How many photographers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
100. 1 to screw in the light bulb and 99 to stand around and say: “I could have done that.”
“It’s my honor to give you this Certificate that states you are a Superior Photographer for The Company.” The Regional Manager says and smiles as he hands me a small plaque with the Company name and logo prominently placed and my name somewhat smaller below.
“Thanks.” I say and smile with pride.
Every Company I have ever worked for has given out titles and awards for one thing or another. I was one of several Superior Photographers anointed that afternoon, and for all I know, every photographer working there was a Superior Photographer. Getting this kind of award doesn’t exactly compare to getting the Master Photographer title from the Professional Photographers of America or Wedding and Portrait Photographers International-most Companies make up their own named titles that are similar to Master Photographer.
One Company I worked for had several levels of excellence, I think the first level was something like Professional and the top was Everest or Grand Master or something silly like that. I got the Professional award at that Company, but then, I didn’t work there all that long.
It was always a bit of fun working at smaller places, where I would win Photographer of The Month every month and the walls would be covered with my images. I tend to think that part of this was nothing more than ego stroking and part of it was that I really was a lot better than the other people working there. At Über Companies with thousands of Assembly Line Portrait Photographers, well, I don’t stand out that much.
The odds of being successful at any Company are improved by an employee’s ability to follow the rules and do what the Company wants you to do. This means when they we want everyone turned at a 45 degree angle to the right, you pose everyone at a 45 degree angle to the right. Some Assembly Line Portrait Photographers have a hard time with this whole idea of doing what they are told. We all know better than The Company, but then, we don’t get those Big Time Awards either.
I’ve never been a fan of Artistic Awards, where someone at The Home Office sorts through a handful of images that someone at the Plant culled from the ten million images they processed that year. I’ve always been more of a fan of hard number awards-like Highest sales and Most sittings. Winning these awards means you had a good year and made a lot of money. For the most part, all Assembly Line Portraits look alike, getting an award for making all your images look the most alike has never struck me as much of an award. Winning this award means you toe the Company line and doesn’t necessarily mean you make any more money than the Company screw-up who shoots off the background and always shows up late for work.
For the most part Assembly Line Portrait awards are just an excuse for the Company to blow some money and throw a bit of a party. Big Companies rent ballrooms, have buffets, and stick a live band in one corner. The Awards tend to go to the Usual Suspects every year, with the same people lining their garage walls with Major Awards while everyone else sits at home reading the latest Company email telling them about how hard the times are and how they need to cut back on their expenditures.
The Old Company, not long before it’s death knell rang, had started looking at all of our photos and sending out nasty little notes telling us how much our photos sucked. It was always good for Company morale to be told that you needed to stop doing this and start doing that. There was one fellow the Lab loved, all of his images were evenly lit, his posing was within the specified parameters, and he got nothing but praise in his critiques.
A tad jealous? Maybe. I looked at some of his sample images and didn’t see anything to write home about. But that’s why they loved him, he was consistently boring. The Lab never had to touch a dial or tweak a frame of his work. While the rest of us were playing with the light and the posing, he kept banging out Model As and ignored us as we struggled to create the occasional Ferrari. It really IS Assembly Line Portrait Photography and the Company really does want boring, consistent images from every single frame.
The New Company gave out some awards the other night, and guess who won an award? Yeah, that guy the Old Company loved. Looks like at least one of us will fit in. I wonder how he’s going to like selling?
The Big Wheels can afford to throw big parties and hand out awards-while most of their employees are lining up for Unemployment and looking for a real job.
I think I threw out most of my old photography awards, they were just sad reminders of places that are out of business and best forgotten. Besides, most of them were meaningless, like getting a blue ribbon just for showing up. Having Company XYZ tell you you’re now a Master Photographer doesn’t make you a Master Photographer.