New Life for Old Images

Rachel De Ruyter worked with great professional photographers, now she makes treasured keepsakes out of amateurs’ snapshots

Rachel De Ruyter held the photo of her and her grandmother she restored from a slide that gave her the idea to start her business PhotoPop Shop and Co. in Cedar Grove. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Rachel De Ruyter found an old photo of her and her grandmother among a batch of family slides. She scanned it, converted it to black and white, printed it and handed it out to family members, who were surprised and pleased to see it.

“It’s such a great photo,” she said.

While working for a photo imaging company in Madison, hunting for quality family photos was more of a hobby than a job. Her father has a collection of slides from serving in the Vietnam War.

“I always loved going through slides,” De Ruyter said.

Then something clicked.

“Why am I not doing this for other people?” she thought.

More than 20 years after enlarging that iconic slide of her grandmother, De Ruyter is doing just that at PhotoPop Shop and Co., which she opened last November in Cedar Grove.

“I always thought I would have my own business. I just didn’t think it would take this long,” the 1991 Cedar Grove-Belgium High School graduate said.

While opening a business is always risky — more so during the Covid-19 pandemic — De Ruyter said the coronavirus shutdown actually helped. People had time to go through their attics and find treasured family memories.

“I could see it in my mind. There’s a niche thing that no one’s doing,” she said of preserving memories from slides and negatives.

She remembers the seed for starting a business was planted in Mark Ertl’s small business and entrepreneur class in high school. Students were studying an up-and-coming ice cream company called Ben & Jerry’s.

At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, De Ruyter majored in art with a focus on photography and had to design her own business for class. She made a college advising company.

“I can still see the logo I made,” she said.

During photography class, De Ruyter remembers her professor putting students’ photos on a big screen and adjusting them.

“Whoa,” she said. “I couldn’t wrap my brain around it at the time.”

De Ruyter did darkroom work for the school newspaper Royal Purple when film was still used and early digital photos were of poor quality. She later worked as a studio photographer in Madison. She noticed that photos from different photo labs would not look the same. Cherries, for example, could be bright red or dark red.

“Some technicians push buttons; others are true technicians,” De Ruyter said.

“I’ve got the eye. I can curate something and help people figure out what the end product will be.”

De Ruyter went on to work at an ad agency in New York City and then as an agent for National Geographic photographers to get them work when they’re not shooting for the magazine.

That has taken her to the Andes and other locations in Chile for a website hosting ad campaign and to Scotland for a whiskey ad with famous photographer David Guttenfelder. Just watching how National Geographic photographers operate, she said, shows “why they’re at the pinnacle.”

De Ruyter’s passion comes in after photos are taken.

She returned to Cedar Grove to be near family and worked remotely for National Geographic before starting her own business.

“I really wanted to be back by the lake,” De Ruyter said. “I’m kind of like a leatherback turtle. I want to be back in my sand.”

The idea for her business’ location came to her while she was sitting on her back porch on the other side of town. The building at 221 S. Main St. is well known in the community. It used to house Wading Bear Bread and before that the Dutch Crust Bakery.

She follows in her father’s footsteps of owning a business. Norman owned De Ruyter Auto Body.

“His expertise was painting. He was a super perfectionist,” De Ruyter said. “At the time, I knew that but I didn’t know there was an art to it.”

Her mother Joanne was a seamstress who did interior decorating and took oil painting classes in which students painted birds and flowers on pieces of wood.

De Ruyter originally planned to become an accountant “and thankfully I didn’t because people would have problems with their stuff,” she said.

Even her father told her, “‘You’re not really a bean counter.’”

Working in her natural field as a photo lab technician, De Ruyter’s customers travel miles to bring her slides. She recently received a box of 500 from someone in West Bend. Some customers are senior citizens because “that age group has slides” and others are teenagers who want photos printed from their phones and are amazed at slides.

Preserving people’s memories, De Ruyter said, “is where my heart lies.”

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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