After a 38-year career in photography, by 2011, Harpswell resident Mark Royall could tell it was time to pivot.
Despite an accomplished career, the industry was changing, Royall said, and his wedding portrait and aerial photography business were in decline due to upcoming technologies like drones and advanced smartphone cameras.
“It just started to slowly, slowly drift away,” Royall said. “Everybody’s got an iPhone.”
Now, over 10 years later, Royall has reinvented himself, transitioning to a new genre of creating that repurposes old bicycle and other mechanical parts into artisan clocks.
“Transitioning out of photography, I wanted to go back into my art realm,” Royall said. “Photography freezes the moment, okay, but the clock never stops, and it keeps going — so that intrigued me.”
As for the inspiration, Royall said that while the contrast between photography and creating clocks was interesting, ultimately the idea just came to him. “Somebody was watching over me,” he said.
He described his process of rummaging through local bicycle shops and the Harpswell dump, searching for unique parts to include in his next project. “It’s like gold,” he said.
“The crazier I make it the more people like it,” Royall added, stating that, with only one exception, no two clocks are the same.
Royall said he has sold hundreds of clocks, which range from roughly $50 to $450 and take anywhere from a few hours to two weeks to make.
He currently sells them from a display at Broadway Deli in downtown Brunswick.
“If I wasn’t making money on it, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Royall said, noting so far, the business has done well, with one notable buyer being Senator Angus King, who keeps one of the clocks in his Washington office.
In fact, Royall said, sales have been worldwide, with customers as far away as England and Turkey, as well as states across the country.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Royall is likely not alone, and the photography industry is projected to decline 4% in the next 10 years.
More significantly, according to statistica.com, worldwide camera sales have declined 87% in the last 10 years, which the data platform attributes to the rise in smartphone cameras.
As for other artists or photographers that might be in the same boat, Royall said the following:
“Recreate yourself,” he said. “You might stumble and fall, but once you get going and you find something you like keep going on it.”
Royall graduated from Brunswick High School in 1969. After taking art in high school, he attended the Art Institute of Boston to study photography. Out of college, Royall started his own photography business and worked for different local newspapers.
“Art runs in my family, through all my grandparents, all the way down the line,” Royall said. “It has always been who I am.”
In addition to various local publications, Royall’s photographs have been featured in The New York Times and The Boston Globe.