The FNGs of Assmebly Line Portraits

“This is easiest job I’ve ever had.” The New Passer says with an arrogant tilt to his head. “I can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, this is going to be a snap”

“Really?” I say with a bit of skepticism “You’ve sold portraits before?”

“No, but it’s pretty easy so far.”


So every once in a while I am surprised to met the Happy New Employee.  Fresh out of training with one of the Company Superstars that always works a good Shoot and always Hits Their Sales Quotas.   These happy new people think they have found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  This is easy!

That New Employee Euphoria doesn’t last too long.  Even the ones that are good at selling Portraits soon enough find out that the three most important words in Assembly Line Portraits are-Location, Location, Location.  There are some places that just flat never buy portraits-good times or bad, all they want is The Freebie.  Some people think spending a hundred dollars is a huge order-it isn’t.  Some places we do nothing but hand out Freebies all day.  The new employee is never trained at those Shoots.

Instead The New Hire is told that they will make 50K plus a year and they are trained by the handful of Passers who make 50K plus a year.  It is possible to make over a thousand dollars a week in take home pay, if you work five or six days a week, have full schedules on those days, and the people want to buy portraits.  It’s a bit tougher working two or three days a week on Shoots with ten or fifteen names on the list instead of thirty or forty.

I’ve met people who are thrilled to just get the base pay and are planning on how they will spend the money from working five or six days a week.  I haven’t worked back to back weeks of five days in months, but then, they don’t like me as much as they used to.  The FNG often gets full schedules on the good Shoot-at least for a little while, until the next FNG comes along and they get the good Shoots.

As a result, the FNGs don’t hang around too long and tend to annoy those of us dumb enough to think of Assembly Line Portraits as a career.  Most new employees are shocked by the work we do-the long hours, the below minimum wage pay, the amount of time spent in cheap motels and eating fast food or baloney sandwiches.   But mostly they are shocked that they are not making the mad amounts of money they thought they would be making.  Those $1,000 weeks are still going on, and they are still going to the Superstars.

I was once a Superstar.  One year I had the Camera with the Most in Sales and The Most Sits.  This got me a free meal and a nice trophy.  But looking back I now think it was just The Manager teaching another Photographer a lesson.  The Managers are nice enough to chat with, but it is totally wrong that they control your money and your life.  I can still make a thousand dollars a week, I did so a few weeks ago, but I can only do so when The Manager allows me to do so.  Mostly it’s the New Employees that get the cherry Shoots.

New Employees like to tell you their entire life stories as if you are both survivors of a plane crash and one of you might die at any moment.  Ok, they talk more like strangers on a plane you will likely never see again-and oddly, there are plenty of these Fucking New Guys and Gals that I never do see again.   Most are young, and this is not a good thing as young people don’t take to this kind of work-they tend to have, oh what is it called? a life.  They have friends, family, and things to do-while the die hards of Assembly Line Portraits have no real problem staying away from home for days or weeks on end.

Sometimes the new people quit not long after they finish Training because they don’t like being away from home.   Sometimes it is a loved one that doesn’t like them being away from home.  Sometimes it’s just getting that first paycheck that makes someone quit.  Or maybe it’s spending so much time alone, in the motel room, in the Camera or Sales Room, on those long drives to the middle of nowhere.  Whatever the reason, a lot of people don’t last six weeks.

This job is not for everyone-legally, it probably shouldn’t be allowed for anyone.  Some are better than others and some people have fanatical love and loyalty for these Companies.  I have never been very fond of any Company I have worked for-a job’s a job.

Of course, the real problem with the FNGs is that they are not good at their jobs.  All things being equal, a Veteran Passer will make more money than a New Passer.  A Veteran Photographer will take more salable portraits than a New Photographer.  Two Veterans will get along better, be more like friends and less like rivals. Not always, but usually.

The Company is of the opinion that The Good Old Days of wall to wall Shoots are returning at any moment, so they will need at least twice as many people as they now have working to handle the load.  But The Good Old Days have not yet returned, so all those people end up sitting at home and combing over Craigslist for a new job.

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