Monday, December 8, 2008

Thai-Light-Zone: The Camera Store

Or should I call it, “The Camera Museum?” It’s way off the beaten path, here in no-tourist town, on a dreary stretch of a main drag featuring mostly dreary shops, in a neighborhood of mostly students with a sprinkling of new “luxury” condo buildings. It’s a perfectly presented shop selling only second-hand film cameras.

I can’t believe that they make a living. The show window, along with a long low counter, and an entire wall of glass-doored display cabinets, are filled with about three hundred, mostly premium brand film cameras in pristine, perfectly operational condition. Each camera is wrapped in a plastic bag; each bag contains a pouch of anti-desiccant as a tropical precaution. It’s a beautiful inventory, but there are few bargains. The prices are fair, but let’s face it, the fair price for a like-new Leica or Hasselblad is pretty steep.

There are Nikon SLR’s of every “F.” Photomic F, F, F-1, F-2, and so forth, some with the motor-drives. Nikorrmat’s of the dry-land or the underwater variety. Lots of Leica’s, including one from the 1930’s that is constructed entirely of brass, and all the way up to the most recent Leica rangefinder and SLR cameras. Rollei-flex’s and Rollei-cords, a few early twentieth century bellows cameras from America and Germany. Two Arriflex sixteen millimeter film cameras. It’s an astonishing and beautiful collection.

Every camera that I looked at was in virtually new condition, and they were all guaranteed to function in every particular. The prices put them out of reach of most Thais. The Nikon reflex cameras start at about four or five hundred dollars (over 10,000 Baht) for a kind of simple, kind of old one, and go up from there. The Leicas start up around a thousand dollars (30,000 Baht or so). I only saw two or three ringers: one Russian “Kiev,” a Leica rangefinder knock-off; one Vivitar SLR; one Petri. Everything else was primo all the way.

It’s a family enterprise, and obviously a labor of love. Dad treats every camera like it was, well, a perfectly preserved relic of a technologically superior past, which they all are. He’s proud of every camera. He speaks English like it was his fifth language, sorely neglected. His son’s English is a little better, he can follow a simple conversation with a sympathetic (slow, clear) speaker (like me). Over in a corner was an uncle or somebody who looked like he was waiting for something to fix.

I asked, they’ll fix a digital camera if you approach the subject gingerly. None in the shop though, not even a mere digital camera accessory. This place is ideologically pure, an analog temple, a monument to Kodachrome. I’d love to help these guys, but I don’t need a film camera right now, and I don’t think that many other people do either. I wish them luck.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, very interesting. I estimated this morning that I've taken about 2500 pictures this year and now that I think about it probably 500 more got deleted before "copy".


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's dementia (or a desire to return to the womb)setting in, but it seems to me that the best pictures that I've taken were taken with a couple of old Nikons and a Yashica (2 and 1/4 "square format--like a BLAD, I believe). I sold the old machines a couple of years ago and I got about two-hundred-bucks for them. Now I wish that I hadn't sold them . . . one reason is that when I run the old 35 mm SLR prints through a scanner, and do a little subsequent touch-up/edit, the old photos seem to come back to life and stare me in my face. Minchia! Maybe I'm going insane . . . or maybe someone put the Mallochia on me and is screaming in my face, Asende me! Tuse provio no spacheme!

Vinnie ("The Snake") Spitoola