6.26.2010

Tested by the mischievous gods of photography.....a tale of relative woe.

Before I plunge into my "tale of woe" let's get one thing straight.  All hardship is relative.  I'm not for a minute suggesting that my set backs this week are anything more than a minor annoyance.  Compared to famine, disease, amputation or even a severe headache my travails are less than a mosquito bite on the ankle.  And a bite inflicted on someone with a very high tolerance for mosquito bites.  Still, it's interesting because life's foibles are part and parcel of the photo trade......


I was lucky to be asked to do a fun job by one of my favorite ad agencies last week.  I'd just finished a job for a tech company from the mid western U.S. so my brain was already cogitating in the sphere of industrial pictorialism and I was hungry for more.  I won't go into details about the shoot or the actual clients because I signed some NDA's.  But I'll give you the big picture.....

The job was ultimately for a company that does printing and just about every type of advertising delivery and mailing you can think of, with the exception of television and web content.  They own plants in several cities.  They own and operate web presses (not presses for the web but giant machines that print high volume stuff with ink on paper.....) and sheet fed presses.  Complex mail stuffing and sorting machines.  Pre-press machines and much more.  And they needed an assortment of photographs that would show how they span the chasm between good, old fashion high craft and very modern and very high tech integration of digital data.

I love shooting stuff like this and I love working for companies that produce a physical product because it's visual.  Can't tell you how many software companies we've done projects for that basically have nothing visual to represent their "product" but the wrapped box the program disks come in.  We shoot two basic things for those kind of companies:  People meeting.  People working at their computers.  In the shoot I just finished we got to shoot precision gears, pulsating metal rollers, sluicing ink, platemakers, pressmen pulling huge sheets and much more.  We did the IT think with people making data but the bulk of the job was real people using real mechanical machines to make real stuff.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I need to throw the woe at you first.  So, when you estimate jobs like this you have a few calculations that go something like this:  How much time will I spend shooting?  And post processing? And meeting?  And traveling?  And, ultimately, what sort of usage licenses are we conveying to the client?  We'd be shooting in Ft. Worth on the first day and Austin on the second day.

Ft. Worth is (on a good day) about a three hour drive from Austin so it makes a lot more sense to drive it than to wait at the airport, fight about baggage restrictions, get delayed, fly to DFW and wait for a rental car, etc.  I decided to leave Austin mid afternoon on Weds., meet with my client for a preproduction pow-wow in the evening at my hotel and then, refreshed, hit the ground running on Thurs. morning early.  It would be a full day and it didn't make sense to get up at 5am and drive up, shoot all day and drive back at night.  Especially with an equally big and important chunk of the job continuing in Austin on Friday.  Sounded good to all involved.

I had my car's oil changed and a good "once over" done by my Honda dealer the day before and they gave my car a clean bill of health.  I had a ripping good lunch at Sullivan's Steakhouse with good friend and art director, Greg, dropped by Precision Camera to pick up yet another lens and then, at 2:30pm I headed north on Interstate IH-35 for my dat with destiny.

I'm tooling along with the cruise control set at 70 and Elvis Costello's, "King of America" on the music machine when, up ahead, the tire of an eighteen wheeler goes "Kaa-blam!"  and sends heavy rubber shrapnel everywhere.  On particular piece is guided by the mischievous photo gods right into the lower right hand side of my windshield where it leaves a nasty scar of a crack.  Why do tires explode?  Not sure but I think some it has to do with high temperatures and that afternoon it was up around 100 degrees in the shade.  The car thermometer was telling me that the roadway temp was around 121 (f).

The sudden smack against the windshield sure woke me up.  I weighed the risks and my relative position and decided that the windshield was virtuous and would hold for the next few days.  My heart stopped racing and I pressed north.  Then the next shoe dropped.  I was 45 minutes out of Ft. Worth proper when the air in the car started to feel warm and clammy and then warmer and clammier.  I turned off the air conditioning and attempted to restart it which causes a grinding noise and made the car shudder.  The air conditioning gave up the ghost and joined all the other appliances that have let me down in a circle of hell where they no doubt wait for me to arrive.  Ready to put me to work......

Windows open, I press on into the maelstrom called Ft. Worth rush hour.  True to form, trouble comes in threes.  I was making good time in the heart of the city, looking for loop 820 when everything ground to a halt.  A truck driver flipped his rig.  All traffic was blocked for the better part of an hour. Which is generally just annoying when your AC works and you've got a handful of good CD's or something ripe and saucy on the iPod.  But with no water in the car and the temperatures on the asphalt in the Mojave Desert range I was getting a bit nervous.

