The More Things Change

“Well, we won’t be starting up until late August.”  My soon to be Boss says.  “Do you have a bit of flexibility with The Company your working for now?”

“I think that they’ll just let me go when I give my two weeks notice.” I say.

Moving from one Company to another is usually easy enough, all you have to do is find a new company to go to.  That’s not as easy as it once was.  Larger Companies have gobbled up smaller companies.  Tiny companies have cropped up all over, but none of them are hiring, they are one photographer trying to squeeze into an already overcrowded market.

The Assembly Line Portrait is fading away.  The granddaddy of all Assembly Line Portrait Studios, Olan Mills, is gone.  CPI, who runs the Wal-Mart Portrait Studios, where countless Photographers and Button Pushers alike got their start in the industry, is phasing out hundreds of it’s Assembly Line Portrait Studios.

The reasons are easy enough to see.  The world of imaging has changed and most Assembly Line Portrait Studios haven’t figured out how to change with it.  There are still Companies that take portraits in Super Markets, Shopping Malls, and Schools-and still doing business pretty much as they always have.   Still working the numbers, the more you shoot, the better the odds are that enough people will buy something to make it worth doing.

There are still Companies that pay a living wage for taking Assembly Line Portraits, but most companies have taken the path of maximum profits through minimum wages.  They don’t care about their employees, they are just parts that can be instantly replaced.  I worked at the Lifetouch School Division for a short while and they literally hired twenty new people every two weeks to replace the twenty that had quit.  I quit because I couldn’t afford to work there, just like everyone else.

In the dead of summer I always find myself looking for something new to do, someplace new to work, some way to make enough money to tide me over until fall comes and people want portraits for Christmas.  This is usually when I sell a few items on eBay, plot out a novel I will never finish, and work on my Fine Art Photography.  It’s a good time to catch up on some reading, study a few new poses and lighting patterns, and read one more book on how to get my creative life a bit more organized.

Working for The New Company has been a downhill ride all the way.  They cut our pay, have us work crap Shoots, and they keep telling us how great it will be if just show a little willingness to be flexible.  We have not yet gone over to Shoot-N-Show, but they are still telling us that it is only a matter of time.  All traces of the Old Company are gone, well, except for the parts of the old Studio that are still cluttering up my already cluttered living room.  The odd thing is that I really miss the old studio.

The New Studio has three lights, instead of five.  It has two backgrounds, instead of twenty.  The backgrounds are made of some synthetic fabric that makes a floor as slick as ice when you step on it-and the fabric wrinkles very easily.  There is no remote shutter release, so I have to stand by the camera and I can’t move around and get a good expression from small children.  The legs of the camera stand and the light stands are too wide and I trip over the damned things all day.

I never thought it was going to work out, but I just kept hoping that sooner or later things would level out and get better.  But each new email from the great and power CEO has only been more bad news for the bastard stepchildren of the Old Company.  They have succeeded in running off a few people, but too many of us have no where else to go and so we remain.  We are all unhappy and do nothing but bitch and moan about how much money we have lost, how few days we are working, and how light the Shoots are.

When you are paid straight commission, every warm body counts.  But since we are also paid on the Sales Average, every damned Nonbuyer is a thief stealing food from our mouths.  Needless to say, this leads to some interesting Customer Service issues.

The best way to sell portraits is to tell the Subjects as little as possible.  You hold up an expensive finish and ask if they like it, if they say yeah, I like it, than you quote them a price for a package with the expensive finish.  If they agree to buy it, you don’t tell them, well, you could get a cheaper finish for about a hundred dollars less.  The New Company wants you to tell them, in full detail, exactly what they are paying for.  This is the best way to generate Nonbuyers I have ever seen.  No one wants to pay for the better finish when they find out there is a cheaper one.  No one wants the Retouch if they find out it’s cheaper without the Retouch.  Bait-and-Switch, the business model all Assembly Line Portrait Companies live and die by, doesn’t work if you’re brutally honest and tell everyone they can just walk out with the Freebie.

And the latest news is that my Old Manager has been replaced.  This is not good news, as I know the new Manager and never really got along with them.  Just one more drop in the bucket.  It won’t be long before it tips over now.

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