February 14, 2011

Oh What A Day

In the early 1980′s I found myself among the people I most wanted to avoid, when I was younger. Despite my insistence that I wanted nothing to do with the corporate world, here I was right smack in the middle with the master’s of the universe, and to my surprise and amusement, I found I loved it.

Despite all the problems with my father and the years of escaping to the impoverished world he couldn’t understand or control, I found that I was able to stand beside these men (as at that time it was 90% men) and feel not only comfortable, but some part of me felt right at home.

I guess I understood them, wasn’t intimidated by them, and in fact found myself defending them against a society that both admired and loathed them. I found some loathsome, but many I found were valiant and distinguished. I guess in my fashion I tried to expose their nobility.

I had tried the same with people of no means, and now it was time to find the hidden goodness, or at least a part of these men the public face never showed.

This is another story without a picture. Not because I didn’t take one, I did, but I think it best for me, and for him, not to reveal his identity. In this case, I think it is best to protect the guilty.

This is a story about risk, GREAT RISK. I wasn’t putting myself in harm’s way (although in a way I was). It’s a story of what I find lacking in most people’s portraits. Not their ability, but their emotional courage.

With this introduction, I must digress for a second and explain my methodology and my tactics with dealing with these men.

The scenario goes something like this, their secretary, or marketing director, or creative director of the agency would advise me that I had 3o minutes to photograph a certain CEO.

I learned quickly to simply smile and off to the races I would go. I would try to set up a meeting with the CEO a week before the shoot. This sounds easy, but at times was next to impossible. Who was I, this insignificant, unimportant photographer wanting some precious time with the king? They’re protected or flanked in every direction by people whose job it is to protect these men from meddling people like myself.

After a while, I did get good at this and often found ingenious ways to circumvent these guards and found ways to meet with the man of the hour and convince him to forget the notion of a thirty minute picture and give me a day or two. I must admit almost 90% of the time it worked, and next week I will tell you more, but now I must tell you about a time it did not.

As you might expect, one of the times I was unable to plow through the linebackers and get to the CEO, was with a real master of the financial universe, a moneyman extraordinaire, a man whom a few million here or a few million there was decided like choosing between French toast or pancakes.

These were generally the people I liked the least. They made nothing but moved money around and used their brilliance to outwit the world and their competitors. In my mind, they generally did not add to the general good that drove American enterprise but there were exceptions to this and perhaps, in retrospect, this was just too simple a model either to believe or to be true.

So back to my story, despite all my protestations I never was able to meet this man prior to the shoot.

The morning of the shoot, he walked in and quickly announced to me, and the 20 to 30 underlings who also were in the room, in a gruff and emphatic voice, “Let’s get this over with as soon as possible.”

As usual everyone was very nervous. The agency representatives that hired me could lose the account and therefore their jobs. The marketing director could lose his job for hiring the agency that hired me, and so on. Everyone looked in control, but in fact everyone was totally out of control. What would happen next? All the underlings agreed inside, “Let’s get this over with as fast as possible, so he will be happy. And we can all go back to our bagels and make some more money.”

I said fine to him, directed him slightly and took one frame and announced, “Were done. It’s finished.” Everyone in the room froze with fear. He then said to me quizzically, with a smile on his face, “We’re finished?” He was surprised how easy it was to win the battle.

I said, “Yes. I have a competent picture of you. You get what you put into this. I am ready to invest my soul into this portrait of you, to work as hard as I can, are you? You have a picture that represents your commitment. It’s fine and should work well enough for your needs.”

Everyone was wide-awake now. Our man said this is great! We’re finished. Thank you. And off he went. Everyone left in the room didn’t know if they should celebrate and eat lunch for two or if they would be returning to eviction notices.

As I was packing up with my assistants and just about to go to the elevator to leave a secretary came running up to me and says our man of the second would like to see me in his office. I went to his office and he immediately started showing me pictures of his various homes. At first I had no idea what was going on. As we didn’t know each other well enough to vacation together, but in reality it turned out he was showing me places that he could spend time with me, and wanted to know where I would like to take his portrait.

So you see, the moral of this story is not about him or me; it’s about the picture. How important is it to you? How much are you willing to invest to fight for it, to protect it? And most of all, how much are you willing to risk?

Author’s Note: This is not the portrait of the story, but it was taken around the same time. This portrait is of Andrew Woods, President of Saatchi & Saatchi.

Comments

13 Comments »

  1. Great story, thanks!

    Comment by Ken — February 14, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Great lesson for those who shoot and those who are shot!! Such pleasure to realise one always learn something valuable from your writing. God bless you for it.

    Comment by ST — February 14, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Valette McLay, Mark Meyer. Mark Meyer said: Taking a commercial CEO portrait with 1 frame – great story from Rodney Smith: http://rodneysmith.com/blog/?p=2295 [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention The End Starts Here -- Topsy.com — February 14, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  4. I love this story so freaking much and couldn’t agree more with your conclusion.

    Comment by Becky — February 14, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

  5. FANTA$TIC !!

    Comment by Leo Tena — February 15, 2011 @ 2:02 am

  6. This story just sums it up, doesn’t it? “How important is it to you?” A question I need to ask myself at least once a day.

    Comment by Kyle Pearce — February 15, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  7. You are amazing – brilliant story and brilliantly handled.

    Comment by hailey — February 16, 2011 @ 2:22 am

  8. A beautiful text and a more beautiful picture!

    Comment by Indalecio García — February 16, 2011 @ 8:36 am

  9. Excellent story! “How important is it to you?”, something I should ask myself more often.

    Comment by ronnie — February 17, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  10. had such kind of shooting some days ago… but not with such happy end like yours…

    Comment by Oleksandr Hnatenko — February 23, 2011 @ 4:05 am

  11. … not only do i smile a lot looking through your photos and/or reading your blog (in the times of little reason to smile) – sometimes i even laugh out loud.
    a true pleasure! a rare find.

    Comment by michael baumann — March 6, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  12. [...] is a must read for me. I love his approach to photography and writing and the site is totally involved with the philosophy and art of photography. I think his blog is well read by clients and those in the business for the thoughtful and intimate [...]

    Pingback by Six Photographer’s Blogs that “Get It” | LIGHTING ESSENTIALS For Photographers — March 17, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  13. Absolutely love. Your are amazing at writing your stories and I love how you combine writing and photography. I lack the skill or love for writing, but love photography

    Comment by Chi Pritchard — March 25, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

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