“We want all of our customers to feel special.” The Manager says in her stage voice. “That way they will buy more.”
I’m reminded of the old joke about the success to sales being Sincerity-once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
I’ve been taking portraits of old people for the better part of my career. There was a brief stint of taking baby pictures, but I had all of that I cared for pretty quick. Old people can be pretty damned depressing. The human body shutting down is not a pretty picture, but I do the best I can with what I have to work with.
The Company had a little Powerpoint presentation that featured an old woman who had her portraits taken. The portrait was a generic directory shot with flat lighting and the usual slightly surprised look of an older person who isn’t exactly sure when the shutter will trip. The story is how wonderful it was that the Photographer took her picture and sold her two 5x7s and a Retouch. Yeah! We can still twist the arm of a dying old woman! By the end of the little presentation the woman has, in fact, died and her family send The Company a card thanking them for taking her picture.
Uh, OK. So what? We shoot old people on their last legs every single day. And yeah, the ones that know they are dying are more likely to buy portraits and get them retouched. But most of them are not dying and just want to add this free 8×10 to the collection they have in their drawer at home. Do they really want us to use the old This Could Be Your Obituary Photo line?
Then there’s the implication that the Photographer did something extraordinary by taking the woman’s portrait at all. Does the Company have people working for it that tell old folks to take a hike when they shuffle into the Camera Room? I’d like to once in a while, Old People can be right bastards at times. But I never have and I’ve never heard of anyone who did. So I’m just not all that clear as to the point of this little slide show.
I was Shooting First Baptist Dallas a few years back, in those glory days of yesteryear when I was given Good Shoots, and I had a few Big Sales. One older couple spend around a thousand dollars-a large sell for Assembly Line Portraits-and the family came around and thanked me for taking such great portraits of their parents. Any other photographer would have taken portraits that were just as good and would have gotten the same sale-that’s what Assembly Line Portraits are all about. But it still felt good to get the occasional compliment.
The Biggest Sale of my Assembly Line Portrait career came in San Antonio at a small church off the interstate. This old couple tottered in, they were each in their nineties, and a good stiff breeze would have knocked them over. They were impossible to pose. Deaf and couldn’t hear my instructions. Blind and couldn’t see where I pointed. Frail and fragile as a pair of Ming vases, I didn’t want to touch them. I took the Standard Set of Poses as best as I could and sent them on their way. When they got to the Sales Table they took out a List and spent a little over $1600. This had nothing to do with the quality of the portraits or the skills of the Passer-these two old-timers had decided they needed portraits and this was the time they were going to buy them.
Given the Button Pusher Studio and the lack of willingness that many old folks have when it comes to posing for portraits, there’s not a hell of a lot to be done, portraitwise. Too many people have been fed a line of bullshit telling them that a ‘posed’ portrait is a ‘bad’ portrait-so they just want to sit there like a lump on a log because that’s more ‘natural.’ Fine, you want natural go home and use your fucking cell phone! For the five minutes I have you just hush and do what I tell you.
One of the most popular poses is the Hand Pose, where a person leans on their hand with their wrist bent back and their fingers curled with the edge of the hand facing the camera. But this is a pose that also makes the old dears scream-That’s Not Me! That’s Stupid! I’m NOT doing that! As if I’d asked them to bend over for a Hustler spread. Once in a while the people who refuse to do the hand pose ask to see it in the Viewing Room. The mind is a funny thing.
When I started Shooting speed was everything. I worked at Wal-Mart during the Christmas Rush and the line was always out the door. Then I worked at a couple of other places that thought the best way to book a Shoot was to set the appointments five minutes apart and pack the Appointment Sheet for six hours. By the time I came to The Old Company I had settled down a bit and no longer banged out fifty sittings a day. But those where the end of the Glory Days for the Old Company and I was back to the old grind of shooting forty to sixty families a day. This was speed posing, flow posing, set them up and knock them down posing. Those WERE the good old days.
I still shoot fast. A Single takes no more than five minutes, a couple about the same. A large family might take ten minutes. And it’s easier now than it used to. The Old Company wanted a lot of shots and all kind of Contemporary options. The New Company doesn’t want me to waste my time taking so damned many portraits. The New Company is all about Sales-not Photography. It’s only a matter of time before they replace us all with Photo Booths.
Well, time to stop. My thoughts have begun to wander.