I stumbled into the Courtyard by Marriott, handed over my credit card and begged for water.  I'd made it.  But what do you do when your schedule is tight and compacted over the course of three days and your horse is crippled?  My response was to suck it up, get the job done, get back to Austin, get the job done and then see to the car this coming monday.  It was a miserable drive back home.  It got hotter and hotter and the crack on the windshield got bigger and bigger.  But the bottom line is that I'm quite capable of spending time in the heat.  It was a matter of comfort and not safety.

But the responses I got from other photographers ranged from all over the place.  One suggested that I should have hired an assistant to pick up my car at the client's facility and spend the day shepherding it through the local dealer.  But there's never the guarantee that you'll get the car back on your schedule.  Every corporate person I talked to suggested, cavalierly, that I get a car service to pick me up, take me to the airport and that there simply must be a service that deals in stranded cars for busy execs. (I don't fall into that category).  Several wealthy doctor friends suggested that I should have just called my bank and whatever car dealer I favored and bought a new car and had it delivered to the workplace in time for the drive home.  No muss, no fuss.  One worn and battered old assistant suggested riding the Greyhound Bus but I'm not that cheap yet....

I guess it would be fun to hear what you guys would have done........  


The job went off without a hitch and the client couldn't have been more gracious. We shot 1500 frames in two days and I've already edited the take down to around 800.  In addition to the facilities and machines we also photographed their senior executives.  Everyone was so down to earth.  Another reminder that, perhaps, companies that make real things are a bit more grounded and nicely process driven......

It was a fun, old fashioned (pre-recession) style shoot.  Lots of moving around.  Lots of images and permutations of images.  Grizzled crafts people.  Bright technicians.  Lots of "show off" photo opportunities.  Given a choice I'll take industrial assignments every day of the week over just about everything else out there.

Your car, like your camera and your lights, is part of your kit.  I guess I need to start making contingency plans for transportation just the way I have back ups for everything else..........one more thing to worry about....

Best, Kirk

21 comments:

Kurt Shoens said...

Let's see, what would I have done? I'd like to think that I, like you, would have gotten the job done despite car troubles. Maybe would have looked for a cooler if you didn't bring one to keep some bottled water cold. I definitely would have clutched my AAA card on the return trip to Austin hoping the Element didn't completely fail.

Or maybe I would have just dissolved in a puddle of tears. Hard to say.

I'm guessing your photography friends are young and don't realize that car A/C used to be a luxury rather than standard equipment.

Daniel said...

I feel your pain. I had to replace the starter last week, not on my schedule.

Since you're asking, I would have called the shop while in the car and have them contact the local dealership in Ft. Worth; making sure I had a car reserved cause I'm on my way. Clean bill of health? Oh yeah, I believe there should be a discount for my repairs thank you very much! Probably wouldn't happen...worth a try.

Wess Gray said...

Kirk,
I had a three month old pee on my white sweep today. :-)
Wess

Anonymous said...

I have this visual image of you walking thru hot lava to keep your clients happy. I guess it's all about the service.

DD said...

My gosh, I'm so sorry all that happened! If only I could council wisely, but I, too, am watching a crack on my windshield grow. If I avoid all pot holes, I may have a good 6 months before cold weather strikes. I couldn't handle not having AC. Hope yours is fixed cheaply on Monday!

David Ingram said...

Wow, interesting story. AAA is a good service for folks who are on the road a lot. I used to travel quite a bit in Texas and AAA came in handy several times. Also, a good GPS for the car can give you some routing flexibility and satellite radio is nice so that you can get some info about the larger world while going through the small towns.

Way to hang tough and get the work done! Completing a successful project despite a few obstacles has to feel great.

Bill Millios said...

Nevermind the A/C or the windshield.

What was the new lens?

:^)

Herman said...

Kirk,

I don't think I would have done anything different. Probably stock up on water as soon as the AC died.

Most of the time I drive a car without AC, which in general is ok unless you get stuck in a traffic jam in Italy/France.

Rob Dutcher said...

Bummer for you, Kirk. That was a bad day! Now I don't feel so bad about my shoot yesterday that ended being outside in the humid 95 degree heat and my laptop deciding it didn't want to be tethered to my D700. But it all worked out, we press on. I've learned that photography is really an exercise in problem solving and dealing with all the little surprises the photo gods will give us. Glad you could work through the trials.

rob said...

tough day. keep your insurance agents # on the cell phone you could get the windshield changed while you were shooting the job. here in N.O. they come to you. all that time in traffic you could have arranged it. i would have stopped to check the fuses and belts. i had a pallet fall off a truck and hit my car once it broke into a million pieces and one piece got into the engine bay and cut the main belt off. at 2am. got towed to a hotel and fixed it the next morning.
what was the cause of death for the a/c anyway?

rob

kirk tuck said...

Rob, No idea on the AC. A knowledgeable person suggested that the bearings failed in the compressor and the whole thing locked up. Hence the grinding noise when it is turned on. Since everything else kept working well I didn't want to stop and tempt fate....

