HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Photo stores are like an old photograph. A lot of them have faded out of the picture. There's one in Huntsville that has outlasted them all.
Southerland's Photo is a Huntsville icon. It opened in 1963. Malcolm Tarkington went to work there in 1965. Malcolm and his wife Betsy bought the business in 1968 and moved it to its current location on Whitesburg Drive in 1975. They’ve been together for a long time.
“She's my right-hand person for many, many years,” Malcolm said.
Betsy smiled and nodded her head.
They’ve seen a lot of change in the 50 years they’ve owned the store.
“Camera sales are just about non-existent because people buy online now or from a very big box,” Malcolm said.
They still sell used cameras, accessories and lenses. But mom and pop operations like theirs are a piece of Americana that is slowing disappearing.
Today, everybody has a camera on their cell phone.
“Sometimes they can have as many as three, and five and 10 thousand images on their cell phone,” Malcolm said.
No need to send them off for developing.
“They don't know what to do with them,” he added, “Fortunately, some come in here to get them printed.”
Today, most of their business comes from restoring old photos and scanning pictures, videos and film to DVDs. Although there are signs of a film revival.
“Younger folks are buying film cameras because they like what they're getting,” Malcolm said, “They don't have the instant gratification like cell phones and digital. And they like the mystery of film.”
One thing has changed dramatically. People don’t put their printed photos in albums like they did years ago.
“The new album is this,” Malcolm said holding up his cell phone, “And that's what they do.”
Just about everyone takes pictures with their cell phones.
“I don`t even own one. I have a flip phone in my pocket,” Malcolm said like a true old school photographer.
“If I'm going to take pictures, I'm going to take pictures with a camera,” he added.
If you ask Malcolm and Betsy how much longer they plan to work, they’ll shoot straight with you.
“Well, we're 80, look at the arithmetic,” he said, laughing.
They’re not ready to walk away just yet.
“We've worked this all of our life and it comes to the point of quitting, you know, it's like chopping off what you've done all your life,” Betsy said.
When it comes to servicing the needs of the amateur and professional photographers in the area, Southerland's has outlasted them all.
“You call it an icon, I call ourselves relics,” he said, laughing, “We're sorta old like the cameras we sell.”
There are plenty of those on the shelves. Many of them go back for a century or more.
When I asked him if he has shot with most of them, he laughed again.
“No, I'm not that old,” he said.
For now, the Tarkingtons will continue doing what they love, taking care of the folks who drop by.
“I enjoy meeting the people,” Betsy said, “They're more than customers these days, they're old friends.”
While they’re not looking to sell, Malcolm said if the right offer came along, they’d consider handing things over to someone else.
“I was going to retire 30 years ago rich and I didn't,” he said, laughing.
“We're still trying to get there,” Betsy added, laughing.
For more on services Southerland's offers, follow this link to the website.