My Fellow Underachievers

“I live in Ireland about half of the year.” The Subject says and smiles.  “It’s not really a part of Europe.”

“Actually, it is.” The Old Timer Assembly Line Portrait Photographer pipes in, always eager to disagree with everyone he meets about virtually anything.  “They joined the European Union back in 1973.”

The Subject looks at him with a fine mixture of pity and disbelief.  I was more than shocked when she actually bought portraits a few minutes later.  Maybe that whole being an asshole thing really works.  As a general rule I try not to tell people how to pronounce their own name or their own city-or bring them up to speed on the political status of the country they live in half the year.

Over the past twenty to thirty years a vast horde of Assembly Line Portrait Companies have come and gone.  Many fine photographers got their start standing behind a ZII and making a child laugh by having a ball roll off their head.  Many other fine photographers have been ruined in the trenches of the Assembly Line Portrait Wars, unable to move beyond the world of straight commission on weekly sales averages and screaming two year-olds.

Then there are those folks who take great pride in having spent the past twenty odd years hopping from one failing company to another and never having to deal with that whole growing up thing.

Part of the problem is the way the business is setup.  The Home Office is in North Carolina or Minnesota or Tennessee and the grunts on the ground only see the Big Boss when we get the Company Newsletter and his smiling face graces the cover.  It’s just as well that we never see them, as they would never be happy with anything we have to say about The Company.

So what happens is that we are all islands unto ourselves-spending just a bit too much time with only ourselves for company. This can lead to a slight decline in social skills and over the course of twenty years or so, a complete absence of social skills.  We are hermits surrounded by people.  We spend so much time listening to only our own opinions that we forgot that there might be one or two people in the world who don’t agree with everything we say and don’t care to hear our life stories.  This is particularly odd since we never have any patience with anyone else who want to tell US their life stories.

It’s a solitary life, and we tend to like it that way.  We are given an address and a schedule of appointments.  It’s up to us to find the location and take portraits, hopefully making enough money for ourselves and the Company to keep things rolling for another week.  On a surprisingly regular basis, one week the Company will stop rolling and you’ll have to find somewhere else to take Assembly Line Portraits.  Until then, there is something totally addictive about being in charge of your own life without having to deal with minor annoyances like getting new clients, dealing with complaints, and meeting your own payrolls.  Yeah, the Company tells us where to go, but the smart learns to say it in the form of a question.

Some of us lean toward the intellectual side, using the endless hours in motels and on the road to read/listen to books.  These self acquired and self anointed Doctorates tend to make us a little more informed than the average person.  Some of us go through phases where we can’t help but show off by reciting whole passages of Shakespeare or pretending all the world is the set of Jeopardy and we’re the one with the answers.

There was a time when I fell in love with big words and read a dictionary for fun.  I still tend to pepper my dialogues with the occasion ‘bifurcated’ or ‘morose.’  But for the most part I have mellowed out a bit.  I no longer feel the need to always be right or to get into heated debates about whether or not Texas has the right to proclaim itself a sovereign country.  I can also allow someone else to speak once in a while-there was a time when I just wanted to run over everyone-MY war stories are SO much better than yours.

So when I met this other Old Timer and he talked about all the places he has worked and all the traveling he has done and how much he made in The Glory Days–I couldn’t help but think, good god, is that what I sound like?  Like two ends of a magnet pushing each other apart, I took a near instant dislike to this guy-after all, how many know-it-alls have I meet over the years?  Too many.  But then, like all Assembly Line Portrait Photographers, the odds are good that I may never see him again.  We tend to remain moving targets.

Like all Assembly Line Portrait Photographers I also tend to think of myself as the best portrait photographer doing this kind of work.  I’m good, but I’m still a high volume discount portrait photographer, so being good doesn’t really matter that much.  I can watch all the CreativeLIVE videos I want and compare my work to their’s, but no one is lining up to pay me $5,000 for a family portrait session.

So I will keep thinking I’m a good portrait photographer-and keep traveling and doing my fine art work on the side-until I run out of Companies to work for that are willing to send to places I want to go.


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