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The rise of the home bakery - Phil Taylor again!


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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The rise of the home bakery - Phil Taylor again!

4 Jan 2021 10:35AM   Views : 691 Unique : 395


Phil's title was 'The rise of the home bakery, and the demise of the camera shop' - but it's too long for a blog title here, and it got truncated. Off you go, Phil!

Way back at the beginning of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic I decided that I was going to prepare for any consequences of Brexit on flour supplies by making my own bread. The hunt was on for my first bread machine, after reading lots of online reviews I decided on the model I wanted, ordering it online for click and collect. Then there was the search for any suitable flour, and the search for recipes and advice.

Thankfully I have friends who pointed me towards a local Bavarian bakery Ė Pretzel and Spelt Ė the enthusiastic owner produces Ďartisaní breads, pretzels, and has diversified into supplying flour for the growing band of domestic bakers. Now bakers vary from folk like me, the equivalent of the Canon green square user, to the enthusiasts who spend hours cultivating sourdough starters, hand kneading, proving with obscure cereals. Weíve all met the photo equivalent insisting that real photographers shoot RAW. Remember when your local photographic shop was like that, the owner also the local professional shooting weddings, portraits, industrial and commercial photography as well as selling film, D and P? They were happy to share their knowledge as a member of the local camera club.

I live in Bolton, and recently my local paper ran a story about the threat Coronavirus poses to our last surviving photographic shop. From the 70s it was a part of my life, but recently it was like paying a last visit to a relative fading away. My father got his Zenith B there, then as I developed my interest, they supplied discounted bromide paper and chemicals. They had a thriving Mail Order business. Crucially, you could pick up any Nikon, Pentax, Canon Ė and they stocked pretty much all of the normal range of lenses. OK, you wouldnít find Hasselblad, Rollei and Leica there.

On my visit recently the sparse window display was mainly cheap compacts, and a smattering of Panasonic Lumix. Itís a long time since they displayed even the most basic mainstream SLR. 3 staff members who I had known from my 20s were looking bored, with nobody to serve on the approach to Christmas. One customer seemed to be a member of the local camera club, and someone was enquiring about printing, but was referred to Max Spielman who could do what they needed.

So whatís happened to kill off photographic retail? Over the years a lot has changed. Dixons appealed to the amateur, and those dipping a toe in the water with serious cameras; Boots sold a few amateur cameras and film; the Co-Op even had a department that sold film. Over the years we gained and lost a Jessops and a Wilkinsons. In the 80s the biggest threat to photography was the camcorder, the alternative the inevitable Pentax ME Super with 2 or 3 lenses and a flash. Automatic exposure and autofocus helped to keep the cash tills ringing for a while.


However, there are a few tiers of photographic supplier. Manchester was home to a thriving fashion and Mail Order industry, which supported a number of wholesalers supplying film in bulk in pretty much any type and format you wanted, and medium and large format cameras. Of course, the staff knew what their clients wanted, and were usually very knowledgeable. There was constant stream of motorbike couriers collecting rental equipment, bricks of film, chemicals for account holders. When they were not there, the couriers could be found waiting for processed transparencies at local trade lab Colour 061. Only Calumet survives, now known as Wex.

The tier below that? Companies that supplied the professional and amateur at all levels, the likes of Jessops and Tecno. You had sales people understood what the customer needed, and how to sell it to them. Remember the huge Jessops price list, A3, but such tiny print that they sold a branded magnifying card to go with it? Jessops staff were pretty good at guessing what a consumer wanted. I went in to buy two Canon Sureshot film compacts, knowing they would be fine for the grandmothers. The salesman took the trouble to explain how to load the cameras, what they did, how to avoid problems. Then I came to pay with my debit card, and I used the one that had my photographic qualifications after my name (very pretentious!) He was very apologetic for being patronising Ė there was no need, he was selling at the level required.

By the late 90s things were starting to change in photographic retailing. Jessops had grown to a branch in pretty much every large town. This growth didnít bring improved customer service: an attempt to corner the amateur market at all levels lacking the expertise to support it. Soon people were starting to ditch the camera for the phone, early results were awful, but the photo industry failed to see the opportunity to make prints from these devices.

By 2000 I wasmoving away from wedding photography (where my needs were supplied by a wholesaler specialising in supplying albums and consumables on an account) to press photography. My local camera shop was back in favour, as their speciality of discounted bricks of film was just what I needed. Things changed, and I became the first photographer supplying the local paper to go digital. At a stroke, my purchase of consumables vanished, as my money went to the middle tier of camera retailing, in my case London Camera Exchange and the ill-fated Jacobs. The staff were knowledgeable, you could pick up stuff, be amazed at how awful AF was on the Canon D30, trade in your old film gear, and try to find wide angles for a crop sensor, (thanks, Richard at Jacobs back then, a fisheye sort of worked). However, it wasnít just the higher end going digital, the phone was stealing the market for film and processing for everyone.

