The headlines in the local paper a few days ago made me sad. Well truthfully, there's lots of sadness in the media these days but this was different. Pensacola Photo Supply is closing its doors after 63 years of doing business. And while I suppose it's sad when any small business goes dark, I had a personal relationship with this one. It's where I bought my first digital camera a little more than ten years ago.
I didn't go there intending to buy a camera; I was looking for a lens. We were heading off to Africa in a few months and I had every intention of taking my Nikon SLR. It was relatively new, I understood how it worked and it took good pictures, even if I did have to wait for the film to be developed to see them. I wasn't in the market for a digital camera at all. Now a nice zoom lens that would let me get better wildlife photos? That was another matter.
The shop wasn't very big but it was crammed with photography equipment and the guys behind the counter knew how to use it. And they were happy to share that knowledge in a very down-to-earth sort of way. There wasn't a hard-sell, more of a have-you-thought-about-this query to their sales approach. They put the digital SLR in my hand to play with and the rest is history. I later bought a newer-bigger-faster version of that same camera but in the end, the Nikon I bought that day is still the camera that sits on the counter, ready for any impromptu photo opportunity I may have.
So why is Pensacola Photo closing, you ask? In a word: Cellphones. Everybody seems to have one and every cellphone has a camera. It's convenient and it's easy which, in the long run, means fewer people need cameras, digital or otherwise. There went a big chunk of Pensacola Photo's sales.
There's more. No one develops photos from cellphones. Well, scrapbookers do but that hardly counts. The rest of the world just stores the latest snapshots of family and events on their mobile device, never converting it to a printed image. It's wonderful to be able to share those instantly with someone else because they are right there in your pocket but what happens when you trade in the phone? Or worse yet, lose or damage it? These day the bits of our lives frozen in the camera's eye are caught in a computer chip and likely to stay there until they disappear. This lack of prints means the other chunk of Pensacola Photo's business has gone away too.
This news was still weighing on my mind when I saw a second story making it's way through Facebook, one wall at a time. It was about photojournalist Art Shay of Chicago. He took pictures of many famous people for such prestigious publications as Time, Life and Sports Illustrated during his professional career but it's the ones he took of his favorite subject, his wife Florence, that make up the exhibit now on display at Columbia College Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. It chronicles the 67 years of their marriage before she passed away last Valentine's Day. You'll find the two-minute video story here; it's worth seeing.
There were two statements in the story that really struck home with me, the first by Shay and the second by the man who reported it.
A photograph is the biography of a moment.
Strung together, they chart a lifetime.
I know I'd have a deep appreciation for photographs even if I weren't a scrapbooker but watching Shay go through the prints of what he saw through the camera's lens during all those years and hearing him talk about his wife and their relationship reinforced that. Perhaps it's because his loss is so fresh and so palpable. Or maybe it's just that photos...especially the printed ones...have that power over us. I feel it too when I look through old family pictures or even snapshots I took last year or last week.
How about you? Is the biography of your moments locked up in bits and bytes?
I don't have a lot of meaningful photos on my cellphone; I just don't use it that way, reaching for my trusty Nikon instead. But these two stories, seemingly unrelated but in reality connected, inspired me dig through my computer memory and pull out one of one of my favorite subjects. It's from 2011 but he hasn't changed a lot since then.
I'll print it and it can live on my desk until I find time to scrapbok it. Just one more notch on the chart of our lifetime.
If you're interested, you can read the story of Pensacola Photo's closing here. (Oddly enough, that link is to a San Franciso paper. It's free whereas online stories to our local paper require a subscription.)