The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

University Camera bids farewell to Iowa City after nearly 50 years

In a huge loss to Iowa City’s visual-arts community, locally owned University Camera will close in April.
The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ben A
Longtime University Camera employee Howard Horan prepares HC-110 developing solution in the darkroom of University Camera on Monday, Jan. 15, 2017. University Camera will be closing on April 15. (Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan)

A unique, one-stop imaging center, photography equipment, and camera store University Camera will bid farewell to Iowa City after being around for almost 50 years.

The shop was founded in 1970 and was bought by Roger and Chris Christian of Iowa City in 1984 under the corporate name Chispix Inc. They have run it to the present day.

The last 50 years encompass the way photography has evolved — it was not a sudden jump of 50 years, Roger Christian said. Each of the changes have come as small steps.

“The introduction of new technology has always brought changes with it. You either adapt [to those changes] or you die,” he said. “There is good and bad with everything that happens.”

University Camera had been on a rolling six-month plan to close down for the last 10 years, Christian said. The store was flagging a little in the first part of 2017.

“But when the books for October were done, it was realized that the store had done one-third of the business it had to do in order to stay alive; we said we are closing,” he said.

The store announced on Dec. 15 that it would shut the door. Depleting sales was one of the reasons.

We put a very large chunk of our own money to support the business for a couple of months, Christian said.

“The difficulty is that photography has become a commodity [for customers]. The equipment and services can, by and large, be delivered online,” Christian said. “The need for a lot of things we do has simply evaporated and moved to the Internet.”

In reality, we have limited spaced, funds, and staff, and hence cannot move most of our store to an online platform, he said.

A unique University Camera experience included walking up to the counter, and getting a tutorial on subjects such as flash, operating cameras, and other aspects of photography.

Customers could get to actually feel the equipment and try it before purchasing. This kind of experience is not valued anymore, Christian said.

“Roger has been very helpful with his expertise related to photography equipment,” said James Snitzer, a University of Iowa professor of art. “University Camera has enhanced the photography program as well as the journalism program at the University of Iowa in many ways.”

“Because of technology, we live in a much different landscape today than we did 50 years ago, when the store started,” Snitzer said. “Today, with cellphones, everybody is their own photographer, designer, and publisher.”

With the emergence of cellphones, people prefer taking more video than photos; anyone can buy a cellphone today and call themselves a photographer, said Jackie Bartlett, a University Camera employee who has worked there for four years.

“Working at University Camera, I learned how engaging it was to work with film,” she said. “I have seen some really good photographs and some really bad photographs, [but] they have taught me a lot.”

“We have tried to do our best to support our vendors and customers and to provide products and equipment in Iowa City that rival any big city,” Christian said.

It has been an exciting time to be in the business, and he will miss the customers, the town, and a great bunch of employees who made University Camera what it was and is today, he said.

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About the Contributor
Aadit Tambe, Managing Digital Editor
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aadittambe Aadit serves as the Managing Digital Editor at The Daily Iowan. Currently a senior, he is working towards earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication, and a minor in German. He previously served as assistant digital editor, digital producer, and as a news reporter. He got his start at the DI covering research and health-care stories.