Thinking about a Meritocracy

“Why can’t I work the Shoot that is close to where I live?” One of the newbie Passers says at a Meeting.

“We like to put our best people at our best Shoots.” The sober and stern sounding Boss says with a frim nod, daring anyone to challenge this common sense assertion.

“So does that mean I’m too good, or not good enough, to work at the Shoot near where I live?”

That Passer didn’t last too long at The Company, as many people who ask these kinds of questions are not at all happy with the anwsers they get.

I have had the odd experience of being the best Photographer at several companies-for the first year or so that I worked there.  After that there was always someone new that got to be the best.  Part of this is my general ability to follow the Processes, part of it is taking pride in my work, and part of it is being given the best accounts by the area Manager.  At one Company it really was that I was the best Photographer, and most likely the Only Photographer, that had ever worked for them.

This winning of awards and having laurels tossed at my feet only served to fed my already bloated ego.  I was a real photographer, not like these lowly button pusher who need to be constantly told to keep the subject centered in the frame and try some different lighting once in a while for crying out loud.  But now that I am just another member of the pack with no special place of honor, well, I tend to pay a little less attention to details, don’t try out every pose in the 500 Poses books, and tend to get the next setting out of the way so I can get back to the book I am reading.  That last chapter was pretty interesting.

There are only so many good Shoots to go around, only so many good Passers to work with, only so many families that want to spend a thousand dollars for a portrait package.  It’s no mistake that I no longer work many of those Shoots.  We want our Best People at our Best Shoots-and I am clearly no longer one of the Best.

One of the Passers was recently let go.  She was hired the same week I was.  Has the same basic checkered past of working for every Assembly Line Portrait Company under the sun, and has the same general gripes that the Good Old Days are gone and will never return.  But she dosen’t have a blog, so she liked to bitch and moan to the Subjects, the Cooradinator, her coworkers, and pretty anyone who would stand still long enough to listen.  She could sell, if she was given the chance-and she could keep her mouth shut long enough.

The problem with our best people on our best shoots is that everyone else gets the bad shoots-and thus never gets to be the best again.  Oh, we can follow all the rules, use the processes, keep up with the checklists, and if no one has any money or the last Shoot there was 15 months ago-well, they aren’t going to buy.  Or they might buy, but not as much as we would like.  They aren’t going to buy as much as the Company would like, either.  But the PreSeller is as happy as a clam, he get paid just for having people show up.  Must be nice.

I tend to spend a little too much time in my own world.  A little too much time listening to my own advice and taking my own gripes too much to heart.  So that when The Boss does put me on the occasional Good Shoot, I manage to piss someone off.  I am not alone in this, a good number of us manage to piss people off, often for reasons that are a mystery, but sometimes for doing something dumb.

Then there is this kind of self perpetuating cycle of being at a Bad Shoot.  A Photographer at a Bad Shoot will be less likely to put forth much of an effort, as there is no reason to do so.  Present them with a perfect portrait and they will still turn it down, sometimes they not even look at it.  Sometimes they sit and laugh at all the images and make fun of each other.  Sometimes they get up and walk out rather than allow the Passer to show then their portraits.  Give a Photographer a few weeks of such Shoots and they will start to ignore the checklists, guidelines, and processes all together.  Look over here, yeah, that’s good enough.

I have always tried to cultivate a Proffessor Higgins attitude myself, I treat everyone the same.  Everyone gets five minutes of my time, whether they need it or not.  When the mood strikes me, I will try the occasional new pose, new lighting pattern, new background.  The Standard Set has served me well for lo these many years-but it may be time to think about adding one or two shots.

Part of the problem goes back to The Book, which is the Bait in our Bait and Swith operation.  People look at The Book and say, hey, these are all head and shoulder shots, so I don’t need to dress up except for the waist up.  During the summer it’s common to see a man walk in wearing a jacket and tie-and a pair of shorts.  I usually only do full length shots of kids anyway, but even the kids are often only dressed from the waist up.   This limits the kind of shots we can do, even if we want to do more than the normal shots.

I like to think that I am of the better Photographers at The Company, but I seldom get to work at Shoots where my photographic skills matter.

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