How is it that the School Portrait carpet-baggers are still in business? I would have thought with the advent of digital photography that these travelling portrait-mills would have dried up and blown away. These days everyone pulls out a camera the size of a deck of cards and takes endless pictures of their progeny. If you've loaded up your memory card with 300 pictures of your kid blowing bubbles, odds are at least one of them is a winner. Otherwise, it's best to pay real money for a real pro (like my friend here).
Now cut to the bleary-eyed technicians who set up shop in the school gymnasium. They've honed a half-dozen tricks to keep their subjects from bursting into tears. Beyond that, there's little they do that your nine-year-old couldn't master in the course of an afternoon. It's a simple, uncluttered frame. The subject chooses the background colour. Three or four shots are taken. So long as two of them don't look completely hideous, the procedure ends in three minutes. Two weeks later the parent is looking at proofs and the corresponding package prices, ranging from $10 for two 3X5s to over $100 for key-chains and wall-paper.
Part of their success is due to the agressive marketing these people do. Back when we first got home with our newborn, the hospital gave us a coupon-book which included a "free portrait" of our daughter in her first month of life. My wife went ahead and booked the shoot. The photographer drove up, spent 20 minutes with our baby, then disappeared from our lives.
A couple of weeks later, I saw a car parked in front of our house. The driver was anxiously finishing a cigarette. He splashed on some cologne, then exited the car carrying a leather briefcase. Our Salesman of the Baby Photos.
I would have preferred the smoker's fug to the "woodsy" scent he hoped would cover it. With my hand over my nose and mouth, I surveyed the shots he took of my daughter. Most babies don't smile until they're at least a few months old, but here was mine with the corners of her mouth turned up. She looked like a freak.
He went through the complete run of packages available for purchase. We heard him out, then I said, "I think we'll just stick with the free shot, thanks." I kept eye-contact with my wife; there was no doubt we were on the same page.
Now it was time to play hardball. These are professional quality shots, you could typically expect to pay blah blah blah. Sorry. We still weren't interested. Well, we came out here in good faith...
I presented the coupon and pointed out the "No purchase required" caveat, and said this was exactly the scenario he was facing.
"So you don't want quality pictures of your baby?" said he.
"Not of this quality," said I.
"Well, they're just going into the garbage, then."
"There's a can by the front door," I said. "You can drop 'em there if you like."
"Oh no," he snarled. "We're shredding these."
My daughter has framed this contentious shot. She has it up on her dresser. She thinks it is "darling".
And that's why I just signed a cheque for $14 (two 3X5s and 8 wallet-size). These outfits stay in business because they have currency with the kids. What's a parent to do?
Anyhow, here's a shot I took this summer. I call it, "Guess Who's Fate It Is To Play The Straightman?"