The camera industry is changing, but old-school camera stores like Garland Camera will be there through its ebbs and flows. Today, mobile phone cameras democratize photography, but film and digital cameras are still a strong force in the market for those who appreciate photography as an art form.
Within the past decade, film photography has become king once again. The 35-mm revival led to Eastman Kodak more than doubling its production of film rolls between 2015 and 2019, according to an NBC interview
with Kodak general manager Ed Hurley. The increase was felt locally in Dallas-Fort Worth and continued long after 2019.
Garland Camera, at 1401 Northwest Highway since 1962, has seen the photography industry through a lot — to say the least.
“Film [was] brought back more so due to the pandemic because you had people at home digging through the closets finding something to do,” says Kirk Meza, who has owned Garland Camera for 8 years. “We saw a lot of parents and grandparents giving film cameras to their children and grandparents, and really help perpetuate the art of photography. So a whole generation came into film processing who had no idea what film was or how it works.”
Nostalgic trends meant the expansion of disposable cameras as well, according to Meza, but the more classic point-and-shoots or manual film cameras gained popularity too.
“We saw a lot of exposed film because people didn’t understand how this works,” says Meza.
These brief failures prove an apt time to pass knowledge between the generations, though, and keep the lifecycle of photography moving forward.
“We spend that time, and we try to educate the younger consumers, and it’s kind of neat," Meza says. "They started out with the disposable, then they went to the point-and-shoot film cameras, and then up to the manual cameras.”
Devotees trade in camera after camera; the next person inherits the former’s previous camera and the cycle continues.
“You have to understand, there is an entire generation that grew up digital, so the analog world is somewhat intriguing to them,” Meza explains.
But, as he sees it, film photography has reached peak oil.
“We are fortunate because we’ve always done film processing here. We saw it go from 5–10 rolls to where we are today, doing around 100 rolls a day. But I don’t see that maintaining forever,” says Meza.
This expect decline may be due to the steep increase in the price of film. Meza says that film priced at around $6–7 a roll five years ago goes for $20 a roll now.
“I don’t think it’s going to go further just because financially it’s not going to be feasible for everybody," Meza says. "It’s going to be a rich kid’s sport.”
You’ve probably heard the cries from the town square (Twitter) or thought leaders (talking heads): post-pandemic inflation is rampant. So, this rise in film makes sense, neatly packed into the larger trend.
However, Meza cites another reason the price of film has increased. Despite being headquartered in Rochester, New York, Kodak — the company responsible for most of the film stock in the U.S. — has moved much of its manufacturing to China over the past years.
Jaylen Allmond takes a quick photo break from scanning film at Garland Camera.
“Rochester, New York, is producing some film, but it is being exported back to China for packaging and repackaging," Meza says. "Some of this will go into disposable cameras. The others will just go into other types of cameras. They are going to be packaging Fuji with Kodak product inside.”
Because of this change, the price of Kodak film has increased significantly. The higher cost of film, perhaps married with TikTok’s recent Y2K undercurrent, now means a newfound interest in digital cameras.
“We are going from the disposable film cameras to the little compact digital cameras from the early 2000s. We buy those on a daily basis, and they are really starting to move,” Meza says.
Having the resources to keep up with the micro trends of photography is difficult. Materials are costly, and expertise is necessary. Luckily, Garland Camera provides all of its services in-house, so the staff can cater to industry changes.
“The neat part about it is that I took over when the film side was still pretty much dormant, and, as it evolved, we were able to evolve with it because we had everything that people were looking for,” Meza says.
As an old-school camera shop, Garland Camera offers film developing; buying, selling and trading of cameras and gear; a darkroom and studio supplies; and in-house camera repairs. This versatility means adaptability.
“Things that you can't get done at CVS and Walgreens any longer, we still do, Meza says. "Things that Costco and Sam’s don’t do, we do. That’s the most intriguing part of it because it’s the preservation of an entire generation as well as the culture of the industry. There are very few of us left in the country. Camera store-wise in the country, there is probably less than 200 total.”
Acting almost like conveyor belts of knowledge tucked into unsuspecting storefronts, small stores like this one keep a skilled art form alive, especially among new generations.
“It is a younger clientele," Meza says. "We have the young to interface with the young and the old ... we’ve hired a lot of the individuals who have grown with the trend."
Eight years into owning Garland Camera, he is proud of its service to the area.
“I bought this company to preserve and perpetuate its legacy in the community and DFW and beyond," he says. "We’ve grown progressively at a steady rate over the last few years — just enough to handle it, but not enough to where we have customers lose faith in what our capabilities are. It’s who we are. It’s old school. We are not new and fresh and pretty. It’s just who we are.”
Zachery Runnels manning his station on the sales floor at Garland Camera, an old-school gem.