through over 1400 slides. This batch was from 1959 to Christmas 1963. A majority of the slides were of Gregory, and a little later on Gregory and his little sister. I know this because each slide was carefully labeled in amazing handwriting with a date and a quick caption. Greg and his family visited the Ouray area often. They went on trips to Carlsbad Caverns, and Disneyland and Texas. Their parents owned Oldsmobiles and Chevys and a nifty 1962 red Volkswagon Beetle. Greg and Valerie, the sister, had amazing Christmases! Brand new red bikes and model train sets and dolls. Really ugly snowsuits and lots of family at the house. And I know all this because I got to view Gregs first 5 years. Greg turned 5 in 1963. August to be exact. Though I don’t know what day. And I’m not sure of Valeries’ birthdate, though it seems to be in about 1961.
Most of these pictures were general snapshots all of our parents also took. Probably with the same style camera. A fixed lens Voitlander maybe. An Argus C3 or a Nikkormat. Simple, easy to use 35mm cameras. Kodachrome was the film of choice. Bright and quick to get developed. Just drop it by the corner drugstore anytime. Ask for Steve. The amazing part to me is the time involved in the organization of these slides. Each slide was numbered with an index number, the date taken and a short caption. All handwritten. Then each slide was inserted into the small metal sleeve and then inserted, in order, into the slide tray. Each tray had 36 small handwritten sentences above each slide with the description. And each case had a small notebook with complete description of each of the 10 trays. Handwritten. Times 36. Times 10. Times 4. That is love. My guess is the wife did all of this. The handwriting is too amazingly neat to be a gentlemans. Exemplary penmanship with perfect round bottomed g’s. Helvetica G’s. G’s from the cereal boxes. G’s perfected by years of elementary school practice in a Big Chief notebook with the blue lines. I could be mistaken, but I’m saying feminine. And my guess is that these weren’t all of the slides. I’m sure they took lots more pictures of Greg and Val. So at this point all I can do is extrapolate a life from these few family shots. I hope the family was together for many more years of vacations and Christmases. That Greg and Val grew up in a great home and went on to have families of their own. That everyone is living a long, vibrant life full of pictures.
So why were all these memories for sale anyway? While none of the pictures were of a high art value in and of themselves, the whole collection represents about 4 years in a families life. Irreplaceable memories sitting on folding tables, on the driveway, in the sun. Now gone to them. Now I want you to think about all of your photographs. If you are like me you also have thousands of pictures stored. Some of mine are my parents Kodachromes I’ve kept. Some are 35mm slides I took from the late 70’s until the late 90’s. Including a large assortment of medium format transparencies. And now, recently, a huge amount of digital images in Raw, Tiff and Jpeg formats. These are existing on an assortment of hard drives and DVDs waiting. Waiting for something. Waiting for me to go back and view them, make prints, make something. Even if all I’m doing is checking to see if they still exist before the eventual hard drive crash. Or DVD failure. Waiting for me to move them to whatever new technology is next after DVD’s are old technology. Waiting for me to die so my kids can decide what to do with them. Vault? Basement? Dumpster? Yard Sale? All of our pictures mean something to us. Some are really nice and when printed or projected, may elicit oohs and aahs from the audience. But most of our pictures are snapshots. With built-in memories of time and place. We were with Mom and Dad when we took that trip. I was with Jenny during that rainstorm. We went to Ouray on the 4th of July. My kids were opening presents on Christmas morning. This was my Mom. That was my Dad. This is my sister holding the kitten. Memories on top of memories living on celluloid. Living as 1’s and 0’s in a computer. Memories of a life in pictures. And memories of Greg and Val trying out brand new red bikes. On Christmas morning. In the newly fallen snow.
Originally posted in The Online Photographer by Scott Parsons
Had the 20 oz bone-in rib eye with rice and caesar salad. Jen and I shared. It was excellent. We go there for good steaks at a reasonable price. Sat at the bar and had a nice dinner with our son. Very nice.
