Some encounters stay with you forever. Meeting Sarkis, a camera repairer has had a lasting impact, he is truly hard to forget. Sarkis Manoukian is a storyteller of his own for his craft is his greatest love. The memories it has created for him and the little victories that it has pinned on his chest deserve to be shared with the world. He is a scientist in a unique sense of the word; an artist whose skills allow photographers to capture stories that will last forever. Without further ado, here is (a part of) Sarkis Manoukian’s epic story with cameras.
Who would’ve thought that a tiny a room could brighten up a dim autumn afternoon? Walking into Sarkis’s shop, you’re in for an adventure that won’t leave you unchanged. The shop is a tiny room packed with items probably dated to years before any of us was even born; old cameras here, tiny drawers there, a fan that hasn’t been dusted off for years stands tall and alone on the top of a shelf. Despite all of that, maybe even because of all that, Camera Services by Sarkis Manoukian has an inviting magnetism that can easily be compared to a camera’s, at least the traditional camera which is closest to Sarkis’s heart; a dark chamber that tricks light and captures it carving a bright memory into a physicality that can live forever. The stories and memories someone who was very present and engaged in the technical aspect of Beirut’s artistic scene back in his days quench a thirst for those who want to understand the deeper crevices of the city.
After graduating high school at the age of 17, Sarkis decided to learn a craft. He started working at a store that repaired cameras and watches. In no time, he fell for repairing cameras and easily took the decision to leave watches behind. Watches were not challenging to him. Cameras, however, were a universe he wanted to explore and conquer. He grew skillful at what he does and 3 years later he mastered his craft and was able to fix more complicated cameras. He became so good at what he did that Kodak, the biggest name in cameras back then, sought him and really wanted him to become part of the team. Sarkis, nonetheless, had loyalty and reverence as a priority. He refused to leave the man who taught him what he knows behind. He stayed at the store for a total of 10 years after which he felt that he has done his service to his mentor and could finally take on the job at Kodak. The man became a pillar of the company, a skilled professional who had an unmatched passion for what he does. However, the situation in the country had other plans for Sarkis. He and many others were asked to leave Kodak in 1977 due to the intensifying events after the civil war broke out. That was when decided to open his own shop. A room that mirrored the camera. A room that is condensed with stories that has been piling up to this date. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Camera Services by Sarkis Manoukian. 40 years of resuscitating damaged cameras, breathing life into them and allowing them to document life. Sarkis’s passion for his job comes from the man’s immense intelligence. He loves what he does because it challenges him, it puts him to the test every time. A test that he never seems to fail.
Sitting at his desk and intricately gesturing to emphasize every word he says, Sarkis stretches his neck up as his eyes burn while telling us about how much he loved to fix single reflex cameras. These cameras that were alien to many when they were first released could not stand in Sarkis’s way. He absolutely loves opening the Single reflex up and studying the 1600 pieces engineered to make it function. In his career, he encountered numerous cameras that he had never worked on, it is with his natural instinct, experience and knack that he would study every piece of the camera. Like a surgeon he would dissect it to its parts and pinpoint the problem, which soon became no longer a problem. Cameras are Sarkis’s own language. A system only he understands, one only he can decipher.
Aging as gracefully as the cameras he loves to treat, Sarkis asserts that nothing compares to film cameras. He believes in the authenticity of film, in its quality. In his 84 year-old opinion, digital cameras can’t even come close to compete with the precision and realness of shooting on film. In fact, out of his love for his job, he tried keeping up with the digital innovations but couldn’t break through the brands who insisted on monopolizing the post-purchase services. He didn’t mind that for, until today, he continues to do what he loves. Though the quantity of cameras that he could repair obviously diminished, he still has loyal customers who are camera collectors. In short, his favorite type of customers. The old man who has been a destination for people from all over the world who wanted to repair cameras takes great pleasure in recounting the names of great photographers who went to him to fix their items. He brags about the patience required to do his job. That was the key that allowed him to repair cameras of photographers like Derounian and Photo Manouk that shot landscapes of Lebanon we still look at in appreciation.
Camera Services by Sarkis Manoukian is not just another shop in Bourj Hammoud. It is the history of a man that was shaped within the history of the city. Sarkis’s stories fit more than just an article. They are little memories hiding delicately in the wrinkles of Beirut that make the city what it is. Sarkis and his camera are woven into the fabric of Beirut’s culture. They are what this city is all about.