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HERITAGE MATTERS: Blue Moon Camera and Machine

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Customer-turned-employee Jim Hair demonstrates the use of a 4x5-inch camera. Portland is a beautiful city for photographers, he says, and many Blue Moon customers use the large format cameras.Stepping in the front door of Blue Moon Camera and Machine is like stepping into the history of photography, and into the history of my family. Shelves are lined with cameras equipment from the pre-digital, pre-automation era, when photography wasn’t just another feature on your smartphone.

There, sitting on the top shelf, is a camera with lots of meaning to me. It’s a Speed Graphic, and it’s the type of camera that my grandfather used for most of his career as a photojournalist. In the cases below, there are the Rolleiflexes and Nikons that my father used during his 46 years as a newspaper photographer. There are even the cameras that I used to start my career, before making the leap to digital.

In December of 2001, Jake Shivery opened Blue Moon Camera and Machine on North Lombard Street in St. Johns. Although customers might be excused for thinking it at first, “We’re not an antique store,” says Shively emphatically. “Sometimes we’ll sell a 100-year old camera, but we’ll sell it because it works, and does what it was meant to do 100 years ago.”

The shop specializes in all things photography, leaving off where the industry turned digital. They support photographers who shoot film, instant photography media, and use alternative photographic processes. “We disagree with the notion that this stuff is obsolete,” says store manager Zeb Andrews.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Each of the typewriters that Blue Moon sells is fully restored, has a new ribbon and a warranty.“In an off way, we’re becoming a tourist attraction,” says Shively.

In addition to the gear, they operate a photo processing lab that can process film that hasn’t been made in years, in formats that are long-forgotten to all but a few labs in the world. In the back there’s a full darkroom, where the magic and art of optical printing is alive and well. Customers ship film to the shop from around the country for processing. If you miss the smell of the darkroom like I do, wander towards the back of the shop and take in the full aroma of photographic history.

Besides Shively, there are nine other employees, plus two contractors. “Everyone who works here is very active photographer,” say Shively. The c3:initiative gallery, just down the street from Blue Moon at 7236 N. Chicago Avenue is currently hosting the staff’s annual exhibition (through July 12).

“It’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t’ learn something new, even after 12 years here,” says Andrews. “I’m pretty immersed in it. It’s like learning French by moving to France.” While Andrews has gained knowledge of a vast array of cameras, he says it’s common for customers to come in with cameras that they’ve been using for decades and know every last detail about their use.

Young people make a good portion of Blue Moon’s customers, seeking their first “real” camera. Andrews works with them to find the right fit, and tries to impart enough knowledge to give them a head start. “It’s one thing to sell them a camera, it’s another to make them a long-time customer,” he says.

“My personal goal is that every cool mechanical thing in the northwest will eventually pass through our hands,” says Shively, “and we’re well on our way.”

John M. Vincent is a third-generation Oregon journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He welcomes your suggestions for this column.