Everywhere I turn there are work boxes full of old negatives and transparencies. Most for clients who've been bought out, gone bankrupt or changed ownership. Like dental records of dead people.
At some point it's good to disentangle the emotional cabling wrapped around our ankles before it pulls us under for good.
If you're anything like me you get attached to the processes that you master. I once took pride in knowing all 17,000 keystroke commands for WordStar, the first really mainstream word processing software for early IBM personal computers. I was sad when faster, better, more streamlined word processors hit the market because I had come to romanticize all the time I'd spent being conversant with the foibles of the older program. I mistakenly thought that the early skill set had value outside the actual writing. (The main lesson for me today.)
In the film days we saved everything. We saved the slides and the contact sheets and the negatives and transparencies in all sizes. Over time that's an efficient way to fill up filing cabinets. In those days businesses seemed to have a corporate memory and were interested in their achievements and milestones. They liked the idea of having a visual historic record of their growth and success. They understood adaptive reuse. But now businesses change hands like playing cards and they spin off and recreate themselves with amazing alacrity. Executives don't add value through decades of service, now they leverage a quarter and move on. The value of the photographic records of their oblique and tangential orbits have become as devalued as Kodak stock.
When images had a physical manifestation we valued them as "objects" in addition to their stored visual information. Negatives could be a thing of beauty in a of themselves. But now we've become pragmatic. Now mental and physical space comes at a premium. And the lure of the old creates its own pools of amber and tar that serve, if we're not careful, to anchor us into a position that's a losing proposition: the reminders of how we did stuff in the old days. You know, ten years ago.
I'm grappling with a sea change. I'm convinced that everything we knew about showing portfolios has changed profoundly. That all the information spewing from photographic marketing consultants is as dated as MySpace. Until recently I was right there with them. I believed that we needed a printed book. I believed that we needed to show our 20 most powerful images. And I believed that screen based portfolios were a sidekick, an adjunct or a watered down appetizer for the real deal: Hand made prints in fanciful and tragically expensive bindings.
Several things are changing my mind. When I visit with designers and art directors they always default to the screen. When I hand someone an electronic tablet with a portfolio on it they succumb to their addiction and wipe thru every image in the portfolio...and then they ask for more. They tell me they like to see work electronically more than they like to see work on paper. It's a sea change. It's seismic. But consider this, the new generation of art buyers and art directors, marketing directors and managers has, effectively, grown up with the screen, learned on the screen and earned on the screen. Print is something....extra that gets done.
Why the disconnection between what consultants and old guys tell us and what's happening on the ground for 95% of the photographers I know? Easy, the consultants go for the biggest pay off. They work with the folks who are aiming with all their might at the biggest ad agencies with the biggest accounts. And it takes time for the art buyers and art directors to work their way up the kerning ladder to get into the position to accept visits from reps and recommended talent. By the time they get there they've been trained by each other and their predecessors to think of the "print book" as the "gold standard." And that may be the reality for the "one percent" of advertising people. But the vast majority, especially those under 40 (ten times more so for the people under thirty) the screen is the thing. Show on a screen and you speak in their language. There's an immediate connection to the relevant work they do. E-mail blasts, banner ads, websites, video and the whole social fabric of modern life.
So, I practiced with a Kindle Fire and today I'm heading to the Apple store to buy the iPad I put off buying for some reason that seems irrelevant now. This whole line of thought came to me as I was searching the archives to see what else I might want to stuff into the portfolio I'd be building electronically this week. And it dawned on me that some much of the studio had become a monument to the way we did things in the past, and the jobs of the past.
I've pulled out thirty pounds of old film and paper from filing cabinets and job boxes. It's headed out to the trash. I think if I can winnow out thirty pounds a day for a few days I'll have unfettered the part of my brain that hand been tasked with keeping a mental inventory of everything physically photographic and where it lived and I'll be able to re-task those parts of my brain to re-enter now.
I've also been peeling off older cameras and lenses. Not the hallowed stuff that I just can't seem to detach from but the clutter that builds up over time when you convince yourself that you need a back up for your back up camera. Those sorts of things.
With every pound of film shed and every box of last year's photo miracle machines that heads out the door I feel lighter and less encumbered. Less set on making old tools work for new jobs. Less set in my ways and more open to change on many levels.
I have two friends who are around my age and both of them, several years ago embarked on the search for the holy grail of print portfolios. Their searches brought them to master "giclee" (fancy inkjet) printers who printed on thick, archival papers. They printed large and they printed really well. And then they bound the images in custom-made leather books. Almost Medieval in their grandeur, detail and mass. The pages sewn into the spines in the greatest tradition of book making. And they wound up with multi-thousand dollar art pieces that are, in fact, prints stuck in amber. Unchanging and unchangeable.
Sorry. Not for me. I'm going after the fat part of the market that changes all the time.
I'm using different cameras. I'm breaking the video rules I never really liked. In short, I'm trying to translate the way I've looked at stuff into a modern idiom that works. And the declining costs are like getting a "do over."
Unloading stuff is like getting permission to start over. And starting over is just what the economy always seems to be doing. I like the idea of showing up at a meeting with less than a square foot of electronics and being able to show off multiple and quickly configurable portfolios. I guess not all aspects of change are so horrendous. While I sometimes pine for film I'm equally aware that the back end is.....a pain in the ass, for commercial production.
Funny that getting rid of a few negatives and chrome would trigger so many other changes.
Note: Dear Technically oriented readers: Yes. I would have to be living under a rock not to have heard the rumors that Apple will be launching a new iPad three the minute I buy an iPad two. That's the way technology seems to go. If the iPad two+portfolio produces one typical job I'll gladly line up for the next one.
Notes on the using the Kindle Fire: I've actually been showing work, albeit informally, on the Kindle Fire and the screen is very good. The two issues that may or may not constrain using one as a portfolio platform is the dearth of good portfolio presentation programs. But for $200 it may be just what you need to show an ever changing book on a budget. Or if you just hate all things Apple.
Notes on throwing stuff away: I'm spending time editing through the piles. I'm saving the best frame from 100 on most old jobs but some are so old and so boring that they just have to go....
Final note for the morning: The comments are on but that doesn't mean you must use them. If you do, please be nice. I'll try to do the same when I come over and comment on your blogs...