“Thanks for letting me work in so many places.” I say to my Manager one day while calling in for supplies. “Any chance I could work in San Fransisco? Or maybe Seattle?”
“We didn’t hire you to be a tourist.” The Manager says angrily. “We hired you to take portraits.”
This was the same Manager who told me he wasn’t paying us to sit around Motel rooms and watch TV. But the fact of the matter is that’s what ends up happening. We go places, we spend hours in our cars, days in motel rooms, hours sitting around the Shoot waiting for people to show up. Some Companies have pretty packed schedules and there is no down time. Others have tweaked their schedules until we now have endless hours to sit around and talk, or read, or surf the web.
Over the years I have become quite proficient at taking portraits. Turn this way, turn that way, smile. The job can be fun and for the most, taking the portraits is easy. So long as the equipment isn’t total crap, there’s not much to it. But, of course, the equipment is almost always total crap. The reason for this is simple enough, Assembly Line Portraits are usually taken by Button Pushers, and you don’t want to make it any more complicated than you have to.
I’ve worked with some good people over the years. People who took their work seriously, had fun, showed me a thing or two I could use. There have been some really nice Subjects as well. Countless places where people have bought us food and drink, bought our portraits, and allowed us to make a living doing something we love.
I’ll always remember a Shriner and his Lady who invited us into their home, showed us around the town, and took us out for dinner. He lived in Maine and said his winter heating bill was twenty dollars. He then showed off all of his passive solar heating equipment and talked about saving money as well as saving the planet.
Some Companies have big accounts where three or four photographers work at the same time. It’s always fun to work with someone else and share our war stories. We all wish that we had a dime for every time someone told us they were going to break our cameras. And we all know that we are the best photographer around. I still like to think of myself as a pretty good Assembly Line Portrait Photographer, but I can admit that there are a few others out there a bit better at watching the details than I am.
Back in the Good Old Days of a few years back, we would all go out for lunch together and maybe have a late dinner once in a while. But then times got tough and we had to spend that money on silly things like gas and rent. Even now it’s impossible for me to think of most of the places I have worked and not think about the meals shared with fellow travelers on the Assembly Line Portrait path. We almost always talked about The Company, but once in a while we would talk about other things.
At one Company we had a big shoot every year near Kansas City and we would all eat barbeque and wander around Kansas City looking at the statues and the fountains. We would talk about our latest travels, this was a company that sent us all over the country, and we would all be a bit jealous of where the others had been.
I never had too many Bosses that I cared for, but then, they were bosses after all. My last Boss at The Old Company was the perfect Boss, as I almost never saw him and he never gave me a hard time about anything. My first year there he even gave me good Shoots for the whole year. But it was all downhill from there. Still, I did have that one good year and I actually got to know most of the people I worked with.
I miss one or two of these co-workers, I was especially fond of a couple of Canadians I briefly worked with. For the most part we were people who just happened to work together and none of us were exactly close friends. But then, I’m not big on the whole friends thing anyway. One of the reasons I have never had any problem wandering from here to there for extended periods of time.
I look back at some of my old photos from those trips and my first thought is that I would really like to return and capture some fresh images. I never had all the time I would have liked, but I often had enough time to grab a few shots.
Food was another favorite pastime, lobsters in Maine, green chilies in New Mexico, fried chicken in Georgia, boiled peanuts in Florida, and so and so forth. There’s always a Chinese buffet and never a shortage of fast food chains. I gained twenty pounds that first year on the road and have never really gotten rid of them. But that’s alright, I was pretty thin back in the day and needed a few pounds.
I’m working on my Fine Art Images now and I keep thinking about mapping out a route to all those places I never made it to. Just about every place seems to have an Art Fair or two going at some point. Pack up my fine art prints and my Hawaiian Shirts and see if I could make enough money to get to the next stop. I’m a little old for that whole On The Road thing, but I still like to think about it once in a while.