I like ’em rusty. And slightly dented. I like to find them abandoned in fields and backyards. I like to imagine the life they have had. I imagine Sunday drives, and trips to the market. Drive-in theaters with friends hiding in the trunk. Making out at The Point. Driving away from home for the first time, on the way to college. All these memories and more.
I’m not sure when I first started my love affair with rust, sometime in the early 70’s I guess. I’m sure my father was involved. He liked classics too. Only he liked them all shiny and spiffy. I remember a 65 Mustang convertible with a 289 V8, four on the floor, Pony interior and Rally pack. I remember a 56 Chevy two-tone Bel-Air with a 40-acre backseat. While I appreciate the glitz and glean of refurbished and meticulously kept classic vehicles, I can’t see the character in them. A long life lived. A full life of new drivers slipping clutches and grinding gears. Of 3 on the tree and hi/lo switches on the floorboards. Of real glove boxes and trunks with actual size to hold things. Things like real spare tires and tool boxes. A Sunday picnic basket with adult libations. Camping gear for a really nice 4th of July.
A lot of the vehicles I have photographed over the years no longer exist. Not only do I mean that the companies no longer are in business. I also mean that the cars have been towed to the junkyard. Or even worse to the scrapyard where their bones are ground to make new, unimaginative cars. . While the current choices of vehicles are much more safe, technologically advanced and far easier to drive. They seem to lack the attention to detail compared to the cars of the 50’s and 60’s. Really nice curves and meticulous chrome. Cars with real names, not numbers. Cars with emblems that you could see from across the street. Instantly recognizable. Not the ‘me-too’ cars of today. Where one companies sedan is hard to tell from anothers.
So it is easy to see my nostalgia. How I wish that a 20 or 30 grand vehicle would bring out the passion in me. How I want a vehicle to do most everything I want to do, like my $500 ’72 Chevy Nova would. Something with really nice lines and actual hood ornaments. Less plastic and more metal. A radio I could actually adjust without having to open a manual. And a real carburetor. (heavy sigh).
This is an old list I made of repair facilities. Keep in mind this was last updated in 2004, and some of these companies are sold off, out of business or make other stuff now. So no guarantees, but it might get you started.
Metro Camera Service 330 West Hampden Englewood CO 80110 800-662-7874 http://www.metrocamera.com
Nikon Inc. (East of Miss River) no binos/scopes 1300 Walt Whitman Rd Melville NY 11747 899-645-6678 http://www.nikonusa.com
Nikon Inc. (West of Miss River) all binos/scopes 842 Apollo St. Suite 100 El Segundo CA 90245 800-645-6678 http://www.nikonusa.com
Olympus America Inc. Service 10805 Holder St Suite 170 Cypress CA 90630 714-503-5700 http://www.olympusamerica.com
Canon Factory Service Center 15955 Alton Parkway Irvine CA 92618 949-753-4200 http://www.usa.canon.com
Garmin GPS 1200 East 151st st Olathe KS 66062 913-397-8200 http://www.garmin.com
Mamiya America Corp 8 Westchester Plaza Elmsford NY 10523 914-347-3300 http://www.mamiya.com
Carl Zeiss Optical Inc. 13017 North Kingston Ave Chester VA 23836 800-338-2984 http://www.zeiss.com
Kodak Service and Repair 1669 Lake Ave 9318 Dock Q Rochester NY 14652 800-235-6325 www.kodak.com
