“I’ve got another job.” The Passer says. “I’m going to be a Corrections Officer.”
“You mean like a Prison Guard?” I say and try to imagine the slightly pudgy, fairly short man in front of me as a prison guard.
“It’s a good job and the pay is good.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
Over the years I have known a lot of Photographers and Passers who have gone off to do other things. A surprising number of these people went on to become Prison Guards. Most of the people I have worked with chose their jobs on a purely monetary basis. No one becomes a Passer for the love of twisting someone’s arm and getting them to spend five hundred dollars when they could have spent seventy-five dollars. Being a salesperson seems to be a job that is all about the money. But I could be wrong, I may have to ask the next Passer I work with if they really enjoy what they do.
Most of the time I do enjoy what I do. I like taking a good portrait, I have a bit of fun getting people to smile, and I take pride in the images I create-for the most part. Of course, I don’t spend all my time at work working. Being an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer is one of those jobs where you can read a book or write a blog post or just sit and stare out a window if the mood strikes you. For some people this would be a problem. I have heard that there are people who get bored when they have nothing to do. Of course, I always have something to do.
I got my first camera when I was in the 6th Grade and I went around trying to take fine art pictures of trees and sunsets and the like. But since I had neither a great eye nor a great camera, my first attempts were a bit disappointing. Over the years I have made some progress, but I will never be Ansel Adams or Michael Kenna. My fine art photography is like all my other endeavors, I tend to drift a little too much.
One the FNGs has a hardbound portfolio that he likes to carry around with him. It’s a small book with about twenty pages of landscape images-kind of funny since he is working as an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer now. But he doesn’t think of himself as a portrait photographer-he’s a fine art photographer. He gets up early and scouts out cool spots to photograph in whatever town he happens to be working in. I used to do that kind of thing, but not so much any more.
The Boss was giving us one of his pep talks one year. He talked about the portfolios that he had been given and how he had not seen any similar images since they had gone to work for him. Photographers are creatures of habit and creatures of our environment. I don’t take the same style portraits for a Directory that I took when I worked in a Big Box Store or a High School Senior Studio. When you have different tools to work with, you create different sorts of art.
Of course, not all Assembly Line Portraits are art, but I like to think that some of them are.
Assembly Line Portraits tends to attract the drifters of the world. We have nothing to tie us down, so we can stay away from home for random periods of time without too many worries. We would all like a bit more money, but then, who wouldn’t? And, as I may have mentioned before, we don’t really play well with others. So maybe that whole prison guard thing is not such an odd idea.
I’ve never really followed my bliss, as I tend to have an ebbing and flowing idea of the perfect work. I like the thrill of learning new things. Assembly Line Portraits is all about finding the shots that are easy to teach non-photographers how to take-and then taking those same handful of shots over and over and over. It’s worked for the past hundred years or so and will likely work to some degree as long as there are people taking portraits.
You’d think it would be easy enough to change these standard poses up once in a while-and you can see some of the results of changing portrait styles by visiting Awkward Family Photos-but by and large, we are still shooting the same shots Assembly Line Portrait Photographers have always shot. The Company likes to forget that a good deal of our work is merely documentary in nature-all that we need for The Book is just a good likeness, not a work of art.
When I was just out of High School I wanted to be a Travel Agent, then I refined the goal into being a Travel Writer, and finally settled on being a Traveling Photographer. I continue to be surprised how many tiny towns have something of interest going on and how often I end up being there at the same time. It can be a problem when you need a room the same weekend of the NASCAR race and every room in the state seems to be booked, but otherwise, it can be a bit of fun.
One of the Assembly Line Portrait Photographers who wanted to be a prison guard didn’t get the job, which was a great blow to his ego. So he then hunkered down and learned all the new Geewhiz photos that The Company was demanding we learn-might as well do what The Company wants since you have no where else to go. I wonder how he feels now that we have gone back to the basics? I also wonder how he would have liked being a prison guard.