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Photo industry pioneers bow out

March 30, 2011: Madsens Cameras & Imaging in Wollongong, NSW, closed its doors last Friday, March 25, after 44 years in business.

Madsens had been on the market, with the family keen to see the store continue under new management, but serious illness to Kari and now Jens (pictured right) has forced a change of plans.

We thanks Jens and Kari Madsens daughter, Sonja Lunn, for contributing the following article to Photo Counter:

Madsens cast a broad net, operating at various times as a photo retailer serving the local community; a pro shop; a photo studio; a mail order business willing to stock or at least track down those increasingly hard-to-get (but high margin) accessories for keen enthusiasts and pros; and building strong business relationships supplying schools and government departments Australia-wide.

Mark Alderson’s Foto Riesel will take over the mail order and school supply business from April.

Jens Madsen was a pioneer from the outset. The business started in Crown Street, Wollongong in 1966. In those days wedding and portrait photographers preferred working in B&W and sepia, while their customers wanted colour photographs and Madsens captured a major part of the market by accommodating those demands.

Madsens was also a pioneer in providing on-site one-hour service in the days when customers generally had to wait three weeks to get passport photos.

Our Santa photography was very successful, as we were one of the first to offer double prints. We sold three photos and gave them six. We also did a larger size to our competitors to secure a niche in the market. Madsens also did child portrait promotions in shopping centres well before the days of Pixie Fotos and the like.

Jens said his busiest day was in Goulburn (on the day I was born!), when he photographed around 250 babies and children.

We always had good systems in place which allowed us to do the type of photography that made us well known in Wollongong.

We used to to train our own photographers for weddings, and preferred to use women photographers due to their attention to detail and manner with the brides. It was a very successful combination in those days.

In the ’80s the business expanded and moved to larger premises in Crown Street, Wollongong, occupying most of three entire floors in the building. We started our photographic retail and processing laboratory for colour and B&W prints as well as slides.

We handled work from many of the local professional photographers. We also had our own in-store Santa, and photographed thousands of children as well as offering a picture-framing services.

A major promotional effort in the schools during the ’80s and ’90s was our annual national student photo competition (pictured left; Kari and Jens at photo competition exhibition in 1995), Our suppliers were most supportive, and in our best year we had over $10,000 in prizes on offer.

A girl from Tasmania, Jackie, was invited to the presentation for the major winners, whose awards were being presented by our local Lord Mayor. Jackie sent her apologies by email, advising she could not attend the presentation as it was too far to travel, and as a student she could not afford the airfare.

As it turned out she typed the email address incorrectly – leaving out the .AU – so her email landed in Alaska with a namesake, a Donald Madsen! He first informed Jackie of her mistake and shortly after asked the cost of the return trip from Tasmania to Wollongong. After exchanging a few emails he paid for her trip in return for some prints of the winning entry. Jackie was a very excited girl, telling her story when she arrived to the presentation, which the local paper covered as a story.

Anyone who has visited the store over the years will understand Jens’ passion for photography.  He is like a kid in a toy shop. I have always admired how he has maintained the enthusiasm all these years. It is a great loss of experience and knowledge to the photographic industry.

Kari and Jens Madsen have worked together in the business since Kari joined in February 1969 and continued working side by side in the business every day while raising two daughters, myself and Lisa. It was a family affair for most of the years, with many loyal, long-term staff becoming part of that family.

While both Kari and Jens have loved and enjoyed photography, both now have health issues which do not allow them to continue. Just weeks ago Jens has diagnosed with bowel and liver cancer, and thus the need to resolve things with the business.

It is with great regret – but one’s health must come first at times like this.

The Madsen family would like to thank our many clients and suppliers in all states and territories around Australia for their wonderful support over the 44 years.

Any former clients or friends wishing to stay in contact with the family can do so via email –

– Sonja Lunn (Madsen)

Footnote: Latest news is that Jens has come through his initial surgery well, and will come home this week to prepare for a program of chemotherapy. Sincere best wishes to Jens, Kari and the Madsen family from Photo Counter.

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