Sub Aquatic Camera Repair 22740 Portola Dr Salinas CA 93908 831-484-6230 http://subaquaticcamera.com/
Bushnell Corporation 9200 Cody Overland Park KS 66214 800-423-3537 Bushnell.com
Kyocera Corp. (Contax/Yashica) http://www.kyoceraimaging.com/
Alpen Optics 10329 Dorset St Rancho Cucamonga CA 91730 http://www.alpenoutdoor.com/
Brunton Optics 2255 Brunton Court Riverton WY 82501 800-443-4871 http://www.brunton.com
Burris Optics 331 East 8th St Greeley CO 80631 970-356-1670 http://www.burrisoptics.com/
Kowa Optics 20001 South Vermont Avenue Torrance CA 90502 800-966-5692 http://www.kowa-usa.com
Leica Camera & Optics 1 Pearl Ct. Unit A Allendale NJ O7401 800-222-0118 http://www.leicacamerausa.com
Leupold and Stephens Inc 14400 NW Greenbrier Parkway Beaverton OR 97006 800-leu-pold www.leupold.com
Steiner/Pioneer Research 97 Foster Rd. Suite #5 Moorestown NJ O8057 800-257-7742 http://www.steiner-binoculars.com/
Swarovski/Kahles 2 Slater Rd Cranston RI O2920 401-734-1800 http://www.swarovskioptik.com
Tasco Optics 9200 Cody Overland Park KS 66214 800-221-9035 http://www.tasco.com
Magellan GPS 960 Overland Ct San Dimas CA 91773 800-707-9971 http://www.magellangps.com/
Pentax USA 12000 Zuni St. Suite 100B Westminster CO 80234 800-887-0155 http://www.pentaximaging.com/
Bogen/Gitzo/Gossen etc. 565 East Crescent Ave Ramsey NJ O7446 201-818-0060 http://www.bogenimaging.us
Sigma Lens 15 Fleetwood Ct Ronkonkoma NY 11779 800-896-6858 http://www.sigmaphoto.com/
Tamron Lens 10 Austin Blvd Commack NY 11725 800-827-8880 http://www.tamron.com/
Tokina Lens/Slik tripods/Hoya/ etc 2360 Mira Mar Ave Long Beach CA 90815 800-421-1141 http://www.thkphoto.com/
Novatron of Dallas 8230 Moberly Lane Dallas TX 75227 888-468-9844 http://www.novatron.com/index.html
Vivitar 20480 E. Business Parkway City of Industry CA 91789 909-348-6390 http://www.vivitar.com/default.asp
D&H Camera Repair 4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy Colorado Springs CO 80918 719-597-0336
Mikes Camera Repair 2500 Pearl Street Boulder CO 80302 303-443-1715 http://www.mikescamera.com
P.K. Photo Repair 1760 South Carr Street Lakewood CO 80232 303-777-1311
Digital is Killing the Photo Industry!
My Pessimistic Ponderings on the Photo Industry in General
I recently chose to downsize dramatically the retail photo department at Gene Taylor’s. This was not an easy decision, but one based on many factors. While we will remain to operate a photo lab, and sell just point and shoot cameras, this also will come under scrutiny sometime in the future. The Taylor’s have had no influence on the decision directly, but supported the decision after I showed them what I’m about to tell you. You don’t just close a vibrant, active department with 40 years of history on a whim. Some of you who receive this email won’t know me. I’m Scott Parsons. I’ve worked at a large general sporting goods store for close to 22 years and have actively managed, purchased for, and hired and fired for a full-line photo retail department with a full-featured photo lab. I’ve dealt with manufacturers’ reps, CEOs of photo companies, and consulted with many other retail photo stores. I’ve been-there done-that in retail photo. During the early to mid ‘90s the photo and lab departments would generate close to 2 million dollars per year, sales have decreased steadily thereafter, and have really decreased with the introduction of digital cameras.
