Well, after much encouragement to do so, I have joined the modern world and started a real blog. Certainly, with so much happening in the world of photography these days, finding things to write about shouldn't be much of a problem. This is still somewhat new to me, so we'll take it one step at a time.
First, a little about me. My name is David Farkas and I have been around photography my whole life. My family has run a professional photo lab, Dale Laboratories, for about 35 years. Our motto is that we do anything from everything. From B&W to E6 to digital proofing and poster prints, we do it all. Our 12,000 sq. ft. facility is located in Hollywood, FL.
I started taking pictures when I was about 7 years old. I learned darkroom techniques, how to load my own film, manual exposure, and all that good stuff. By the time I was 14, I was selling my photographs and entering competitions. My father, Dale (of same name as lab, yes), was not sensitive to the feelings of an aspiring adolescent photographer. He was brutal and honest. After I'd shot, developed, and printed my own images, he'd tear them to shreds. I remember seeing some alley shots in some photo magazine, and thought I'd try the same. He took one look and said, "What's this?! This is trashcan school photography. You're better than this. Freshman photo students shoot like this. Move on." Ironically, I'd find out several years later in photo school that he was dead on the money. I stopped shooting trashcans and alleyways. His comments ultimately made me a better photographer.
I shot mostly nature and wildlife. I did try my hand at photojournalism work at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel during high school and even had a full two-page spread in color. This was not my passion, though. What I did find through that was a love for publishing and design. I started using Photoshop in 1992 (version 2.5.1), and shortly after picked up PageMaker and Quark XPress. With my good friend Steven Goldman, we published an independent music and culture magazine, The Alternative. We got to interview the likes of my favorite humor columnist, Dave Barry, and a new band at the time, Green Day. Sure, we got loads of free music and concert tickets, but the real fun was putting the rag together each month.
I eventually became enamored with motion pictures, and decided to pursue this in college. At RIT, I learned about filmmaking using 16mm. While there, I lived in a place called Computer Science House, where I was surrounded by some of the smartest and most interesting people I had ever met. I also became familiar with networking, UNIX, programming, and the Web. Around this time, the Web was just starting to show up on the radar. I had my first homepage in 1995, back when there weren't a lot of corporate websites and the dot-com craze was still years away.
Still in Rochester, I worked for Kodak for two years as a second level tech for digital imaging workstations. Kodak provided some of the best training in customer service and team building I had ever experienced. We had roughly five to ten hours per week of training, and our team of ten had the honor of the highest level of customer satisfaction in the company (98.5% excellent). I'd take this experience and put it into my own business years later.
A friend of mine from school, Sean Stanley, wrote an amazing screenplay called "Blue Skies". He and I would spend a whole year working on this project. We did everything necessary to get the project moving, except raise the $1.6 million for the film. Still could be a great movie, though.
Around this time, Dale asked me to come back to Florida and help him out. I agreed. I'd come back for one or two months to do training and some computer updating to our digital imaging systems. Well... I like to call this the longest two months ever. That was eight years ago.
Several years ago, after being solely a photo lab, we decided that it was time to become a camera store. Personally, I was not keen of digital before this. Sure, our lab was one of the first in the country to adopt Kodak Photo CD and digital scanning. I had been involved in digital imaging (mostly professionally) for the better part of a decade. But, before this time, I really didn't feel that digital cameras were up to snuff. Now, of course, the times have changed and I'm a huge fan. I still think there's a place for film and I occasionally shoot some, but this is a whole other topic.
Starting out from scratch in retail, I decided that there were some simple rules that I'd follow.
- I would only sell products that I would personally use. No cheap stuff.
- We wouldn't sell boxes. We'd sell service and knowledge. People were amazed that when they bought a camera from us, we'd spend about half an hour with them, setting up their camera and actually showing them how to use it (and that we charged the same price as Best Buy).
- We'd have a hands-on policy. This meant letting people use the equipment to take real pictures outside the store. We eventually extended this to our innovative rental program. People could rent anything that we carried and apply the whole rental amount to any purchase.
- We'd give classes and hold workshops, most free, to educate our customers. Our staff would be made up of photographers, not salespeople.
- If we didn't carry a product, and three different people asked me about it, I'd carry it. We aim to be the one-stop for all things photographic.
Well, all of these rules seemed to work out. We've grown by leaps and bounds and are expanding our retail space this year. We're also going to build a full photo studio to rent and hold workshops in. I have found helping people become better photographers very rewarding. I love being around photography and am still a hardware junkie at heart.
I hope this blog gives me the opportunity to extend this to a greater audience. I look forward to sharing my thoughts.