Picture perfect - Issue 170 - Magazine | Monocle

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Pierro Pozella fixes cameras. Every day packages arrive through the post at his Birmingham repair studio containing broken Rolleiflex, Pentax, Minolta and Nikon cameras. All of them have an appointment with Pozella, who will take them apart, diagnose their ailments and try to make them click, blink and capture a scene with box-fresh accuracy once again. It’s useful to anthropomorphise them in this way if you want to understand how Pozella works because this smiling, modest repairman sees all of his patients as having a sort of soul. “A repair is a personal thing,” he says. “I think of these cameras as characters that need help.”

Tools of the trade

In some instances, Pozella gets to know the cameras so intimately during their healing cycle that he finds it hard to give them back. Just like a good doctor, he does not discriminate. He expends the same amount of effort on a £20 camera as he does on one that’s worth £2,000 – though sometimes, when he’s tackling, say, a critical-care Leica, he has to limber up mentally for a couple of days before taking it apart.

We meet Pozella, who is just 27 years old, in his compact and immaculately organised studio inside the unlikely setting of a storage facility – the kind of place where people exile the detritus cluttering up their homes. Here he has a workbench and boxes of cameras awaiting his attention on blue metal shelves, next to others that are now ready to be discharged (he usually completes a repair in three or four days). On another set of shelves are neatly arranged ranks of steel-bodied cameras that he has fixed to sell on his online shop. Like a good camera, it’s a small and perfectly engineered operation.

Pozella’s journey to this occupation is worth hearing about. “When I was about 15, I started volunteering in a charity shop,” he says. “It had all of these cameras that had been donated. The people who ran the place told me that, if they were broken, I could take them home to see if I could mend them – and that any that were impossible to patch up, I could keep.” As an aspiring fixer, he had something going in his favour: his grandparents. Pozella’s mum is British and his dad has Italian heritage; while his English grandfather taught him electrics, his Italian nonno instilled in him a belief that nothing should ever be thrown away if it could be repaired. Through trial and many errors, Pozella began to understand the common conditions that prevented a camera from completing its task and other shops were soon asking for his help.

In surgery
Pierro Pozella
On the shelves

While a degree in engineering should have been his next step, Pozella’s dyslexia prevented him from taking that route. So he stayed in the world of cameras. He completed a photography degree, then earned a master’s in information experience and design at the Royal College of Art in London. There, among other things, he built an electromagnetic field detector. But he believes that his dyslexia and a degree of autism (which is currently being assessed) have helped him, especially with his camera repairs. “I have harnessed all of this,” he says. “With the way that my brain works, I can look at a camera and just feel what’s wrong. I can also blow one up in my mind, see all the parts and see how to put it together again perfectly.”

After the UK’s coronavirus restrictions were lifted, Pozella and his partner moved to Birmingham and his camera-repair work flourished. “There was a revival of interest in film photography – in the tangible, the physical,” he says. “People realised that it’s good for your mental health.” He is a good photographer too and always has a camera with him. He likes “capturing the mundane”: people eating, his girlfriend sitting in the garden, the cat. As a new project, he has started a film lab.

Pozella could eventually fix nine out of 10 cameras. He invested in a 3D-printer and learnt how to manufacture hard-to-find parts. Though he still wanted to know more, he encountered a reluctance among the rapidly retiring old guard to share the secrets of their trade. “I get it, they don’t want some youngster bothering them, asking lots of questions,” he says. “And I can ask a lot of questions.” But he has recently found a mentor who is helping him to refine his craft. “He understands that, for me, this isn’t about making money or doing things fast. I will be learning for another 60 years.”

And then someone in the television industry saw his Instagram account, which features his work. Now this fastidious young man can be spotted on the successful bbc TV programme The Repair Shop. “It’s amazing,” he says with a disarmingly undented charm. “They really look after you when you’re filming. They feed you so well. You can eat as much as you like.” Even members of the old guard have sent him messages of support. Pozella, however, still likes to go to his bench, open the back of a troubled camera and set about putting things right.

While he waits to have his portrait taken, Pozella picks up a camera that’s ready to be sold and rehomed. He presses the shutter button and listens to it fire. “It’s such a beautiful sound,” he says with the voice of a man who has found his calling. pppcameras.co.uk

Monocle comment: There’s something transformative about seeing the world through a viewfinder, learning how to frame a scene and focus on what’s vital. So buy a camera, old or new. See things afresh.

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