I had a chance to interview Khun Surasak, the owner of SiamTLR last week and it was rather interesting.
Khun Surasak started out SiamTLR nearly 10 years ago as a hobby and an online resource for Thais who were interested in old cameras.
"At that time there weren't any online resources regarding old, vintage cameras at all and I could only find resources from farang's (foreigner) website." he said. "plus I was interested in web developing as well so I decided to start up SiamTLR as a hobby, then after a while people started to ask if they could buy some of my old cameras from me" He shifted his glasses a bit. "The next I knew, I would meet up with all sort of vintage camera enthusiasts during my lunch break or after work, at McDonald's or coffee shop. This happened about the same time as when the company I worked for got taken over during the recession, I had two choices, to keep working for this new company or quit. I took the risk and quit."
"After quitting my job, I rented a space in Chidlom, it was just to be a small office where I can work on the website. It was not supposed to be a shop but after a while my customers wanted to come and have a look at the products prior to purchasing them so after a while I moved to where I am now, Mahatun Plaza in Pleonchit, as it has more space."
Khun Surasak told me he never was a photographer even though he has knowledge to but he prefers to fix and learn about the mechanical side.
"The first camera I ever had in my life was my family's point and shoot. It was simple and get the job done, the thing is I was never paid attention to photography until my late 30s. I started to document my trips"
"I was always curious about TLR (twin lenses reflex) cameras so I bought a Yashica D and tried to fix it hence why my shop is called SiamTLR. Up till now I can say that I can fix TLR and old compact camera without any sweats therefore I have moved on to SLR camera."
"What makes my shop stand out from others?" He paused. " There are a lot more shops selling similar products that I offered nowadays, some are started up by my friends I accumulated through my career and some are just started up purely for quick money grabbing. For my friends' shops, I do not mind and do encourage them as i don't see them as competitors. They are there because they share the similar passion towards old cameras like me but you have to be careful with the other shops that purely there to grab quick cash. I have talked to a few people who came through to my shop to get their cameras fixed as they have purchased them from those shops, the condition of these cameras may look quite appealing from the outside but the inside, you don't wanna know." He chuckled.
"I don't want to sound arrogant or anything but the truth is at SiamTLR, i fix all of these old things and I pride myself on my work. If they are not good enough as they can be then I would not sell them period" He gave a prideful smile to me and carried on with an old SLR on the table.
"The future of SiamTLR?" He nudged his glasses up a little bit and removed a mechanical part from the camera. "There are a few problems I can see, one is finding a replacement for me and two a good help is hard to find" He delicately picked up a small screw with his tongs. "There are a lot of young kids who came here and wanted to help but expected me to teach them everything. that's not gonna work. They need to understand that thirst for knowledge is very important, when you have that, you can learn anything."
"Why film and not digital? Well film cameras are antique and digital cameras are more like normal consumer goods that depreciate so quick that you didn't even know you already lose half of its value while you were sleeping" He smiled.
"Buying the right vintage camera and you can re-sell them at a much higher price, plus film offers something digital cannot imitate. I am an antique collector as well so I guess I am quite bias towards old film cameras" He laughed.
"my top three cameras?" he raised his head up and pondered for a few seconds. "I guess the Rollei 35, Yashica 635 and the russian made panorama Horizon camera. Let me put it this way, I like the quirky ones" He laughed, I thanked him for his time and departed his store with an old mint condition Polaroid 230 automatic land camera, smiling.