James Camera on Chapel Street — the only specialized photography shop in New Haven — has weathered the changing landscape of photography since the shop’s founding in 1949. But it may have finally met its match: the digital camera.
As technology and the economy catch up with the more than half-century-old family business, the store’s keys might soon change hands as fewer customers need James Camera to develop film now. Though some student and faculty artists interviewed still said they prefer to use traditional techniques in their photography, the number is hardly enough to sustain the New Haven photography staple adjacent to Paul Rudolph Hall, the shop’s video engineer Dennis Collesano said.
Today, black and white photographs of the shop’s three generations of owners decorate the counters of the little store, along with news clippings about the store from the seventies. Outside, passersby stop to look into the shop’s window, gawking at the storefront’s two vintage film cameras from the ’50s, which Collesano said were used to tape the football games of Yale’s legendary coach Carmen “Carm” Cozza through his 31-year career. Over the shop’s speakers, a soft medley of ’80s classics plays.
But there is a sudden interruption: “Remove red eye with just a touch.”
The voice comes from a bright yellow Kodak digital photo booth, which, among its variety of services, offers to print customers’ digital photos into a water-resistant calendar. The store’s co-owner, Anthony Onofrio, said James Camera began working with digital photography around 2007.
Already, the store’s limited offering of digital materials and services — including the Kodak booth — represent approximately half of the shop’s business, Collesano said. Emphasizing the growing demand for digital photography, he said the shop has had to turn away customers because of general inventory shortages, and the sales from film products have not been able to counter the revenue loss.
“Digital should be around 75 percent of our business, and film 25,” Collesano said. “But our budget can’t support the $10,000 to $15,000 needed to make the transition.”
It did not help the store that the digital difficulties began at the same time as nearby construction projects, which grounded business, Collesano added.
“The Architecture School renovations [from 2005 to 2008] made us lose about $50,000,” he said, adding that Yale compensated the shop for three months of rent, or approximately $6,000.
Now the shop is looking for potential buyers, and they have already received calls from a few, Collesano said.
But the potential sale of James Camera, which may involve moving the business, has come to represent the shrinking use of film photography, Collesano said.
“We’re more of a hobby store,” Onofrio added. “We service more of a niche now.”
This niche, Collesano said, is made up in large part by Yale students and faculty who either need help developing film for analog photography classes or are looking for chemicals and paper to print their own photographs.
Indeed, a handful of students passed through the store in a period of 40 minutes yesterday afternoon, with Onofrio busily developing film for students who needed images for classes that afternoon.
School of Art darkroom manager Benjamin Donaldson ART ’01, who is also a lecturer at the school, said he has seen a spike in interest in both digital and film photography in recent years.
This year, analog photography classes drew twice as many shoppers as there were available seats, Donaldson added.
James Camera was founded by James F. Antonio, the great uncle of the shop’s current co-owners, Michael and Anthony Onofrio.