The cracks were starting to appear in the bigger chains. Staff in Jessops no longer understood the customer. I tried to buy a Minolta light meter only to be told that Ďnobody needs light meters nowadays, they are all in the camerasí and when enquiring about a 14mm f2.8 to give me a wide angle on crop sensors that Ďitís silly, far too wide for anyone to use, I canít see why you need it.í Early digital was a pain when it came to printing. You could run off inkjet prints, or try and find a way to get the files to a professional lab on floppy disc, CD or Syquest drive. People stopped making prints, and memories stayed on failure-prone hard drives Ė and there was no cloud backup with a dial-up connection. For a while, prints from any electronic format seemed elusive. As film sales fell off a cliff, nothing filled the gap for the local camera store, and their turnover plummeted.


So, how has the market changed? For the UK, most of the drooling over new equipment happens at either local trade shows or the Photography Show that might possibly happen in 2021, but personally Iím not holding my breath! Thereís the Internet - follow the advice of a site like DP Review, see what people on Ephotozine think, look up YouTube reviews (Iím a fan of Christopher Frost for lenses). Then itís a trawl on the web for the best price, deciding if you want to risk the íships from Chinaí option, and then wondering if thatís the moral option rather than going to see a proper camera shop.

I usually buy secondhand camera bodies from MPB Ė plenty of stock reliably described and guaranteed. However Iíve returned to my surviving city centre camera shop for lenses, though the web tells me all I need to know about the product, thereís just the handling to see how the mechanics are, and itís bought. Iím afraid Iím not into the Ďunboxingí experience, Iíve been known to simply drop a new lens into a pocket wrapped in the receipt. I was persuaded by one of the staff at London Camera Exchange recently to at least let him put it in a plastic bag first.

So why have I returned to bricks and mortar shopping? Well, the staff take the time to get to know you, what you do, ask how you are doing, if you have snapped anything interesting. They highlight new products, flag up stuff that you might fancy buying, and the feedback works both ways, if I buy something, Iíll share my experience of how it works out, so they learn from the customer. You can handle stuff to see if the influencer online was fibbing. Basically, just what the local bakery has done for me Ė encourage, and consequently, win my loyalty.

As to the local shop thatís been part of my life for over 40 years, I suspect that itís the end now, with non-essential retail in lockdown. Insufficient medium to high end equipment to supply the enthusiast as their experience grows, no realistic income from film sales, a Mail Order business that relied on consumables and discounted hardware, and staff who no longer understand my needs. Iíll be surprised if itís not another empty unit on the high street soon.


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dudler Plus
19 2.0k 2018 England
4 Jan 2021 10:40AM
Now, after looking at the images full-size, I need breakfast... Sadly, it's sliced white for me.
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 12:02PM
Just get the cheap Kenwood machine. 1.5 kg bags of bread flour are 55p in Lidl. That's enough for 3 big loaves. I reckon I can get all the ingredients in the machine, and running in e minutes. You can wake up to the smell of fresh bread.

The cheapest Panasonic machine is a lot better for not much more. Like I say above, you can go to extremes with stuff that. verges on Bromoil levels of intensity, but it's a no brained buying bread if you have space for one.
AltImages 3 4
4 Jan 2021 1:17PM
A well-written article that has stirred up old memories for me. As I was born and 'bread' in the Bolton area. I infer the post is referring to Mathers of Lancashire that also used to be pretty much cheapest mail-order camera store back in the day with at least a half page advert in every Amateur Photographer magazine. Although back in the 1970s I recall that they were then in Bradshawgate roughly across from Yates' Wine Lodge. The article then caused me to take a virtual walk though the modern Bolton town centre on Google Earth, not having seen it for around 37 years. In those days it was a thriving well looked-after place. Now I wish I'd never looked, the old black and white timbered Mathers shop now looking derelict and as if it might collapse imminently 😕
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
4 Jan 2021 2:55PM
I remember those Mathers of Lancashire ads in the photo magazines now you mntion them. I guess there are others that I'd remember if I heard the name again.
There were several camera shops locally in the 1980s and 1990s, now all gone.
Panasonic bread machine here.
AltImages 3 4
4 Jan 2021 2:59PM

Quote:I remember those Mathers of Lancashire ads in the photo magazines now you mntion them. I guess there are others that I'd remember if I heard the name again.
There were several camera shops locally in the 1980s and 1990s, now all gone.
Panasonic bread machine here.

I always thought it odd. As in the 1970s Mathers had big adverts, but only occupied the upstairs floor of their main shop that sold radios etc downstairs!
banehawi Plus
19 2.9k 4354 Canada
4 Jan 2021 3:14PM
Bread machines, the equivalent of the fully automatic point and shoot camera!
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 2018 England
4 Jan 2021 3:26PM
Below the belt, Willie. Below the belt!
JuBarney Plus
11 36 7 United Kingdom
4 Jan 2021 6:26PM
Terrific looking bread shots;
I wonder why French bread from a proper French baker always tastes so much better.
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 7:16PM
OK, let's get the bread thing out of the way first. French bread is mate with a different type of flour, Inna bread machine it bakes for around 6 hours, which gives a sharp crust.