The photo department started at Gene Taylor’s in the early ‘60s with the arrival of Frank Bietz and his photo business. Gene and Frank thought (correctly it turns out) that a photo department would go along nicely with general sporting goods. If you are going to go fishing or camping or hunting you will need to take photos to keep the memories alive. Through the ‘60s and the ‘70s Frank and his department grew as the store grew. Tens of thousands of customers grew to love photography through Gene Taylor’s and Frank. In the early ‘80s we took on Gene Bruce as manager as Frank decided to retire. In 1983 Gene Taylor started building the 50,000 square foot store you know today. The grand opening was in July of 1984 and soon after that Gene Bruce installed the first of three successive photo labs. Regrettably, health problems forced Gene Bruce to leave the workplace and I was asked to take over in mid ‘85, just 10 months after the first lab was installed. The lab and retail grew and flourished through the amazing decades of the ‘80s and the ‘90s. A lot of inventions and innovations kept photography interesting and fun. Films became so much better with the business wars between Fuji and Kodak. Cameras became easier to use and much more accurate in flash and ambient exposure. Auto focus introduced in the late ‘80s started another wave of photography interest and also transformed the point-and-shoot camera market. Now everyone could take great looking photographs without knowing anything about the nuances of traditional photography. Those were great times to be in the business. Everyone needed a camera and then needed us to process the film for them. This was happening all over the country. Photo labs with small retails attached to them were popping up everywhere. And most were successful. Some grew into larger regional chains like Wolff’s, Ritz, Inkley’s, Camera Den, Waxman’s and others. Customers needed us for their films and processing and also the myriad of accessories available, especially for the more advanced photographers.
In the late ‘90s things began to change slowly, almost imperceptibly. A great consolidation was at work. Kodak and Fuji were purchasing small industries they felt could help them in their business wars. They also were busy building up large regional processing centers to keep up with the demand from the large grocery chains and big box stores. At this time photo labs were becoming very easy to operate and relatively inexpensive. So now any grocery store or big box store could install a photo lab and be reasonably successful with it even with inexperienced operators. As these larger chain stores started to become a player in the photo industry, Kodak and Fuji were tripping all over themselves vying for long term contracts for majority control of the lucrative processing and retail in each location. If you were a large retail store chain like a Wolff or Ritz, Kodak or Fuji would be on your doorstep to discuss how important it was to sign a contract, with very valuable bonuses and incentives. Eventually Kodak and Fuji became important monetary backers in Wolff’s and Ritz’s aggressive expansion plans. (By the way, Ritz, with Fuji’s help, won. By the end of the decade Wolff and Ritz had bought up a large amount of successful photo chains including Denver-based Waxman’s, Utah-based Inkley’s, and many east coast companies, and eventually Wolff was unable to keep pace and Ritz bought Wolff). So up through the end of the ‘90s photo retailers were generally happy. Our customers were very busy taking and sharing photographs and the photo industry was relatively strong.
During the later half of the ‘90s some of the manufacturers started to play around with a new concept. What if, they thought, we didn’t use film at all to hold an image but captured it electronically? What if the image was in a computer chip and not on film at all? And why should only photo stores sell the best stuff? The computer industry was hot and happening. Lots of dotcom companies were making millions of dollars and computers were everywhere. Dell computer, Gateway computer, Apple computer, Microsoft, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, all these companies were doing very, very well. Selling and moving grey boxes filled with diodes and RAM chips allowed for huge profits. And everyone was selling these! Radio Shack, Office Max and Depot, even Sears and Circuit City, not to mention all those dotcoms. So now we have our business paradigm. These retailers and all the manufacturers realized that they could sell any product in any environment. Why not put computers in Radio Shacks? Why can’t Sears sell Compaq? And while we are at it, let’s try some of those new cameras. What are they? Digital? Sure, put them in and let’s try it. And what do you know. Because the consumer is now conditioned to seeing electronics in unusual places, the placement of digital cameras in these same places seems to make sense. And they sell! By the hundreds of millions!
OK, where are we now? Its mid 2003 and a great change is underway. It started in the late ‘90s and is gaining incredible momentum. It’s called digital, and it will irrevocably change the face of photo retailing. In the past the camera manufacturers would help small specialty camera retailers by letting us sell different products than you would find at BigBoxMart. Either it was completely different or maybe packaged in a kit form with case and battery or date back. But the manufacturers can no longer afford this game. They have shareholders and CEOs with golden parachutes to fund, so the new business model is to sell all the cameras as quickly as they can, and to whomever they can. No longer is the specialty dealer getting anything unique or different. We are all on the same playing field. Kind of. Because the small specialty dealer is just that, small, we cannot afford to purchase vast amounts of gear to bring the price down like BigBoxMart or Dotcom. So in order to compete at the price that the customer is finding, we drop our profit to sell that item. This eroding profit margin has already claimed thousands of specialty retailers around the country. In a 100 mile radius from Gene Taylor’s, I know of six closed specialty photo retailers and rumors of shaky ground on a few existing stores.
