Goodbye Penn Camera

January 21, 2012

Penn Camera store post closure

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Penn Camera closed (another article here) five of its eight stores on Wednesday, January 12-one of which was the store I frequented.  The Washington Post article (first link) also reports the speculation about Kodak filing for bankruptcy-a move that was subsequently announced on January 19.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation.  That same Post article references the closing of some Macy’s and Sears stores following poor holiday sales.

My first blog post describes my history with photography.  Once I finally got serious about photography, Modern Photo Supply-The Shutterbug became my “go to” store.  Back in the day, I spent many, many dollars on film and processing and equipment there.  The staff was knowledgeable and quite helpful; therefore, this store was an easy recommendation to students who wanted to know where to go for film and gear.  Modern was a single store-very local, far from national.  Quite frankly, that was the appeal as the staff was caring and consistent, and it was easy to develop a relationship with them.  They shuttered the doors many years ago as the digital onslaught began to take its toll on the smaller stores.  Penn Camera filled that gap for both me and students I referred there.

Penn Camera note explaining closing of store

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

And now the local Penn Camera is gone.

The significance of this closure on a personal level is two-fold.  First, shopping there corresponded with the seismic shift my photography underwent in 2008.  My first blog describes the transition I made from being a natural history photographer to a socio-environmental photographer.  Several pieces of gear used on that first 2008 New Orleans trip were purchased at Penn Camera.  I took note of the knowledge and interest of the sales persons with whom I interacted during those visits, and appreciated their service.  Penn Camera became my in-person store of choice.

Abandoned house and overgrown gasses

(C) Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Second, one of the sales persons was familiar with New Orleans and took the time to discuss the area and subject matter-information which proved invaluable once there.  This particular store also provided local photographers with the opportunity for public exhibition via a monthly gallery.  Scott was kind enough to schedule a showing of my prints from that first trip.  This was repeated following my second trip to New Orleans later that year.  I am deeply indebted for these opportunities-thanks much Scott.  The rest of the staff, Robert, Wayne, and the others were always helpful and we had many conversations.  I wish that this were different and hope for the best for them.

Kodak is much the same story on a larger scale.  The company had been in decline for some time and the pending bankruptcy has been well documented and commented upon, so there is not much to add here except this:  I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital era.  In fact, I only went digital because so many students were going digital and I felt that I could not continue to teach photography without a measure of expertise with that medium.  Due to several factors, including  the rise of digital capture and processing, the availability of darkrooms became more and more limited, which only added momentum to the change.  Schools were trading in their darkrooms for computer labs and Photoshop.  I was not too unhappy about that as I had begun to be concerned about the exposure to all the chemicals and the environmental impact of silver processing, but nonetheless there was a magic to the rhythm and zen-like methodology of film processing and to seeing a print emerge from the developer that digital just does not have.  At least for me it doesn’t.

However, digital sure is convenient.  Go on a shoot, backup the images, process in the computer, print or post or email as needed, when needed.  Sterile, technical, and not that much fun for a Luddite, but convenient.

At any rate, I have not shot a roll of film in many, many years and so have contributed to the demise of Kodak, as did all who made the switch from film to digital.  Truth be told, I was a fan of Fuji’s Velvia for most of my colour work.  However, Kodak’s T-Max 100 was my black-and-white film of choice and I tended to favour Kodak’s papers for most of my printing.  The darkrooms were certainly filled with Kodak’s chemicals.  And no one can argue Kodak’s legacy when it comes to imagery and the cultural impact of photography.

Having said all of that, the most significant point is that people have lost their jobs-be it when Modern closed, Penn Camera closed, Sears closed and so on.   This is the era in which we live.   Time will tell what becomes of the remaining  Penn Camera stores and the once monolithic Kodak-both appear to have plans for the future.  I hope the same is the case for all of the employees.

Take care.