Names that have gone? How about Marston and Heard who used to have a or two at the back of Amateur Pornographer (female photographers were not a thing then). Vic Odden? M&H did a line in cheap roll your own film, and what I suspect was their own brand of chemicals 'Barfen'.

Right, back to Mathers. The black and white shop ground floor did indeed sell hi fi components, but it was a bit of a half hearted effort and not their mainstay. Upstairs was film, paper, chemicals in the 70s. By the 80s the hi fi was long gone, with hardware replacing it. They did indeed do very keen prices, as I recall making copious notes from AP when using my Metz 45 and Pentax A and M series stuff.

Of course, digital has wiped out consumable side of the photo business, phones have killed the lower end, Currys stock beginner DSLRs etc, then there's the internet...

I suspect that on top of the Covid year is that they now only appeal to a small sector of the market.

Bolton's retail sector has been hit hard with a massive shopping mall in Trafford, and a few years back over enthusiastic traffic wardens and a better experience in nearby Bury

philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 7:19PM
The bread shots? Not my best work. I was going to buy flour, so just threw the 5D2 iin the car with a 50 1.4, and rattled off a quick story about her fundraising for the local hospice by making sourdough starters.
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
4 Jan 2021 7:26PM
Ah yes, Vic Odden, and I did use some Barfen E6 film.

Quote:Of course, digital has wiped out consumable side of the photo business, phones have killed the lower end, Currys stock beginner DSLRs etc, then there's the internet...

I suspect that on top of the Covid year is that they now only appeal to a small sector of the market.

My thoughts (analysis) too.
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 7:57PM
I think a lot of the demise of the 'real' camera shop came in the middle when we went digital.

In 2000 I was putting film for the local paper through their roller transport (bread machine for C41 negative stock), and taking it home to scan and caption before wiring it back via ISDN. Once I had a digital file for publication, getting it into physical form was a printing press. Weddings were a different matter, film all the way, as nobody was printing affordably off digital files.

In 2001/2 when the digital SLR came out, I could find nobody local to make me a 10 x8.

The first people to make that happen, and to recognise that film was on the way out won the war.
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 2018 England
4 Jan 2021 8:10PM
Camera shops of the old-fashioned sort are not completely dead, but they are very endangered.

I've had good experiences in several branches of LCE, and the staff at the Derby branch are thoroughly knowledgeable, in just the right, old-fashioned way.

In Minehead, Priddy's was still looking good last time I went in there: but that is now three years ago. As a family firm, aligned with a busy photographic general practice, Priddy's has synergies that most shops don't have: it's also an office and a studio. Post-lockdown, I intend paying another visit - but that is some way off now.

And there are the specialist shops that deal in secondhand gear, like Mr Cad: and the mail-order specialists like Ffordes and MPB, mentioned by Phil.
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 8:30PM
I popped into Cambrian in Conwy on the way back from a day out in Llandudno.

Yep, they tick all the boxes, working photographers, and they know their stock. Mahogany counters like an old Woolworths, that's vital. Lomax's in Manchester used to have them, it was always the sign of a classy camera shop.

Knowing what the customer needs is vital. Late 2019 I had a tricky one off shot to get, that involved climbing a huge church tower, and getting a distant shot of the interior of a burned out building that was above the surrounding buildings. I had a 300 mm f4, which wasn't long enough, I had considered a cheap longer Sigma, but overpriced for a one off. My local LCE found a cheap 2bd hand teleconverter for £25. OK, it was a manual focus effort, but it saved me money.

Equally knowing the alternative they can't provide helps. I shot food weekly for 11 years, so always had a macro in the bag. That got traded in when nno longer needed. Recently I shot a fish, chip and mushy pier 3 Tier pie that ended up in the nationals. Now the old macro would have been nice, but a set of plastic extension tubes on an 85 1.8 worked nicely enough.
AltImages 3 4
4 Jan 2021 9:37PM

Quote:I think a lot of the demise of the 'real' camera shop came in the middle when we went digital.

That Bolton (Evening) News article was dated last October and feared another lockdown. Sadly today's news will likely be like The Reaper's scythe cutting many struggling businesses down 😕
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 9:42PM
At least my lockdown library shots will be coming out to earn some money.
philtaylorphoto 21 334 2
4 Jan 2021 10:11PM
And here comes the Manchester one in the Mail Southerners please note, Manchester looks like that, even in July.
AltImages 3 4
4 Jan 2021 10:31PM

Quote:And here comes the Manchester one in the Mail Southerners please note, Manchester looks like that, even in July.

Sadly this seems to be uniquely British. A while ago I trawled though the European news outlets trying to find how bad the demise of their shopping streets was comparing, only to find articles basically saying that they hoped that the British High Street problems stayed on our side of the Channel, and cited how we loved buying from eBay, Amazon, and online, wheras in the EU people still preferred to shop in person.

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