7.27.2020

My response to a comment on my blog. Title and name edited.

Here is a comment from a commentor on our blog:

"A few entres ago, you started to “gear up” to business again. You’ve shown, that you also can handle a G16 and other nice cameras on tourist-like walkabouts to keep fit mentally and physically. Very commendable. And you have, of course, shown historic work in portraiture and from the Zack theatre. But... but... where’s the video business, you also wanted to keep going? Where’s the entries, that show, that you even master video and sound on a “shoestring” - or if you like: “fully geared up one man show”? Where’s that?

In many ways, your recent days, weeks and months remind me of a man, who has retired In reality, but still avoids admitting it to himself.

Acting more or less like a tourist on a walkabout for weeks on end is hardly preparing for the future, is it? Will that enable you to show any of your future corporate clients - theatre, engineering, construction, production and whatnot - that you “still have it”?

Let me provoke (you don’t have to take the following literally, but you’ll get my drift): Why haven’t you “borrowed” a pigs head, put it on a broomstick and mounted it on tripod. Give it a hat, and start experimenting with various kinds portraiture, lighting, angles etc. Use this to create a video story, that edited down tells both portraiture behind the scenes - or call it “Stillleben” for all I know - and via sound and video deliver a story of the hard work involved in pig head portraiture. You could make it funny, real life sounds could involve the curses and hurt, if you trip the tripod holding the head or a Ishtar or... and on and on.

Now you have a product to show potential future newcomers. A product demonstrating your abilities and that you “still have it” in spite of lockdown, COVID-19 and all that follows.

I’d love to see your real and CURRENT creative “product” - not only what comes your Way during your “pensioner rounds” in downtown Austin ;-)"


Here is my response:
Mr. H_____ seems to take me to task here for not moving forward with bold new video material and fresh essays about state-of-the-art assignments for national and international clients. He exhorts me to spend time experimenting with anything and everything at my fingertips. He questions why I've been spinning my wheels and walking around downtown with doddering cameras when I should be studiously and single-mindedly preparing a new portfolio of cutting edge materials aimed at the new legion of clients who will surely be waiting (just off stage) to hire hordes of creative people in twin quests for profitability and overall economic growth.

My hiatus from serious engagement is detrimental, he insists, to being able to show my clients "A product demonstrating your abilities and show that you "still have it" in spite of the lockdown, COVID-19 and all that follows." 

The gist of his comment is that everything in my life is starkly binary: either I am continuously productive and writing about my constant process of creation or.... I have thrown in the proverbial towel, put myself out to pasture and am reduced to shuffling around in my bedroom slippers (which I do not own) waiting on a pension check (which we don't really have anymore in America...) and waiting for my nurse to prepare me the "early bird special" of soft foods and weak juice. In a brief five months I've been reduced from an engaged artist and business owner to an aimless and grizzled husk just marking time with a series of silly old cameras. Even for someone as over-the-hill as me that's a pretty fast slide from productive to defeated. Being a Texan that sounds like my horse died under me, my ten gallon hat blew away in a gale and left me crying in a ditch in the west Texas desert...

So, let me break this down for Kurt and anyone else who may have noticed a "slow down" in the quantity and quality of my work...

It's true that we've been on hiatus from actual face-to-face photography and video work with clients. While I have watched (with dismay) some local, small time shooters skirt the health department rules and keep on working with like minded, individual clients I have taken the pandemic lockdown seriously, as have my clients. While Karen may still want to have her daughter's senior portrait done NOW!!! My clients tend to be larger companies and national corporations, many of whom are still having their employees work from home and have discouraged face-to-face contact across the board.

I'm not eager to spin the roulette wheel and take my chances with a nasty virus just to earn a buck, and happily (and with much gratitude) I don't have to. While many in my country feel a pressing need to return to work to earn money in the moment I have the luxury of not needing to rush in until w've got enough safety valves in place to make work fun, productive and non-life-threatening. I am my own mini-German government subsidizing my own lost income.

But as I related in a post Mr. H_____ mentions, I am working towards re-opening the business, step-by-step, and am proceeding towards that goal with diligence. But...that doesn't necessarily mean that the first and only thing that will make a real business successful is the generation of exciting new material to showcase.

We're a bit more methodical than that. The first step is to reach out and see who is still standing and which companies are planning on success in the future and which are furloughing entire staffs and shutting down operations from a lack of capital and sustainable income.  I want to create a curated client list that reflects where we are and who will be able to go forward with us. Who will be able to continue advertising and who will be able to pay for our services. That takes time, research and networking.

The next step is to reach out to those clients in the "going forward" category and re-establish or newly create our relationships with them as a trusted vendor. This requires the creation of marketing messaging and materials, which we have been doing in concert with a favorite graphic designer and with the consultation of several advertising professionals. These are time consuming activities but I think they are crucial to the marketing/ongoing branding of a creative services firm.

In the interim several of our clients have reached out to me to discuss near future projects. One is a multi-national biotech company that recently acquired a smaller company which makes state of the art testing tools. Today, after I write this, I will put the finishing touches on a project proposal and estimate that, if accepted, will require pre-production days, three shooting days and multiple days of post production. Another is a national medical services specialty practice which has affirmatively engaged me for several projects in the early Fall.

