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Midwest meets Woodstock

A photographer pursues his passion at Muncie’s Jack’s Camera Shop

Mike “Woody” Statler enjoys hearing the stories of the customers who walk into Jack’s Camera Shop. (Photograph by Natalie Nohr)

Mike “Woody” Statler enjoys hearing the stories of the customers who walk into Jack’s Camera Shop. (Photograph by Natalie Nohr)

By Natalie Nohr | Contributor 

There is a camera shop on the corner of North Jefferson and Main Street in downtown Muncie. In a back room there is a man with teal goggles sitting at a table lit by a single lamp. He is surrounded by dissected cameras and holds a pair of tweezers.

He has bright eyes and round, wire-rimmed glasses. There is a wide smile beneath his white, frothy beard. For lunch he eats a salad with ginger dressing, and he shoos the shop dog away as he opens his butternut squash in the break room.

He is a camera connoisseur with a love for harmonicas.

He goes by “Woody.”

Mike “Woody” Statler was deemed the resident Woodstock hippie at Jack’s Camera Shop in the `80s, earning him his nickname. Thirty years later, he still teaches photography and buys, sells and repairs cameras of all kinds at Jack’s.

“I have a pretty extensive background in photography,” Statler said. “I’ve been a photojournalist. I’ve formally trained as a camera repairman. When I was at Ball State, I worked at University Media Services—I ran their dark room.”

Statler was born in Indianapolis but grew up in Topeka, Kansas, before finishing high school in York, Pennsylvania. It was in York that Woody found a group of friends who shared his beliefs about the Vietnam War.

“It was a different era . . . We all had that common anti-war attitude in high school, which wasn’t the most popular thing around,” Statler said.

When the nuclear plant Three Mile Island had a partial meltdown in 1979, a friend called and invited Statler to visit him in Montana.

“Montana had recently passed a law saying ‘No nukes in the state,’” Statler said. “And that appealed to me . . . So I took a vacation and went out to visit my friend.”

After returning from his visit by train, he packed up his car and moved there.

In Montana, Statler became a photojournalist for a small newspaper. When the industry plummeted, his search for work led him back to Indiana where he majored in photojournalism at Ball State University. Statler was 29.

“I reached senior status, but I didn’t have enough credits for (any degree), and I got tired of being a broke student, so I dropped out,” Statler said.

While at Ball State, he visited Jack’s Camera Shop on weekends. When he left school, he applied for a job at the shop, and it seemed like he’d never hear back. Statler decided to leave Muncie, but the day before his departure, Jack’s called—they offered him a sales position.

Statler took the job and is still there today, 30 years later, though his role has changed.

“If you’d have told me then that I’d still be here now, I would’ve laughed at you,” he said.

Today, he spends much of his time repairing both old and modern cameras and equipment.

Statler said the camera has often been a means for him to connect to people—an instrument for hearing people’s stories.

“(The camera) has been a means to lower barriers with some folks and leads to some mighty fine relationships, insights and learning opportunities,” Statler said.

He still helps customers on the sales floor and changes light bulbs from time to time, too.

Statler enjoys the variety of jobs he does at Jack’s.

“My mind’s all over the place anyways,” Statler said. “I’m a flake to begin with . . . Can’t keep my focus for too long. I take it back—I can hyper focus on things pretty crazily. Sometimes I get repairing something, and the rest of the world doesn’t exist, and I forget to drink water.”

A self-proclaimed “gear-head,”Statler is fascinated by the mechanisms in a camera as well as the artistic expression of the person behind the lens.

“There’s something about that visual art, the way light, composition and feeling comes through a photograph when you see a really good one—the wow factor—you see a photograph, and it sinks in,” Statler said. “With a camera . . . it’s recording reflected light . . . it’s not the camera that makes the photograph. It’s the person, it’s the person that sees . . . You can have the best equipment in the world, and it’s not going to do a darn thing for you. Just like the best pots and pans in the world don’t make a great cook.”

Statler says his boss, the work and the people keep him at Jack’s. He enjoys fixing things while teaching and learning from people.

“I like people. I like winding them up and letting them go,” Statler said. “I love hearing people’s stories, and everybody’s got a story. That’s all you gotta do is be patient and listen to people’s stories. You know? You end up learning a little bit in the process. That’s what it’s all about.”

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