Tucked in between local businesses along Retro Row sits an unassuming vintage camera store, but once inside, owner Drake Woodson is working to show it’s anything but.
Woodson is trying to change the landscape of photography by using his store, Relics, as a foundation for creating an environment that embraces diversity because, while Relics is the first Black-owned vintage camera storefront in Long Beach, Woodson and his shop are more than that.
“Relics is bigger than me and it’s so much more than that,” Woodson said. “It’s more diverse, versus just the man behind Relics. It’s easy for people to put you into what they want, and to see you as a bucket—there’s a Black guy, opening a camera shop, Black-owned camera shop, so it’s good for optics, but it’s very base level.”
Since opening Relics, Woodson has expressed that he feels welcomed by the Long Beach community, but that’s not always the case for Black-owned businesses.
Woodson recognizes the support comes from the trendiness of vintage cameras, but also because he is a Black business owner, Woodson said, which is why he uses his platform to address institutional racism.
“[This is] so much more than just being Black this, Black that, you know, it’s a movement, it’s a community for photography of getting representation in a field that’s been historically white,” Woodson said.
Woodson received his first camera, a Minolta SLR, from his father when he was eight years old and had been collecting cameras ever since.
“I would always just kind of collect cameras, always just getting cameras for birthday gifts, holidays, cutting grass, things like that to get money and then buy more cameras,” Woodson said. “So many people are collecting other toys, you know, action figures and playing cards but for me it was cameras.”
Woodson’s hobby for collecting cameras and capturing images also came with the harsh reality that people would treat him differently for being Black.
“Walking around, taking pictures in certain neighborhoods, people will make me feel like you don’t belong there, like ‘Why are you shooting there, what are you doing, what are you up to?'” Woodson said.
Eventually, Woodson decided to take his experiences and focus on creating a space for other creatives to feel inspired.
“Going into camera shops, I felt super uncomfortable, the moment you walk in and then not feeling comfortable enough to ask questions and talk to the people in the shop,” Woodson said. “I want to make long term experience with my shop and make people feel comfortable, which was the opposite of what I went through, and also the opposite experience of what my dad went through.”
Woodson also plans on exhibiting artists’ works and hire more employees for different positions as soon as they find their footing.
“I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of film photography for underrepresented groups, with the motto for Relics, ‘cameras for the people,'” Woodson said.
Relics is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The store is located at 2106 E. Fourth Street in Long Beach.
A correction was made to this article on April 22 at 10:56 p.m. A paragraph that included statistics about the challenges Black business owners face in the U.S. was removed in order to ensure the subjects in this article were not misrepresented and retain the article’s integrity.