When Ron Ragan was earning a photojournalism degree in college, all film and photographs were developed in the dark room.
Decades later, when he bought a photography store in Tyler — MotoPhoto & Café Portraits — in 2000, everything was still film. Digital was only a concept no one thought would amount to anything. But within one decade, the entire industry flipped, he said.
The only film he still does within his business is processing throw-away cameras.
Recently, Ragan asked a 17-year-old girl what film meant, and she didn't know, he said. When he asked her if she had a digital camera, she pulled out her phone, he added.
Ragan, 62, said digital has opened up what people can do with their photos.
Photography businesses that did not adapt to the ever-changing digital world and did not embrace it are dying or have gone out of business.
“We've embraced digital,” Ragan said of MotoPhoto. “Customers today want different ways to present their memories and their life's passion.”
Now people can use Instagram or other programs to add borders and other things to their photos that only places like MotoPhoto could do before, he said.
“If you market yourself as digital friendly, they want to come in,” he added.
He moved to Illinois and started working for Caterpillar Tractor Co., and after a couple of years, he was relocated to Europe and Africa. He said he got to see and do a lot of stuff while living oversees for about five years.
Ragan moved back to Texas and worked in Dallas for one of the world's largest advertising agencies, McCann Erickson, for 10 years, becoming manager of its Dallas office. After that, he returned to Africa, giving up his career to serve with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. He lived there four years before returning again to Texas. Ragan and his wife of 42 years, Lynda, have one son, Jeff.
Ragan spent 10 years in hospital marketing and physician management at Christus Health in Paris. While there, he visited Tyler often for board meetings at Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals & Clinics and really liked it here, he said.
“It's the best thing that's ever happened to us,” he said of moving to Tyler. “It's an incredible town.”
Ragan said he wanted to buy a business that was fun, and looked at several franchises before finding MotoPhoto was for sale. The business opened in Tyler in 1998, but the original owner sold it to Ragan after only two years, he said.
“Photography was always a hobby for me,” Ragan said.
He thought he knew quite a bit about photography, but in retrospect, he really didn't, he said. But he thought because he was a people person, he could learn the retail side of the business. And he loved the town so everything seemed like the right fit when he learned the Tyler business was for sale.
“I love this business,” he said. “It's fun.”
There is the portrait studio, where two photographers and Ragan take pictures of anyone from infants to seniors in their two studios. He gave the studio side of the business a separate brand, Café Portraits, to give it its own identity, he said.
The retail side of the business sees people bringing in their digital media cards or discs for prints. Customers can use the kiosk inside MotoPhoto to order prints, and he said more people are starting to upload their photos onto MotoPhoto's website to place orders.
The third facet of the business is the merchandise, which is mostly made in-house.
Behind the black curtain inside MotoPhoto is “where all the magic happens,” Ragan said. “This is the messy side of the business.”
A 44-inch printer can churn out “big, big” prints as well as small ones. While Ragan started out with one computer running the cash register, MotoPhoto now has 16 computers.
These days, a lot of customers are interested in more than just prints.
The new big thing is taking digital prints and putting them on metal to use as wall art. For metal images, Ragan uses mostly aluminum and some steel, which he said last forever and can be cleaned. It is made through sublimation — passing from a solid state to a gaseous state without going to a liquid state — like dry ice. A piece of metal is placed in a heat press, and the image is infused in the metal, becoming part of it. It's the same way they put images on mouse pads and coffee mugs, he said.
Images also can be infused on iPhone covers, necklaces and cuff bracelets, key chains, coffee mugs, koozies, acrylic cutouts, stone, wood, canvas or just about anything else, he said. They also are used to make photo books.
“It allows the customers to take their memories and do different things instead of just prints,” Ragan said.
Even greeting cards have changed. People can make anything from Christmas cards to baby announcements in all different shapes and sizes using photos.
MotoPhoto also offers “shoebox scanning.” People inherit boxes of their parents' old pictures and don't know what to do with them. MotoPhoto can scan them and make them into CDs so the customer can do anything with them they want, such as making a slide show to music. “It's really a whole different industry,” he said.
A corner of the shop showcases what MotoPhoto has done for students of T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School. Football players, cheerleaders and other students can buy their pictures — made in the studio or ones they already have — on posters, booster buttons, key chains, coffee mugs or event blankets.
“That's reshaped our business in many ways,” he said, while showing off a blanket with several different images of a cheerleader taken inside the studio.
He believes the industry will continue to change.
“I can see how photography is really going to be leapfrogging itself year after year,” he said.