중앙데일리

A street where film cameras thrive

[Glimpse of Business in Seoul 32nd series: Chungmuro Camera Street]

Jan 12,2009
The window display of World Camera, a store on the Chungmuro Camera Street in central Seoul on Saturday. By Oh Sang-min
Across from Myeongdong Cathedral and hiding behind modern highrises, billboards touting Leica, Nikon, and Canon cameras, crowd a narrow street in Chungmuro.

People passing by with cameras hanging from straps on their shoulders stop and stare in the windows where row after row of classic 35- millimeter cameras are displayed.

A customer tests a camera at Youngsang Camera, a store on the Chungmuro Camera Street in central Seoul on Saturday.By Oh Sang-min
The beauty of a titanium Leica M7 or a Gold Nikon mesmerized Kim Yoon-sang and three of his other friends from an online camera community.

“My heart races just looking at these cameras,” said Park. He and his friends like to visit the neighborhood because it has a vast collection of classic cameras hard to find anywhere else.

There are several shopping districts to visit when considering buying cameras in Seoul. Yongsan, Namdaemun and Chungmuro are some of famous hot spots.

Favorite shopping areas are narrowed down to Namdaemun and Chungmuro among avid amateur and professional photographers who are more serious about the equipment they plan to buy or sell. The quality of secondhand cameras traded in these two markets are well known among camera geeks.

“But while Namdaemun is well known for also trading the latest digital cameras, Chungmuro 2-ga is better known for classic film cameras,” said Kim Dong-heung, who runs Art Camera, along the Chungmuro 2-ga camera street.

Currently there are around 20 shops along the street. Most came here in the early 1990s.

Like Kim, many of the shops previously did business in Jongno 4-ga where there was a large cluster of camera shops around the Sewoon Plaza electronics center.

Kim, who relocated to Chungmuro from Jongno eight years ago, said many of the shops moved out of Jongno for several reasons, including rising rents.

The shops either moved to Chungmuro or Namdaemun.

“Many stores flocked to Chungmuro because serious photographers gathered here and there was a large number of printing shops,” said Kim.

“Photography businesses almost had no choice but to flourish here because this is the mecca of movie making in Korea,” said Choi Young, a poet and photographer of nudes who runs Camera Museum Cafe, also known by its former name, Mozart. “With the rising film industry, photographers who made movie stills used the printing shops in the area. Soon camera shops started to pop up in the neighborhood.” Choi opened the museum cafe six years ago.

There are also shops that print commercial pictures, calendars and other publications, as well as picture frame shops.

Chungmuro is referred to as Korea’s own Hollywood.

Including Daehan and Myeongbo, which is now converted to an art theater, moviegoers used to flock to this neighborhood to watch the latest film before Megabox and other multiplex theaters multiplied in recent years.

“The film industry and photography have a long history together and it’s hard to separate the two,” said Kim.

But to compete with Namdaemun, the street had to differentiate itself. The solution was the film camera.

“Somehow rumors caught on that if you want to buy a digital camera, Namdaemun was the place,” Kim recalled.

Some of the store owners actually tell their customers to go to Namdaemun if they ask for a digital camera.

Thanks to the difference, Chungmuro 2-ga is now the biggest film camera street in the country, Kim said.

Choi’s museum has a huge stock of cameras, some of which date back a century.

“I sold three such cameras yesterday,” said Choi.

The cafe owner, who displays his work for customers to enjoy, says he has collected some 1,000 cameras in the course of 45 years. Some he brought from the United States, where he lived in Chicago for over two decades.

Though digital cameras outdo film cameras in sales, store owners say the surge of interest in digital cameras has spilled over to film cameras.

“Compared with earlier years, interest in cameras really started to pick up since 2002 when digital cameras spread quickly,” said Choi Gwang-un, who has been in the camera selling business for almost 20 years and moved to Chungmuro five years ago.

“Of course, there were those who were interested in cameras before, but with the appearance of digital cameras, they became more accessible and it later drew digital camera users to the world of film, which is very different, yet more attractive,” Choi said.

Shop owners say most of their patrons are regulars who are older than college students. The majority are professional photographers, advertising agents, serious amateurs or college professors who teach photography.

“The Chungmuro 2-ga camera street stands out against other camera shops in Seoul because customers can get one-stop services here,” Kim of Art Camera said.

“Customers could choose a high-quality secondhand film camera that has been certified by experts with a guarantee for at least six months.”

The stores not only sell and fix both film and digital cameras, but various films brands and other camera equipment, including photo developing chemicals.

The cameras traded at Chungmuro 2-ga are high-end. Some secondhand cameras sell for 10 million won ($7,490). Leicas carry price tags from 2 million won to 4 million won. Even the popular Hasselblad was going for slightly under 2 million won.

One of the more cheaply priced cameras was the Mamiya RZ67 which has been sold since 1982. The camera was offered at 670,000 won.

It’s hard to get a discount when buying a camera here, but buying one with cash can save a customer about 5 percent.

The street includes photo exhibitions. And some of the stores have their own exhibition halls.

An exhibition is currently offered at Gallery M, right across the street from the Jungbu police station.

Until Jan. 20, an exhibition by six professional documentary photographers of the Reality Leaders’ Club under the Korean branch of Magnum, the global photographers’ agency, will be on display.

Choi, the poetic photographer and camera museum owner, insists that those interested in a good cup of coffee and some tips on photography should visit the street and the cafe where film cameras bring a nostalgic flavor to this digitalized world.


By Lee Ho-jeong Staff Reporter [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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