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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Film shops might be over-exposed

Film shops might be over-exposed

They have staked out almost every town in the country and line many of Phnom Penh's

streets, often in tight groups of twos and threes. If you take a picture of an urban

Cambodian street, the odds are pretty good a film shop will turn up in the background.

An informal survey by the Post of distributors selling film, paper, chemicals and

processing equipment revealed there are over 400 photo shops in Cambodia, roughly

240 of them in Phnom Penh. That's well up on 12 years ago.

"In 1990 there was only one film shop [in Phnom Penh]," said Dum Noeun,

25, a photographer in the city. Noeun has been taking pictures for ten years, using

two rolls of film a week. He snaps people who cannot afford their own cameras, usually

tourists visiting from the provinces or garment workers on a day off.

Suppliers reckon Cambodians use around 12 million rolls of film a year, around one

per person. While Noeun is mystified at the sheer number of film shops, the suppliers

have their own theories.

"In the summer the market is quite good," said Sam Tine, marketing manager

for AncoJel, which supplies Konica products to around 250 shops countrywide. "And

after farmers earn money in the market from their harvests, many of them celebrate

and take pictures."

Another factor, Tine said, was the city's garment workers, many of whom live outside

the capital, and who buy photos to show their families. The best two business periods

are unsurprisingly the annual Water Festival and Khmer New Year. Other numerous private

and public ceremonies that punctuate the year also keep the shops going.

Charles Vann, who distributes Kodak products to 74 stores, says there is now only

"nominal" room for growth. Tourists coming to Angkor Wat create some demand,

and much of rest comes from Khmer weddings, he said.

Kodak and Fuji have each brought one digital processor to Cambodia, but Vann said

the technology was probably too expensive right now. In the short term he would like

to expand by getting other shops to change over to Kodak. Meanwhile, Konica plans

to import digital processing gear in the coming months.

So how many shops does the region's poorest country need? Some believe the market

is oversaturated. There are more than 100 processing machines. A new one costs around

$80,000, while a used machine costs $30,000.

And considering the largest Fuji store in the capital develops around 70 rolls a

day, where does that leave the remaining 69 Fuji stores? The situation is no different

at the other big brand shops.

"There are so many [film shops] that business is not good," said a gloomy

Chun Hong. Agfa has a small presence here: its eight shops have only three machines

between them, while another is languishing in a warehouse.

Hong would like to see regulations restricting the number of film shops. He also

fears the rise of digital cameras will force some stores to close. "They are

just not very profitable," he said.

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