Q and A with Jake Shivery
Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to aprominent - or not soprominent - local person.
Ever hear of the Luddites?
They were a group of 19th-century British textile workers who saw a future that didn't include them when textile mills began to automate. They protested in the name of Ned Ludd, one of their number, and got around to burning down a mill or two and smashing the occasional sewing machine, as legend has it.
Well, Jake Shivery is nothing like them. OK, maybe a little bit.
Shivery runs Blue Moon Camera and Machine, a gem of a shop in St. Johns. There's nothing digital about Blue Moon. And we don't mean that metaphorically.
We mean there's nothing digital in or about the shop - no computers, no digital cameras. It's even one of the last film developers in the country to use completely optical (nondigitalized) equipment to print customers' photos.
There are plenty of film cameras for sale at Blue Moon, and what Shivery calls the world's largest collection of typewriters. Manual, of course.
Blue Moon will sell you one or, for $45, fix and clean that relic you've had stashed away in the attic.
Blue Moon is full of ancient adding machines and 8 mm projectors. And it's not a museum, because Shivery has found there are plenty of people out there who feel like he does, that the old stuff was better.
Those customers love Blue Moon, and Blue Moon loves them back by putting on shows of their work.
When one of the film technicians comes across a particularly outstanding print while processing customer film, he or she can nominate it for display. The staff votes and the winners currently are being shown on the walls of five cafes in the St. Johns neighborhood.
One other thing about Shivery. He can turn around a Q and A faster than a digital camera with an automatic shutter can speed-shoot a series of photographs.
Jake Shivery: What are you working on?
Portland Tribune: It's a Q and A piece we run every Friday. Oh, you mean … an Apple iMac.
Shivery: You need a Smith Corona is what you're telling me.
Tribune: I worked for years on a manual Royal typewriter. I had to retype each draft of every story. And now you're telling me I'd be better off back with a manual typewriter?
Shivery: How long did you have that Royal typewriter?
Tribune: Well, I got it around 1970, and I've still got it because my kids like to fool around with it occasionally.
Shivery: And since you bought your first computer, how many computers have you had?
Tribune: I think four.
Shivery: So one machine over 37 years or four machines over 15 to 20 years. Disposable culture is what we're opposed to. There's also a level of comfort people have with a machine and a tactile sensibility using a machine that does what it's supposed to do the first time you use it.
Tribune: Wait a minute. What do you use at the store for letters and business correspondence?
Shivery: A 1942 Underwood Master. We've got two of them, and we use a copy machine and a fax to simplify life.
Tribune: So do you consider yourself a Luddite?
Shivery: No. We have a company motto: It doesn't have to be old; it just has to be good. There certainly is the idea that techniques should not be left behind. We don't forgo painting because we have photography. We don't forgo the piano, the trombone or the violin because we have the synthesizer.
Tribune: Are there any computers or digital cameras that you consider worthy?
Shivery: We're waiting. We're waiting for a device that doesn't have to be disposed of. We're waiting for a return to companion machines. We're waiting for the machine you can use for most, if not all, of your lifetime. It's not so much nondigital. It's good. When digital gets good I'll start carrying them.
Tribune: What will make them good?
Shivery: A $500 camera that will last more than 10 years.
Tribune: But in terms of what digital cameras can do, you've got to admit they're pretty amazing?
Shivery: I'm very concerned that within 20 years, no one is going to know what a CD is, much less a JPEG. The advantage of film is it provides you with a physical artifact. If the sun continues to burn in the sky you'll be able to hold it up and see the image.
Another one of our company mottos is: Postponing the fall of Rome since 2001. Disposable technology is not sustainable. And I think it's a harbinger of where culture goes wrong and eventually leads to decline.
Tribune: How old are you?
Tribune: When you were 10 what did you like to play with?
Shivery: Legos and Lincoln Logs.
Tribune: The sturdy reliables.
Shivery: Toys without batteries. Absolutely.
- Peter Korn
(Editor's note: The day after this interview was conducted, the hard drive in Peter Korn's computer fried. He's awaiting a new computer.)