It’s been a trend for a few years now: low-budget department store photography kiosks have been becoming less profitable and have been shut down. This month, Minnesota-based low-end retail photography titan Lifetouch, dutifully sending your kids home with portrait packages and soliciting you for a photo quickie as you shop for frilly baby dresses in JC Penney are abandoning operations in all of their Target portrait studio locations. On January 28th, the 139 Target portrait studios that have survived rounds of studio closures in previous years will close their doors for good.
Originally intended to entice customers to shop in Target stores, it appears in-store photography no longer holds the allure it once had. 1996 saw the introduction of this particular branch of Lifetouch photography in an era when film was still king (though possibly starting to suspect a future dethronement,) nearly a decade before YouTube showed up and its patrons started offering the masses free photography lessons.
Those days there were fewer photographers to choose from, and certainly there was no one offering hour long sessions with a CD full of images for $40. There were no iPhones, and the common point and shoot film cameras resulted in an envelope full of glossy 4×6 prints with red-eye and photo-bombing fingers. A semi-trained young adult with professional equipment in hand conveniently located in a department store must have been more exciting then. In 2017, Target sells the very devices that likely helped put their studios out of business: consumer DSLRs and smart phones.
As Lifetouch is still afloat in JC Penney stores for the time being, they are directing Target photo studio clientele to JCP Portrait studios for future sessions or to redeem any Target branded coupons, Groupons, prepaid vouchers and membership perks there. Online viewing for photos taken at Target will be available through March 28th. These are all signs of a shifting working photographer’s landscape. Take heed.
What, if anything, do you think the portrait studio closures says about the state of the industry?