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The suspense of waiting for a roll of film to process. Got everything right? The finished shots shouldn’t be a surprise.

But “there’s always the danger. For big serious projects, photographers come in and they’re nervous”, says Fiona Gunn, at the John Gunn Camera Shop.

They let them stand and watch as it develops, she says. “So they know they got the exposure bang on.”

Photography is a physical art, she says. A photographer will know a bad shot by the sound of the gear.

Fiona is a photographer too, so she’s been there.

“For most photographers, the use of film is for the soul. Many have a love affair,” she says.

Over the years, many of these photographers have found their way to the John Gunn Camera Shop on Wexford Street.

Next month, it will mark 50 years in business.

“It’s not really a shop,” said one regular, Letizia Lopreiato. “It’s more like a knowledge sharing centre.”

John Gunn entered the business because of his older brother, Tommy Gunn.

John had worked in the Avoca Mines, and Roaches on O’Connell Street, where he met Louise, his wife. He needed a job, so they opened the shop.

It was 1971, and they got cheap rent at the time on Pleasant Street, he says.

Tommy taught him the basics of photography, says John, through a video call. “I got in on my brother’s reputation.”

“Before opening the shop, I took building-site shots for which I was paid. It made sure of a certain income coming into the shop which helped support the business,” says John.

Photography is so creative, he says. “When you get behind the camera, you’re not only photographing scenes you see, but you start creating scenes as well”

He stands up suddenly, tired of talking about himself, to look for his daughters.

It’s Tuesday and there are 100 orders to process. Fiona and her mother Louise Gunn develop the films.

Customers drop film rolls into a letterbox. They collect them later, or have them posted back.

John, the shop owner and namesake, prefers it when people collect. He misses meeting people, the conversations with customers, he says.

It’s why, in normal times, he still mans the counter, 26 years after he was meant to retire.

“People just pop in, it’s lovely, we have a chat,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if they buy anything or not, as long as we’re meeting people.”

His daughter Cathy Gunn plucks the phone from her father. “I love the selling part. It’s that feel-good factor you get straight away. There’s a daily give back.”

John was amazed when two of his four daughters wanted to work in the shop, he says. “I never would have dared asked them.”

His wife Louise has stayed in the background. She didn’t want her name over the shop when it opened.

“And yet, her name should be on the shop because she’s the engine,” said John. “My wife is terrific. She can learn anything and do it excellently.”

“Each family member can tell you what you did wrong and what you can work on,” says Ishmael Claxton, a New York-born photographer living in the Liberties.

He used to be in Photo Chats and Beers, a group who would go to Gunn’s then on to the pub, Against the Grain, for pints and photo talk.

Sometimes, his shots haven’t come out as imagined. Or he’ll struggle in his experiments with expired film rolls.

“I reach out to Gunn’s, and they always tell me what to do,” he says.

Louise and Fiona will advise on contrast and shadows, he says. Cathy with the mechanical stuff. “John is good all round,” says Claxton.

That’s only if customers ask though.

Unless a customer shows it, Fiona can’t remember what was on a film roll. “I can look at an image and edit it without being aware of content,” she says.

“I have a well developed lack of curiosity about people’s private lives,” she says.

There’s professional pride in this. Her customers have private lives. She wants them to trust that she is not invading that, she says.

It was John who nudged Letizia Lopreiato, one customer, to take her photos, she says. She wrote poetry and wanted a photographer for images to go with her verse.

But she had a camera, one gifted to her three years back after she was diagnosed with a visual impairment. She’d tried it out, she says, and had the films processed at Gunn’s.

John told her to take her own photos. She wasn’t experienced enough she thought, she says.

But he persisted. He told her no-one better than you can better portray your own feelings, she says.

Three years on, she’s a visual artist and poet.

The Gunns feel like family, she says.

They’ve spent time with Lopreiato’s mother, who moved from Italy a year ago to live on the same road as her daughter in Rathmines.

Says Lopreiato: “I never really had grandparents, so John would be the closest I’ve had to a grandfather.”

Photography helped Lopreiato accept her condition, she says. “It gave me another set of eyes. I got to this point because they encouraged me.”

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at

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