Independent camera repairman Ted Kwiecinski has witnessed his share of innovations in photography. He is among a dwindling number of those who fix a wide spectrum of cameras ranging from medium-format and 35 mm film cameras to highly technical digital versions.
Yet the 63-year-old Polish-born Kwiecinski seems to have the right mixture of passion, mechanical inclination, critical thinking abilities, and steady-handed coordination required to work on vintage and digital cameras in his West Busch Boulevard shop.
“I have a dream job,” Kwicienski said. “I always joke that I would like to die with a camera in my hand.”
Kwiecinski maintains neither a website nor social media presence. Yet his skill is legendary to both amateur and professional customers. Based primarily on word-of-mouth referrals – his base remains loyal. Some come from as far away as South America or California.
“I have a few customers whom I remember when they were children coming in with their parents,” he says. It’s a source of pride for the affable, yet reserved Kwiecinski.
Longtime customers use terms such as “reliable”, “brilliant” and “honest” to describe his work. Mostly, it’s the meticulous work they laud.
“Ted definitely knows his stuff, and he’s like an old world craftsman," said Joy Bunch, co-owner of North Tampa Photography, located slightly east of Cam-Tek. “We live in a disposable society, but Ted offers the rare ability to repair something and restore it to working condition.”
His artisan tendencies extend back to his childhood. Kwiecinski -- who at 16 crafted an electronic guitar from scratch, including its power source -- studied plant physiology at a university in Krakow, Poland. He began his career repairing and calibrating precision optical and mechanical instruments. More recently, he built his own home in Land O’Lakes – with his own hands. Yet his longtime fascination with the way things work bodes well for customers who – often in a state of anxiety, tote their cameras to Kwiecinski for emergency diagnosis and repair.
A shutterbug himself, Kwiecinski enjoys shooting imagery of wildlife, hot air balloons and national parks. While he remains amazed at technological advances, he admits a certain fancy for film.
“Film offered more opportunities to understand how cameras operate,” he said.
After all these years, the married father of two still enjoys playing with light and taking the same shot at different exposures, discerning light and shadow.
“Light,” he says, “is the most important part of your composition. It does the job.”
Though one senses he is most at home at his workbench, he produces strong images.
“Shooting helps me remember what the camera feels like – not just on the bench, but in my hand,” he says. “It helps me document places I’ve been. Years later, I can look at an image and recall everything about the place," he says.
That’s almost funny because Kwiecinski seems to have total recall and a photographic memory. He may not see some customers for years, but when they walk into his shop, he instantly remembers details about them and their cameras. He says his memory is a handy tool.
“Sometimes, the diagnosis takes time," says Kwiecinski. “When I disassemble the components of a particular camera, a week later I will still remember where things go. I am lucky,” he says.
Deftly dissecting his way through the innards of the camera, he proceeds like a surgeon. Flanked by an air compressor, soldering irons, a spectrometer, and airtight containers of neatly labeled and organized camera parts, everything is meticulously kept. He says one of his most challenging repairs involved a medium format Mamiya 645 and Kowa.
“It has a complex mechanical design, precise like a Swiss watch, and required replacement gears,” he said. “I spent two days reading manuals and studying the blueprints and then transferring that information into 3D in my mind.”
As he holds a Leica he’s about to overhaul for a customer, he points to a new piece of equipment he’s recently installed across the room.
“Here you attach the camera to a device and everything is realized through software on the computer,” he said, his excitement palpable.
It’s almost if Kwiecinksi vaults back and forth through time depending upon the kind of repair work he has scheduled. That means there are no dull moments.
An avid reader, he has a fascination with history. A proud father, he also enjoys cooking traditional Polish dishes at home. And while he finds it exciting to adapt and learn new skills at work, he waxes nostalgic when a customer brings in an old camera. Then Kwiecinski gently examines the camera and offers details about its capabilities, where it was made, and pats the camera as if greeting an old friend. There’s a sense he is completely fulfilled by his work.
Discussing his collection of vintage cameras, he admits a fondness for old wooden ones. He seems to appreciate the workmanship and sculptural appeal.
That’s the quintessential Kwiecinski. Armed with an insatiable curiosity and imbued with a rare skills set, he’s also developed a quiet passion for nearly every aspect of his field.