“Hi, I’m supposed to be taking Portraits today.” I say and smile. “I just need to know where I need to setup.”
“Oh. Well, we canceled that.” The Man says as he barely looks up from his desk. “Didn’t they tell you?”
“No, no they didn’t.” I say and let a little sigh escape. It’s seven thirty in the morning and I just drove three hours to find out I have the day off.
The Assembly Line Portrait Company exists to make money and one of the common denominators is that we will shoot when the Client wants us to shoot. For Directory Work this is usually from 2 p.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. For Daycares and Band Pictures it is usually 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.-though some schools want you to shoot after school so the day can be stretched out til 4 or 5 p.m. In Store Promotions usually shot for three or four days a week with a combo of evening hours and morning hours on Saturday and Sunday. Stand Alone Studios pretty much make up their own hours and shoot whenever they feel like it-usually the same hours as The Malls where the operate.
The result is that The Photographer never works a schedule that fits in with the normal work a day world. We miss out on Prime Time TV, though the Internet has made it a lot easier to catch up on the occasional favorite show. We get to see a lot of programs featuring Judges and opinionated women telling us how stupid they think everyone is. We often get away from the whole TV world and spent a lot of time reading, writing, and dreaming about how soon our name will appear on the Best Seller Lists or how quickly that brilliant idea will make us rich.
We have way too much time to sit around and think as we while away the hours. We spent hours in motel rooms in towns so small and drab that we wonder why anyone lives there. We also spend hours in motel rooms in big cities where we have done all there is to do the last time we were there. We have just enough time between sittings to start reading a chapter and get to something interesting when the next sitting walks in the door. We spent a lot of time talking to co-workers-mainly about how we all need to grow up and get real jobs one of these days. We have long hours of driving were we listen to audio books or whatever we can find on the radio a hundred miles from the middle of nowhere.
One of the problems with an Assembly Line Portrait job is that you are totally at the mercy of The Company. All of these companies consider America their District-this means that you might be asked at any given time to drive several hours away from home to several days away from home. You can’t have a second job as you never have a set schedule with regular days off to fill with another job. Any day you schedule to work for someone else, or yourself, is guaranteed to be a day The Company wants you to go to another state. Add to that the fact that The Company likes to only work you two or three days a week-and never the same two or three days-and you will see the need for a second job. So most people just quit one day.
One Company I worked for did School Pictures-those horrid little portraits that come in a little envelope with a price list printed on the outside. The Company hired twenty people at a time, trained us all in a big room, gave us a camera and sent us on our ways. In two weeks they would need to hire another twenty people, as all but one or two of the first batch had already quit. This was their standard hiring practice, they expected most of the people to quite after a couple of weeks.
There are advantages to working off hours. I seldom get stuck in traffic, except for a few of the School shoots. I can shop whenever I want and there are seldom any long lines. I don’t have to wait for tables at too many restaurants. There are fewer crowds to deal with at the occasional Tourist Attraction that I might want to visit.
The disadvantages include Museums that are often closed when I have the time to go and visit them and friends who have normal schedules and I have just lost track of. The people I do meet also work the ever changing Company schedule, or live hours away from where I live-or both. People who work for The Company tend to be a bit on the antisocial side, we spend a little too much time in our own company and come to think of our own opinions as the only ones that matter.
We don’t, as a s general rule, play well with others. We are both annoyed by the odd hours we have to work and spoiled by the amount of free time that we have. When we are making money, being The Photographer of an Assembly Line Portrait studio is a dream job, when we are slow, it is the death of a thousand cuts. We live in our own little worlds, and most of us like it that way.