Never even thought about the insurance company and a mobile windshield service. In over forty years of driving I've never had a cracked windshield before......

I hate car stuff. If economics never mattered I'd change cars the minute anything even sounded the least bit off....

Anonymous said...

I kept wondering if my tire did any damage, sorry buddy.

kirk tuck said...

Bill,

I read too much. I've been reading about Canon micro lenses and I kept reading glowing reviews about the 60mm EFS lens. I bought one to use on the 7D. I know it's not as sexy but I also picked up a Berlebach Mulda, a wooden tripod in the Ash finish. It's smaller than my other Berlebach, has three leg sections and is the sexiest piece of photo gear imaginable. I've got a ball head on it now but it really needs some sort of special, "hand-madey" sort of head to complete the whole effect.

Rockhopper said...

I was t boned by a car, interviewd by police for an hr whilst they rushed around with blue lights on looking for the hit and run driver, I had a two hr drive in a crippled car. Turned up for the job, it was a press and we were waiting for out VIPS. Turns out that there connecting plane was delayed. The PR team didnt arrange food or water. Waited for two hrs they eventually arrived did the shots had to transmit electronically to the waiting photodesk. The PR team failed to sort out wi fi, so sat in McDonalds car park trying to ftp images to desk, Mcd,s wifi was struggling with the rate. Hour and half later drove back home a three hr journey, to find a tex message that there was a rush job somewhere in northumberland a four hr drive to be there for seven in the morning.

Crippled car, crippled laptop, crippled tog, knackered and worn out the next day arrive at seven only to be told the shoot is at ten, then some amateur sidles up to me and says you have an easy job.

You can effing have it i think, but like all pros say the party line "its great"...

kirk tuck said...

Rockhopper, that's just about worst case......but, I remember my appointment to shoot then governor, Ann Richards, for some project and my lower right back hurt like hell. Couldn't sit or stand still. I mean real pain. After the shoot wrapped I ended up in the emergency room. Kidney stone passed a while later but once the demerol drip started I didn't really care.

Then there was the time I was coming back from two weeks in Russia. I was sick as a dog and made the mistake of mixing some bizzare antihistimines with Champagne in the first class cabin of a Delta flight to New York. As I realized that I was going into anaphylactic shock I started to re-think the glamor of travel.....I left $20,000 worth of Hasselblad gear on the luggage carrousel in Austin and got a ride straight home. Fortunately, the airline delivered the gear to my house....

Then there was the time.......

Silvertooth said...

Cracked windsheild this past Thursday--a buddy has a windsheild repair shop and fixed it that afternoon. He also donated an Omega Dichro enlarger to the high school where I teach. The journalism teacher thinks giving her students fully manual film cameras will help them with their digital work--gotta agree with her.

Yesterday I took the State Board of Educator Certification (Texas) exam to become a principal in the Great State. Now the hard part--waiting the three weeks to get my score!

It all beats Ft Worth in the summer without a/c!

Gerry said...

Kirk, I think you handled it really well. The show must go on, and you fulfilled your commitment to your client. Next time, I expect you'll probably have plenty of drinking water in the car.

The only think that I would have done differently is the windshield. I have glass coverage on my car insurance. When this happened to me (not so far from home), I was able to arrange for a mobile glass installation company to fit a new windshield on the spot. It took two hours, including waiting time. Or I guess you could have got some windshield crack repair compound from an auto store to stop the crack from worsening until you could get the glass replaced.

Mike said...

I think you handled it pretty well. I do like the suggestions of the mobile window repair services, though. But, if it's only a matter of comfort, the car is still structurally sound, push on through and fix it when the job was over.

By the way, my family drove down to San Antonio a couple of weeks ago. What the heck is up with the traffic between Dallas and San Antonio? Stop and go on a Sunday? That's crazy.

Gordon said...

What would I have done? Well, all this is with the benefit of having some time to think about it, but I would have taken down the license plate number and any other identifying information of the truck whose tire damaged my windshield. I would then call my insurance company while I hobbled on the way to the gig. They would probably negotiate with the truck company's insurer to pay for the damage. That wouldn't help with the AC (unless it was covered under warranty), but it might get you a rental to use for the gig while the windshield is being repaired.

So, in short, I would put as much of the burden of getting the car fixed on the insurance company. You have a legitimate claim and that is, after all, what you pay your premiums for.

Michael Strycharske said...

As the flight attendant for Southwest Airlines said the other day...shift happens. You can be as boy scout about life as anyone (prepared) and things will still go wrong. Can't say I would have done anything different except maybe get the windshield fixed while shooting the job. I always drive any distance with a bottle of water in the vehicle. I love the sound those big web presses make.

tokyobling said...

Would have done exactly the same thing. But might have done the ride home in the nude though. It's easy to give expensive advice when it's other people's money! (^-^)