We are now currently providing portraits for a regional medical practice and will have produced portraits for five different physicians who are joining their practice this month.

On a more local scale I have been retained to photograph and create video product for a law firm here in Austin. The photographs are environmental portraits of partners and associates while the multiple video products are interviews and former client testimonials.

Most of these kinds of projects come with restrictions and embargoes on sharing publicly. I would love to show you the portrait of a physician I made last week because it was fabulous but the firm gets to use it first. That's part of being a business instead of just a dizzy artist.  

In Mr. H_____'s comment is the idea that clients want to, and must see, absolutely new work on a continual basis in order for me to win their current favor and secure future jobs and so I should abandon all work older than, say: three months, and supply a relentless pipeline of dazzling new work that shows I haven't lost my capability to actually do work between doses of stool softener or Metamucil™.  

I find that charmingly naive. Clients who work in fields other than tweener music, bargain fashion and social media have much more important considerations when it comes to hiring freelance creative resources than whether or not they fired up a video camera and made a selfie video for Tik-Tok last week. These considerations include mundane things like whether or not the person or firm in question carries enough liability insurance and whether they have the experience to provide effective producing skills = getting stuff organized. Getting scripts done. Financing a production. A history of delivering solid product. An ability to work with management teams and marcom teams and, even the ability to endure a major financial crisis and still have the tools and resources at hand to do the work during the recovery.

It may seem trivial but some of the financial considerations on the client side are real deal killers. If you, the photographer, were financially devastated by the lockdown and had to liquidate your working tools for cash you'll have issues getting the work done. If you don't have a financial reserve for production you can't very well accept projects that pay in 60 to 90 days. If you can no longer afford office and studio space then you might not really still be in business no matter how creative yesterday's test Instagram movie was.  And without liability insurance of two or three millions dollars you may not even be allowed on a potential client's property.

So, in the past five months I've tried to set the stage for a recovery in the business and have successfully engaged or re-engaged with a number of ongoing clients. I've worked on new marketing (which I almost never share on the blog) and I've done assignments in situations where the clients and I agreed felt "safe."

But beyond all this I wonder where in the fuck people get off telling me I'm not entitled to have a bit of time off as well. I lost both of my parents in the last three years and spent lots of high stress time caring for each of them. Then I spent time right up until this month settling their estates and being the administrator for my siblings and nieces and nephews. Sure, I would rather have spent the time on the beach proving I can still film scantily clad models and drinking frozen daiquiris but I wouldn't be proud of myself for dropping the responsibility ball. (Oh the joy of working with multiple accountants for estate tax preparation in the middle of a public health crisis. So fun. So creative!)

So, while I'm juggling clients with privacy concerns, bereft of my favorite theatre client (for the rest of this year) which was a fun and regular source of material I liked using in the blog, as well as being a great test bed for new equipment and sharable videos, I am taken to task for enjoying some walks around town with a series of camera and then, for free, writing about the cameras and my experiences with them. Seems like a bit of a slap in the face to me.

I have a tendency to compartmentalize parts of my life. I rarely talk about finances and investing. I spend a tiny percentage of time writing about swimming (a true and sustaining joy in my life). I try mostly to protect my family's privacy. I rarely discuss politics. With that said it seems beyond presumptuous to assume that I am not currently working on projects that leverage my knowledge of photography and film.

Some projects are long term. Some don't come together the way we'd like and end up getting shit-canned. And some we don't share on the blog because I don't think there is an audience for long form video that exceeds 90 seconds. At least that's what the perennial feedback indicates.

I'm sorry. As a reader you don't get a license to inspect and approve or disapprove of everything I do in my daily life. You don't get to dictate content. You don't get to publicly shame me as a pensioner hung out to dry. Or a person who is retired but unable or unwilling to admit that to myself. Sorry, you just don't.

If you know where to buy a pig's head then you are a few steps ahead of me. If you want to buy one and regale us with its creative awesomeness then please do so.

My plan is to re-engage with business safely and, from a marketing point of view, effectively. I'll stay in the business until such a time as clients no longer return calls and write purchase orders. At that point I'll volunteer to do photography and video for the Theatre exclusively. I'll stop swimming when I float to the bottom of the pool having breathed my last breath. And I'll stop writing the blog as soon as I get a few more comments with recommendations for how I should live my life and how I should function, day-to-day, as an artist.

I'd like to write more but right now I think I'll take a walk through downtown with an ancient and shitworthy camera and see what it might be like to be a worn and cast aside "pensioner" with nothing better to do than bother random, bored strangers with his images of life. Now, where did I put my cane, my trifocals and my shuffling shoes?

Just thought we needed to have this "talk."



note added: Let's take the vitriol in the comments down a few notches. Mr. H_____ is a long time reader and consistent commenter and it's my belief that he meant his comment in good faith. We don't need to be too quick to divide and conquer here. Just wanted to be emphatic about the idea that we welcome well intentioned comments from our regulars but we are also emphatic that they may get the "push back" delivered above. 

In his defense, I wish I had the opportunities right now to photograph like those that used to be part of normal life. We're all a bit frustrated. Let's not make it worse.