BackArts & Culture » Music & Arts » The Wholesome Encounter Between Kacey Musgraves and a Vietnamese-Run Vintage Photo Lab

The Wholesome Encounter Between Kacey Musgraves and a Vietnamese-Run Vintage Photo Lab

A small mom-and-pop operation in Los Angeles got a massive publicity boost thanks to a happenstance visit from country music superstar Kacey Musgraves.

Tom Tuong, the owner and sole employee at Tom's One Hour Photo, didn't recognize Kacey Musgraves when she paid a visit to his photo processing and portrait shop last week. The Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter's sister, Kelly Christine Sutton, was accompanying Musgraves during her massive world tour and needed somewhere to print behind-the-scenes photos before leaving town. Yelp led her to Tom's One Hour Photo, and once inside, she knew her sister needed to come in for a photo session.

Sutton explained to the Hollywood Reporter: "I felt like I was in a time capsule...There’s something so nostalgic about the portraits he’s made,” and she knew it fit perfectly with the throwback aesthetic which Musgraves gravitates towards. In addition to developing film, Tom's One Hour Photo offers photo sessions taken in front of 30-odd backdrops which Tuong painted when the store first opened in 1991. The colorful images feature a variety of colorful motifs including flowers, butterflies, sparkles, the Playboy bunny and even tiny footprints that Tuong made by spray-painting around the tiny feet of his then-young son, Nick.

View this post on Instagram

We were just in LA and needed to find a One Hour Photo place quick. Sandwiched between little bodegas, my sister randomly found this place on Beverly Blvd in Korea Town called Tom’s One Hour Photo & Lab. It’s one of those rare mom-&-pop gems that has lasted thru trends coming and going and weirdly has come back around again without even realizing it. The owner, Tom, was SO adorable. He not only does film developing but (cheap) and nostalgic portrait sessions too. (He gave us digital files and we edited these but he’ll shoot on film if you ask him to.) Pick your favorite background! He made them all himself. It’s cash only and he has no internet. He sadly told us his business used to be really busy back in 1991 when he opened but has slowed way down since the digital wave. So, like any good millennials would do we started an appreciation Instagram for him. @tomsonehourphotolab Not sure he’ll even see this. Stop by, tell all your friends, and don’t forget to tag. Let’s keep this charming business afloat! #TomsOneHourPhoto

A post shared by K A C E Y M U S G R A V E S (@spaceykacey) on

Musgraves posted about the shop on her Instagram account, which has over 1.6 million followers. She included the suggestion that her followers help the "charming" Koreatown shop "stay afloat." Musgraves then went a step further and even established an Instagram page for the store.

“We were raised in a small town, small-business household where ends sometimes were barely met. I think that’s why I have a soft spot for the dreamer...the underdog. I worked [in my parents’ shop] during my high school years answering phones, making copies, and rolling my eyes," Musgraves explains. "It’s really important to highlight people like that in this particular time.”

Following the post, the store has seen an explosion in customers and interest. The Instagram account Musgraves set up has attracted over 58,000 followers at the time of writing, and it showcases a variety of fans eager to imitate the singer's portraits.

View this post on Instagram

I don’t think my heart could be any more full. After randomly visiting Tom’s shop in LA with my sister and telling everyone about it, the response to his story has been so beautiful and overwhelming. Tom and his family are very happy and appreciative of all the new business that has come their way. Even through changing trends and times, his shop has lasted for 30 years. So, without us he was already doing something right. I’m just happy to see others happy and to see that humanity still loves to champion authentic people. And as unique as Tom and his shop are, there are soo many businesses just like his in all of your own neighborhoods. You walk past them every day without thinking twice about it. Find your own Tom. Go in and spend $5. Tell friends or leave a positive review on Yelp. That will bring them business for years to come. Challenge yourself to support them vs large corporations that may offer something similar or more “convenient.” The difference will be much more direct and meaningful. ♥️ Tom’s been everywhere lately!! It’s been hard to keep up!! The Insta account we made for him is going really strong and his family’s going to take it over soon: @tomsonehourphotolab We’ve LOVED seeing everyone’s portraits they’re going and taking there and all the press and photos of new crowds of people visiting his shop. Keep tagging and just being so rad in general #TomsOneHourPhoto (photos taken by @shutterhappyjose and @mrtimchan)

A post shared by K A C E Y M U S G R A V E S (@spaceykacey) on

Prior to the instantaneous popularity, business had reportedly been slow, with no cause for optimism. Tuong admitted that as digital images replaced film, he had to close his store's two other locations, and some months he doesn't make enough money to turn a profit, let alone hire other employees. His wife, with whom he emigrated from Vietnam in 1976, occasionally uses the money she makes working at a nearby nail salon to offset costs. Still, the business allowed the couple to raise three children.

Sutton and her famous sister plan to turn the One Hour Photo account to Tuong, who isn't currently on Instagram, or someone else interested in managing it. Tuong isn't quite sure what he will do next as he processes the new-found popularity. It's possible he will shift his business to cater to the nostalgia-ravenous youngsters Musgraves has brought in; or perhaps he will prefer to continue his modest lifestyle out of the limelight. Sutton said: "We never wanted to change Tom into this modern Instagram type of businessman. We still want him to be the same Tom. Hopefully he’ll figure out ways to appeal to younger markets and younger customers." 

[Top photo by Jack Platner via Rolling Stone]

Related Articles:

Photographer Spotlight: An Interview With Cuong Do Manh

15 Nostalgic Photos of Life in 1990s Saigon

The Discomforting Poetry of Vietnamese Cursed Image

Partner Content