Upon reopening his shop after the holidays, Paul Black, co-owner of Photographique in Deep Ellum, found himself swamped with customers. His business offers traditional photographic services such as developing film, restoring damaged photos, producing prints both large and small, and renting out their darkroom to eager photographers. But before the birth of digital photography, Paul’s daughter, Cassandra, says January used to be a slow month for the nearly 35-year-old family-run business.
“It’s kind of shocking. It really started about a year ago, when it really started to become obvious that we were a lot busier than we were before,” Paul says. The shop has gained more than 600 new customers in the last year and has seen profits rise by nearly 50 percent, which they attribute to the surge in popularity of analog technology among younger generations.
“These guys who rent the darkroom stay in there for seven, eight hours without coming out,” Paul says. “These guys are not shooting weddings and stuff; they’re just having fun.”
In 2017, Paul’s store is now the only place in Dallas where local photographers can have their professional black and white film processed, but when the shop first opened in 1982 professional photographers all used film and Photographique was there to assist.
“The professional photographers we had as our clients had very seasonal work,” Cassandra told the Observer over the noise of customers coming in and out of the store. “We always knew when they were shooting weddings or portraits, we always knew what their orders would be like and when they were shooting them. The bridal portraits are done at this time of year, the weddings are this time of year — it was very predictable in a sense.”
At that time Photographique was a much bigger business. They hosted exhibitions, rented studio space to professional photographers and were able to track their business by the seasonal cycle of graduations and weddings, birthdays and funerals. But Paul says things started to change in 2003.
“We were almost over; a lot of people in our business just shut the doors,” Paul says. “Cooter’s closed, Wolf Camera closed a lot of their stores; people just stopped shooting film and getting prints, from about 2003 thorough the next 10 years.”
When Paul and his family first moved to Dallas it was so he could work at the Polaroid Corp., where he remained for over a decade. There he conducted shelf-life studies, buying the product off the shelf and seeing how the film performed over time and assuring its quality. When the Polaroid facility in Dallas finally closed, Paul was offered a new position but opted to stay in Dallas and start Photographique. Then, as Paul says, “the years turned to decades.”
The one thing that saved Photographique, was their greatest strength: film restoration.
“[Restoration] kept us alive when film went away,” Paul says. “We do pretty amazing stuff, and that’s why we stayed alive. If all those other guys had done that they’d still be in business too. It’s highly specialized.”
During the decline of film photography, Cassandra, who says she’s lived and breathed photography her entire life, came back into the business after college and taught herself how to restore damaged, faded and weathered photographs.
“At the time we had kind of pared down the shop and most of our employees were gone, and it just was a hard time, so I just was like, ‘OK, I’m going to figure this out. I’m just going to do it,’ so I taught myself to do it and get us through some difficult times,” Cassandra says.
Photographique has restored photos since their inception, but the process is painstaking and meticulous, which made finding qualified restorationists difficult for the struggling company. But Cassandra says her parents’ artistic abilities seemed to have rubbed off on her. Aside from his skill with film and chemicals, Paul is a painter. Carol, Cassandra’s mother, is a calligrapher, restores antique frames at the shop and is in charge of packaging the final product for customers.
All three consider themselves perfectionists, which one would assume to be true by the look of their restored photos. The recreations are so stunning in fact that the check-out is fully stocked with tissues for clients who are overwhelmed at the sight of a once destroyed image coming back to life.
“It’s kind of overwhelming when you feel like you have an idea of what this image looks like in your mind and you give it to us to restore and you get it back and it’s just completely changed and restored to what you never even thought was there; it’s pretty amazing,” Cassandra says.
Photographique utilizes both digital and analog techniques to create the best possible recreation of an image. Some clients come in with photos still stuck to the glass of their former frames or photos from the 19th century, so worn and faded that hardly any of the actual photograph remains.
“For us that’s really rewarding, to be able to contribute to someone’s happiness and generate something that has become an heirloom that they can share with generations to come,” Cassandra says. “We like to make miracles happen.”
And as more and more Dallasites start dusting off their forgotten Minoltas, Canons and Nikons, loading them with film and creating physical images of friends, family and their surroundings, Photographique is looking to meet their needs. The shop has already expanded, allowing them the ability to do just about anything a client would need, from making high quality copy-prints of art work to printing and framing large format images. And in the future they are hoping to open up their shop to photographers looking to exhibit their work and offer more classes and workshops to those looking to experience printing their images themselves.
“We like to encourage people to work on their art and expose their body of work and share it with the community,” Cassandra says. “I would like to be a big player in the photography community because for so long it was kind of a closed community. A lot of labs didn’t share information … I think being a little more open about it and sharing somebody’s success with other people and their peers is exciting.”