Thursday, 7 February 2013

Camera Shops


Anybody with the slightest knowledge of photography looking at the online photographic fora cannot but be saddened by the level of ignorance abroad. Even given the vast amount of information — and misinformation from the ignorant but opinionated — on websites, in books and magazines, some people seem immune to the acquisition of knowledge, despite a professed interest in some area like photography with film.

One of the best sources of photographic knowledge in the past was the good photographic shop. Knowledgeable staff with years of experience passed on real information while selling or showing their wares. The long-gone Nottingham Photo Centre in Pelham Street was a shining example. Schoolboys could and did learn much in there. (There is a photograph on Flickr showing the shop front http://bit.ly/V0ZqQY)

The first proper, as opposed to box, camera I had from there was a Braun Paxina 29 and the last, a Rolleiflex 4x4 — the grey ‘baby’ that produced 4 x 4 cm ‘Superslides’ from 127 film. Mr Fitzgerald, I think his name was, took a keen interest in encouraging the young. He had a small, one-man, processing shop in Hockley and arranged for two of us to be taken there to see how a commercial operation worked. The prints produced for customers were of superb quality and each negative for that service received individual attention. I learnt much in that short visit about making quick decisions on how to analyse a negative and to turn that overview into the practice of burning and dodging. The baseboard exposure analyser/meter (made by Agfa?) was the subject of great envy.

The near demise of film photography and of the cameras and equipment that had reached the end of their economic lives, together with the rapid development of improved sensors and the planned obsolescence of the consumer electronics industry (which cameras now fall into) have seen off most of the old photographic shops. Most of the photographic chains, like Jacobs and Jessops have now gone as well, with the rise of camera phones and the treatment of cameras like the rest of consumer electronics.

I walked along Tottenham Court Road a couple of weeks ago. From being a mecca for photographers and collectors of equipment, I only found one shop selling second-hand stuff. The closure of Kingsley, which always had an interesting range of stock, in 2011 was bemoaned on many a web forum.

In Hong Kong late last year, Stanley Street, once full of photographic shops now has only a few left. Kinefoto is one survivor, I was very pleased to see, still with its old shop sign. Locals and expats used Kinefoto for buying and part-exchange of still and cine. The first camera I bought there (when the shop was in Pottinger Street) was an Exakta Varex IIb with 50mm f2 Pancolar lens; the last was my wife’s Olympus Pen FT.


Kinefoto, Hong Kong, Invoice 1967