TGL PhotoWorks is celebrating 40 years in business.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — TGL PhotoWorks is marking just over nine years in the city, and 40 years in business —decades that have seen its operations transition from film to digital.
Howard and Dale Levitz moved to Holden Street back in 2008 after nearly 30 years at 4 Water St., right on the corner of Main Street, but had opened at first in the Colonial Shopping Center in 1977.
"Back on Water Street in the old days, we were were selling film by bulk, 20 rolls of this 20 rolls of that," said Dale Levitz. "I have pictures someplace of the whole back wall behind our processing counter was filled because we were selling it left and right."
Now, instead of a dark room, Howard Levitz has become a maestro of sorts working in Adobe Photoshop, doing professional sittings and restorations, and printing on high-quality papers.
The Levitzes had met while working on the Hofstra University newspaper, she as an editor and he as a photographer.
"Right out of college, I got a very nice job handling work for the Museum of Modern Art, primarily doing transparencies for textbooks," Howie said. Then an opportunity opened at Williams College to handle the college's growing photography needs, including its new academic partnership with the Clark Art Institute. "They figured they could have one guy to take care of it all, and it would be terrific."
The New Yorkers set out for Williamstown, where they still live and raised their daughter, Shari, but Levitz's position as director of the Williams College Photographic Facility became more difficult as the many departments that depended on him became more demanding of his time.
He quit, and the couple opened their photography business, never looking back. Howie used to shoot weddings and teach courses in photography. They continued to do work for Williams and the Clark, along with a number of other businesses, like Sprague Electric, and Bijur and Chemfab in Bennington, Vt. They took a hit with the loss of Sprague in the 1980s, and the day the Lanesborough mall was announced, Howie said they determined to stop selling cameras and accessories.
"We knew we couldn't compete on the prices," he said. "We still did processing and film, always custom, we pretty much did it all on premises."
But things really began to change over the past 10 to 15 years. The couple said they would often attend lectures or conferences for professional photographers, and Howie remembered one he spoke at when he asked how many had gone digital.
"And of maybe 300 people in the room, half a dozen hands went up," he said. "Two years later, we went to a similar lecture, 'how many of you have gone digital yet?' Boom, everybody's hands went up."
Going digital required using computers, and Dale recalled buying their first Radio Shack TRS 80 and advising they should buy the one with the most memory, still in kilobytes at the time. "And he said, we'll never fill this up," she said. Her husband laughed, "now we're filling up terabytes."
When they moved to smaller quarters on Holden, they left behind the no-longer needed dark room and the shelves of film. Instead, they have computers and high-end printers along with the frame shop and small portrait studio.
"Now we're into computers and Photoshop and the whole nine yards," Dale said. "He would fill things in with an airbrush, and with regular paint brushes and spotting brushes and a palette of color. ... that was all done by hand."
Now, Howie uses digital applications to restore old or damaged photos, add color and perfect portraits. He recalled how he colorized a wedding photo for a woman who'd wanted her special day shot in color but couldn't afford it at the time. That kind of custom work was expensive, he told her, but she was so pleased with the outcome, she handed him 11 more to do.
Howie joked that he uses tips from watching makeup artist Carmindy on TLC's "What Not to Wear" to make his subjects look their best.
"I would do a little bit of stuff that I'd learned from those guys and [the subject] would go, 'wow, you really woke up my face,'" he laughed. "I'm not a cosmetologist, but I learned some of the rules."
Sometimes those were only $10 passport photos, but often they'd turn into $100 or more photo shoots because the customer was so impressed with the portrait.
He has a good reputation, Dale said, and their shop on Water Street in particular drew a lot of people.
"We had everybody from the Williamstown Theatre Festival all summer, it was fun," she said. "Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Christopher Reeve, Edward Herrmann. ... we did work for Elizabeth Taylor's daughter and Reza Pahlavi."
The exiled crown prince of Iran attended Williams College and his mother lived in town for awhile after his father, the shah, was overthrown. He had an interest in photography at the time and would come into their first shop with his armed entourage.
"He'd buy like 60 rolls of film," Dale said. His mother, Shahbanu Farah Pahlavi, later stopped by with a catalog marked up with all the equipment he wanted.
Their customers continue to be artists, businesses, people wanting to repair "messed up old pictures," professional sittings and "everything photographic." They still do framing, believing that quality work shouldn't be consigned to cheap frames or mountings, and Dale has some of her own photographic prints for sale.
"Everybody is our customer now, they really are," said Dale.