I linger outside Clarks Camera Centre for a moment and peer at the window display crammed with Canons, Minoltas, Nikons and many more cameras, all labelled using black felt tip on fluorescent green card. I open the door and step into quite a dark space, a collector’s paradise that appears to have been left untouched for years. It is apparently a Tudor building, which would explain the low ceiling and beams.

Faded adverts are arranged along the tops of the cabinets, including a genuine black and white framed photo of Deaytons, the greengrocer previously situated here. Clarks started out as a family-run business in 1960 and still is to this day. Adrian, who lives and breathes cameras, runs it and knows everything you could imagine about them.

I have a look around and along the walls are shelves stacked with stock; cratefuls of camera accessories such as lenses, yellow boxes of Kodak film, lens pouches and blow brushes. I have to concentrate and look closely to work out what some things are. I notice a box filled with flashguns in disarray and fiddle around with them.

Adrian kindly gives me the opportunity pick up any camera that I’m drawn to. I’m like a child in a sweet shop. I appreciate him letting me handle them and am amazed that most of them seem to be in working order and have survived many years of use.

I pick up an old Cine camera from the 1930s. It’s so much heavier than I expected! I look through a tiny viewfinder, press a small silver button and suddenly it begins to roll, making that distinct motorised sound that you hear when watching a Charlie Chaplin film or footage of your grandmother’s wedding day. I can’t believe the durability of the camera and Adrian explains that most of them are still working simply because things made on a solely mechanical basis don’t break that easily.

I ask Adrian about my SLR Olympus OM2n, which has been jammed for years. He doesn’t bat an eyelid and assures me that they can probably fix it. I reminisce about how much I used to enjoy the photography club in the sixth form and would love to have another go at developing film again; memories of setting up the dark room, laying out black trays, then all that swishing of photographic paper into separate chemical solutions comes back to me. I remember how images that I’d taken would subtly come to life before my very eyes!

I have a look in the window and notice a retro wooden folding camera with a brass lens that must be at least a hundred years old! “Many of these wooden cameras were not branded so are not as expensive as you’d assume,” Adrian says.

He tells me about how it would work and that the film sheets required for it can still be sourced. A bulb would flash and leave an imprint of the image on the film but it was a slow process and you’d have to stand there for around 30 seconds.

“Oh that would explain why in very old photos people are standing like statues!” I comment. Adrian smiles.

The development of cameras has moved very quickly and dates more or less from the late 1800s. Although Polaroid cameras were developed in the late 1940s, it was in the late 1960s that they really took off and became one of the best selling cameras of all time. I remember how almost everybody seemed to own one back in the 1970s and have fun with it as if it were a toy producing instant images.

Dave assists with sales and repairs; he enjoys the fact that people walk in from all walks of life and you never know what they’re going to ask for.

He says: “It’s fascinating to watch how cameras are repaired. Our expert assesses their condition and gives the customer a quote, then methodically disassembles each component part of the camera, analyses where it’s gone wrong, possibly replaces a part or two then patiently places it all back together again.”

Despite the birth of the digital camera, exploding in the 2000s, Adrian still has many customers that are hobbyist photographers and enjoy using film cameras.

“We get a lot of young customers these days,” he says. Adrian smiles at my surprised expression.

We chat about how traditional photos have a certain depth and richness to them, however Adrian is not a Luddite and tells me what amazing digital models are around these days.

Of course the technology behind cameras is improving all the time but, personally speaking, touch screens and electronic viewfinders just don’t give me that same experience. As a teenager I enjoyed having to think about the speed of the shutter and having to slowly turn the lens with care to get a perfectly focused photo; by allowing digital ‘point and shoot’ cameras to do everything for us we encourage a potentially unhealthy dependency on technology wherein we become disempowered by our own inventions!

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.