“I played the violin for a while,” I say as I adjust the glossy student violin on the little girl’s knee. “But I was a poor kid and couldn’t afford Private Lessons, so I gave up pretty quickly.”
“I didn’t have Private Lessons.” Says the Public School Music Teacher. “And I am an accomplished Violinist.”
It’s possible that she plays in a local music ensemble of some kind, though I get much more interesting stories of working with Celebrities from the trumpet playing Band Director. The violin is not really a night club kind of instrument, but the horn section fits right in a dark smoky corner.
I had a man in Maine invite me to his home, where he told me that he only paid five dollars a month to heat his house. He then showed me the large water tanks in a greenhouse that soaked up the sun and keep his home nice and toasty all winter long.
I’ve chatted with Snow Birds who live the life I tend to dream of-stay warm in winter and cool in summer. But I haven’t quite figured out that paying for two houses thing yet, and I am not an RV kind of guy.
I’ve taken portraits of the semi-famous. Local celebrities that I didn’t know who they were until they left and the host told me in excited tones that there on TV or Radio or on Staff at The Paper or a Big Time Lawyer. These big fish in small ponds are usually not that interesting but I must admit I was a bit excited to meet a local gardening expert-he’s not as popular as he once was as he still advocates the use of chemicals in a world gone Organic.
Mostly it’s the Hosts at a Shoot that we get to talk to. We hear how The Minister has been at this Church for fifty years, or fifteen months. How they’ve lived here all their lives, or how they constantly travel from one congregation to the next. We occasionally work churches that don’t have a Minister, as they fired the last one and haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement. One church said they were happier without a Minister, though I have always wondered what they do on a Sunday morning.
Working at an Assembly Line Portrait Company is not like working for Starbucks or Bank of America-the hours are never regular and there is almost never any room for advancement. You can become a Trainer almost overnight, but the Managers and Upper Management are lifers. We get a lot of turnover-as people come to realize that they are not going to make that $70,000 a year they were promised. The ones that stay are like me, people who don’t have anywhere else to go and don’t really mind spending a lot of time in cheap motels is small towns they never heard of before.
Co-workers tell you anything and everything-as they never know if they will see you again, they have that freedom of telling a stranger things they wouldn’t tell a friend. I’ve had co-workers tell me about their sex lives, their abusive relationships, their lust for the customer that just left, and all the details of their latest ailments. They talk about how much they hate the Company, but that it’s better than the last place they worked. They gossip about other co-workers and bitch and moan about the Nonbuyers. Then, after they have told you they personally buried Jimmy Hoffa, they say-Don’t Tell Anyone I Said That.
I took Billy Sol Estes portrait one time-he’s a famous Texan who was a buddy of LBJ and seemed to like a bit of thievery on the side. A number of songs have been written about him and he has figured in a couple books about JFK and LBJ. The name looked familiar when I called him into the Camera room, but he was just one more in an endless line of doddering old men and I didn’t pay much attention to him. The Passer knew him right away and they had a nice chat about The Good Old Days.
Mainly I like to chat about Places I’ve been and Things I’ve seen. We compare notes of Tourist Attractions. Yesterday I talked with a couple about The Thing? in Arizona-a good old fashioned tourist trap in the middle of nowhere surrounded by desert. They had stopped at The Thing, but hadn’t paid to go into the Exhibit. We did pay to go in and it was a silly bit of business, but we liked it. It’s kind of amazing how many people have traveled to all the same places that I have traveled to. Even out of the way spots like The Very Large Array or The Heavener Runes get occasional mentions. Some times it makes sense-if your in Foyil, Oklahoma your going to go and see the World’s Tallest Totem Pole-one of several World’s Tallest Totem Poles to be found here and there-as there is nothing else to see.
Meeting fellow Photographers often leads to the exchange of War Stories about crying babies, ten hour long drives, and how the Business just isn’t what it used to be. The talk always turns to Digital Cameras and how it’s so much easier to use than film-and how it is killing the Industry. Well, maybe it’s just changing The Industry, not killing it. But most of us hate change.
Most of the time, I don’t see people, I just see a form that needs to positioned in relation to the lights. But once in a while I meet some pretty neat people and we have a bit of fun.