I was a Rent-a-Cop for ten years. These were in the days before 9/11 and Blackwater when being a Security Guard meant you needed to be able to stay awake all night-not be able to spot the next terrorist before he blew up the building.
Working Security was standard issue low pay, dead end work. So I was always reading the Want Ads-looking for that next job I would quit in a year or two for something better.
That’s when I found an ad that said Photographers Wanted-No Experience Necessary. Hey, I thought, I got no experience! So I called up the number and had a meeting with a ditzy blond with black roots and a toothy smile. She hired me on the spot and loaded a Portable Portrait Studio into the back of my pick-up truck.
My Career as an Assembly Line Portrait Photographer had started.
Over the next thirteen-going on fourteen-years Assembly Line Portraits would take me around most of the country and introduce me to the world of fast shutter snappers and sooth portrait passers and lying pre-sellers that would take candy from a sleeping baby and steal the change from a beggar’s cup.
Assembly Line Portraits is just like any other business selling a product that no one needs-it’s all about making as much as possible form each and every customer.
But I didn’t know any of that the first time I walked into a Big Box Store and found a man making some room for his six foot by nine foot portrait studio in the Women’s Clothes Department. Big Box Stores live by the square inch and every department Manager hates to waste that much of their floor space for the five days we would be there.
But they have to give us the space, we have a Contract with Corporate-just like almost everyone else selling stuff in the Big Box Store.
“Are you ready yet?” A woman with a baby in her arms runs up to us as we are pushing a shopping cart full of black boxes and paperwork into our tiny little studio space. Clearly, we are not ready yet, the Studio is still a jigsaw puzzle yet to be assembled.
“No, Mame.” my kind hearted Trainer says. “We start at Ten A.M. and it is only Nine A.M. now.”
“Well, I’m in a hurry, how soon will you be ready?”
“We should be ready to start at Ten A.M., Mame.”
“I’m not going to wait.” The woman says and rushes off in a huff.
This is a scene that was repeated everyday from late September to the second week of December-the Christmas Rush. Everyone is in a hurry, no one wants to wait, and they have absolutely no qualms about telling you just what they think of you. Of course, if they give us a really hard time, we tend to loose their paperwork and they never get their portraits.
Welcome to Assembly Line Portraits.