The family behind FotoTechnika has never lost focus on their passion: film.
Life has a funny way of showing people clues to their possible futures. Call it destiny, fate or just coincidence, one’s life calling will make itself known to a person at some point. Some people are born knowing what it is, others will miss the clues throughout their lives and won’t grasp their destiny until later in life.
For the owners of FotoTechnika, life always left breadcrumbs to help them find their destiny.
John Howard, who owns FotoTechnika with his wife Saundra, was given a clue about his future way before he even knew what he wanted in life. Growing up, John would spend much of his time playing with two boys in the neighborhood whose fathers were both professional photographers. While playing with his friends, John would watch his friends’ fathers work in their dark rooms.
“It didn’t even dawn on us until years and years later, even after we started the business,” Saundra said. “Oh, well, no wonder [he] had an interest in photography. [He] grew up right next door to it.”
John and Saundra met at Florida Junior College (now Florida State College at Jacksonville) where they worked and sang together in the FJC chorus. Several years later, Saundra attended the University of North Florida to complete her degree in commercial art. In a black and white photography class, she practiced processing film in the school’s dark room while John watched. Immediately, it sparked his interest in photography again. However, John’s passion wasn’t in the taking of photographs. It was processing the film that he loved.
“We decided we wanted to be able to work together again and not have separate jobs. Not come home and compare notes,” said Saundra.
After Saundra graduated, John took a job at a local printing company as an estimator and gradually became their top graphic consultant. In the process, he gained invaluable experience in the printing industry and discovered that there was often a communication breakdown between photographers, who didn’t know what to do to give the printers, and printers, who didn’t know what to ask for from photographers.
In the midst of working for a printing company and with film development on John’s mind, all the little things came to fruition.
“We thought, you know, we understand photography. We decided we wanted to work together already, but we didn’t know what we could do,” said Saundra. “Until it dawned on us: Photography is the thing. We need to start a photo lab.”
Thus, their journey toward opening FotoTechnika began. “And so, we started it. We incorporated in 1981, and it was just a part-time thing,” Saundra recalled. “We would do little jobs. We could develop film. We could make some prints in the dark room—just black and white stuff.”
When not working at their current day jobs, they worked on their dream of creating a photo lab: in 1987 FotoTechnika opened its doors full time. They started in the “the old house,” a 100-year-old home they purchased together––they lived upstairs while the downstairs was their place of work. There, they were able to process film in their own dark room and raise their daughter under one roof. It was in 2013 when they moved to a new location near Mudville Grille. Then in 2020, FotoTechnika moved to Blanding Boulevard where they now share a building with Barnett’s Art & Frame Gallery.
What started as an idea between Saundra and John, FotoTechnika now serves as the only full-service photo lab in Northeast Florida with hundreds of grateful customers.
“I am so gratified because so many of the film customers we have now are not just old school people that didn’t want to give it up. I mean there’s plenty of those, but the majority of our people who are bringing in film nowadays are younger. People who grew up digital have discovered that they really like the way film works,” said Saundra. “ One of the interesting things that I heard several people say is they like film because it makes them stop and think about what they are shooting.”
In a world where everything is moving too fast, stopping and taking a photo could make a memory more appreciated.
And who knows, maybe when stopping to appreciate the memory, you might find your life’s calling.