I worked for an advertising agency yesterday. It was fun. They were so nice to work with. It made me nostalgic for work.

I first met the person who now owns and runs the ad agency I worked with yesterday many years ago. It was the mid-1990s and he was working in the marketing department at Motorola. I guess, at this point we've known and worked with each other for around 28 years. The creative director of the agency and I go back even further. Their company is on my new shortlist of "companies I still want to work with." 

Their company has grown quickly over the last five years. They keep adding employees not just in Austin but across the U.S. We've been making portraits of the staff, in a certain style, for the last two years. We started out photographing the people in downtown areas/locations that were a mix of new architecture and industrial looking backgrounds. The subjects were subtly lit and the backgrounds were intentionally out of focus. 

Of course, since we were working outdoors and on uncontrolled locations we ended up having to deal with wind, rain, hail and security guards. Sometimes one at a time but sometimes everything at once. At some point, after carefully watching the weather forecasts only to be surprised by 40 mph wind gusts we decided to do the ongoing project in a different way. I made a "library" of interesting blurry backgrounds and then we started making portraits against white in a small studio at the ad agency's headquarters. 

This meant that, for the most part, we were immune to sudden changes in weather, etc. but it also gave me total control over the lighting. For the agency it meant being able to schedule more people in a morning or afternoon. And have fewer people traveling outside the office and into downtown Austin. That saved on the emotional wear and tear of driving through a frenetic and crowded cityscape and the sometimes difficult task of finding parking. (A note to our European readers: No. There is no mass transit between the agency location and our downtown location. Well, nothing that would take less than four or five hours of travel time and three or four bus changes/transfers.... on a route you could drive with a car in 20 or so minutes...).

Yesterday the agency was onboarding four new employees and there were five other employees who had joined the firm in the last 90 day and all of them would be at the H.Q., in person. So, we needed to make portraits of nine people. The project coordinator and I scheduled about a week in advance to set up around 10 a.m. and photograph between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The late morning start meant that I could make it to swim practice and still have plenty of time. (Grueling swim practice...but that's a story for another post).

I've done this sort of job many times and my biggest surprise was the anxiety I felt the day before. It had been a while since we packed up and went out to engage with clients. Not more than three or four times in the first quarter of this year. 

I've been slimming down the amount of gear I bring with me on projects. Yesterday I packed light. Two battery powered strobes (Godox AD200 Pros), a couple of light stands for the lights, two umbrellas (a 60 inch and a 45 inch), two light stands for the short roll of white seamless paper/background, and the flash trigger+back-up. 

I thought a lot about cameras and lenses and in the end I defaulted to the Leica SL2 and the Sigma 65mm i Series lens. At first I thought about going completely "old school" with the cameras and lenses and shooting "long." As in, a 90mm to 105mm focal length equivalent. The traditional "tight" headshots. I would use the SL2 in the APS-C crop mode which would give me an ample 22 megapixels of resolution and a focal length equivalent of nearly 100mm. But on further reflection I decided to break out of old habits and just embrace the wider focal length of the lens. I shot all the portraits in the full frame mode of the camera. After all, I needed to shoot wider; waist up, in order to do clean drop-ins/composites with the images from the library of urban and industrial backgrounds. 

Why do I adore clients like this one? Well, they schedule projects with my schedule preferences in mind and they don't reflexively like to start early in the day. All of the people who have been there for a while are more like friends than clients. They really do care about their relationships with both sides of the work equation: clients and vendors. When I walked through the doors with my small load of gear I got hugs from 50 year old men. Offers to carry my gear by the young recruits. Hearty handshakes. Queries about my son's career and when he might want to jump ship and join their agency. Queries about B. and her retirement ( her last design project was actually for this agency for which the agency and B won Addy Awards at the most recent Advertising Agency awards show). And a genuine interest in learning what I thought might be big trends in the industry. Those guys know how to "work a room" but it was genuine.

I arrived at 10 and was set to go by 10:30. That's when the project coordinator dropped by the studio to check in and invite me down the hall to a lobby where they'd set up coffee, pastries, breakfast tacos and yogurts for agency meetings. "Help yourself." And not just "breakfast tacos" but "GREAT BREAKFAST TACOS" from my favorite restaurant. Outstanding coffee as well.

With the lights set and metered I was ready for a steady stream of "customers" and was not disappointed. I had a wonderful and long conversation with one of the original principals who does media training for execs at companies like Dell and IBM. I met the new executive creative director who was fun, nice and hilarious all at once. And every younger person was excited to be there and to be engaged with their industry. It reminded me of how much fun it was when B. and I were running a regional advertising agency back in the 1980s. (How quickly we forget the headaches...).

The Leica SL2, combined with the Sigma 65mm f2.0 was just perfect. Snappy eye-detect AF and, afterwards, luscious, detailed and color accurate files to work with. 

After I wrapped the gear and stuck it into my car they invited me to stick around for the "all hands" lunch that included various tuna, chicken and avocado wraps, fruit salads, pasta salads and more. The CEO and I swapped some old Motorola war stories and then I headed home to start on post production. 

A wonderful day and a reminder that there's still a lot of projects out there I want to do. I guess I'm not so much "retired" as "becoming increasingly pickier" about what I want to do and who I want to do it for.

On the domestic front: This morning I'm still dealing with the dreaded and recalcitrant refrigerator from hell. But today I'm wildly optimistic. I had four visits from a third party tech over the last month. From a third party company that contracts to do warranty service for GE. All miserable failures. A rude and smelly tech each time. And each time a refrigerator that went right back to its malign ways. I'd finally had enough and asked an attorney to take over this convoluted adventure. He got in touch with GE....

This morning at 9:45 a.m. two (not one. TWO) GE Appliance Repair trucks arrived at my house. GE Technicians (x2) got out and assembled real, actual diagnostic tools. Laptops, Fluke meters, cables and all manner of devices to finally, accurately figure out what the hell is wrong with the refrigerator. They will be here until it is fully repaired and tested. And tested.

An adventure in domestic appliances that I need to make into a novel. Gotta look and see if anyone  installed spyware on the machine...



Chuck Albertson said...

Fluke test gear, eh? Those guys are finally playing for keeps.

Unknown said...

You have seen the difference between throwing parts at a problem but not really knowing what the problem is and having people who know the product top to bottom and know what the problem really is. These days too many of the former.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Unknown, Agreed.

What a huge difference. Smart people. And thorough.

JC said...

I genuinely sympathize with you on your refrigerator problems. We built a new house starting five years ago, and have had so many bad experiences with sloppy work, simple ignorance, carelessness, expensive repairs, etc., that at times I wanted to sit down and cry, and my wife did. Why would somebody even take a job knowing, as he took it, that he wouldn't know what he was doing? What, he's hoping for the best? That might have worked once, when refrigerators were relatively simple machines, but once they started getting electronic boards where you can't even be sure of which component is doing what, that no longer works. Is it possible that we'd be better off with the simple machines? Of course, when you apply that thought to cameras and other computers...the answer may be 'no.' There is no longer a simple version of those things. And if there were, maybe we wouldn't buy them.

Anonymous said...

Such a pain that you have to pull out the big guns to get something fixed. Hope the remedy doesn’t cost more than the fridge, in legal fees.
Joys of dealing with a cost-based approach to ‘customer service’.
Hope it gets resolved, and you get peace of mind, once and for all.

adam said...

sound trying, hope it gets sorted, they could have just brought a new fridge with them, I picked up an open box x-t5 today, should arrive monday, eco guilt massaged and about $500 off the new price

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Unknown, small fee. One headshot. A benefit of doing business with fellow swimmers...

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Adam, Jealous. Well played!!!