Now let’s look at it from the manufacturers’ perspective. They will invest literally tens of millions of dollars in research and development costs on a new product. Then comes manufacturing, shipping, and warehouse costs. Add to that advertising to tease and interest a prospective new customer. They also have other cameras in development coming soon to replace this very camera on the market now. So of course they are going to be very aggressive in the selling and marketing of this camera. The camera needs to move very quickly and in as many retail outlets as possible in order to sell out. Because version II is on the way, and they don’t wish to have any version I left over. So now we don’t just have a specialty retailer competing with BigBoxMartCityMaxDepot, they are starting to have to compete with each other. Who can sell the most at the lowest prices? While this is generally OK with most consumers who don’t need clerk service, it eventually also means that if BigBoxMart continues to sell this camera at such a low profit margin, then they also will discontinue carrying the camera. Even they have limits, however low. So the manufacturers have entered a one-way street. Try to sell lots of cameras to anyone they can, watch their name-brand become synonymous with low-service, low price discounters, and then not have any specialty photo retailers left to go back to when they realize the error of this marketing model.
Ok, lets try a sporting goods analogy. If you are a skier you’ve seen a dramatic change in the tools you use. Skis have changed overall shape and have become easier to use. You cannot purchase ‘straight’ skis anymore. Also more than one half of the skiing industry has changed to snowboarding, which didn’t even exist a few years ago. If you fish you have seen changes in line technologies, rod and reel technologies and also lure sciences. Lures are coming pre-saturated with pheromones and other attractants to aid you. What about shooting sports? Rifle cartridges are continually being experimented with. Hand gunners are big on reloading and playing with ‘wildcat’ powder and bullet combinations. All of these industries are continually changing, but all of these new ‘tools’ still require an ongoing revenue stream. Skiers still need lift tickets and clothing. Fisherman still require new line yearly and new lures. Gun enthusiasts still purchase ammo and reloading supplies. Only in the photo industry are we promoting a line of products that require little or no future ongoing purchases. Once the photo industry reaches that magic saturation point where a majority of users are digital, then what? Paper and ink supplies alone won’t pay the light bill.
Digital cameras are neat little self-contained bundles. Customers love the size and immediacy of the images and generally are ready for the time needed for home printing. For those customers with no interest in dealing with the home computer or the time allotment needed to be a home photo lab, their option is to visit one of the many digital photo labs in place at any grocery store, BigBoxMart or gas station and get cheap prints made, maybe as low as 39,29 or 19 cents each. Digital cameras do not need many accessories after the sale. A memory card perhaps, a battery or two, but that’s it. No continuing film or processing sales. No long-term commitments. Done. Finis. The photo manufacturers have cut our own collective throats. The ubiquity of product is killing the specialty shops. And the manufacturers don’t care. Why should they? Right now the money is in the hands of the discount stores. So the manufacturers are doing all in their power to get their share. Camera whores. Get it while we got it. Cheap.
This trend obviously scares me. While I know that Gene Taylor’s Sports will be fine and stable in the future, I have doubts about the photo industry in general. When photo specialty stores close a great source of knowledge and expertise leaves with it. Tricks and techniques learned over decades are disappearing. Who will be left to teach traditional darkroom techniques? Who will be left to fully explain the delicate balancing act between shutter and aperture? Where is the art and romance of photography going? At what cost is the loss of all this? When will the manufacturers realize that by turning their back to the specialty store they are also constricting their own futures? No one will be left to explain, to teach, to help, to counsel. And the manufacturers will be left looking over their shoulders at their own ignorance. That rushing sound in you ears is the future coming at you. Which way will you move? -Scott Parsons-