Standing up

I think good managers respect employees who stand up to them with good sense. It takes a manager with good sense of his own, to do that, of course. That's what makes him so good.

In my early days as a commercial photographer in Dallas, back in 1958, I worked with two other photographers from whom I actually learned some of the best parts of the trade. One of them was a master food photographer; probably one of a dozen or so in the entire nation who could shoot food so it looked delicious. When I say "master", I don't mean he had some kind of degree. I mean he was one of the very best.

The other was, among other things, one of the world's best interior photographers. He taught me to paint with light. For example, that was the only way to shoot the inside of a long pipe like a Gulfstream or a 707. The built in cabin illumination was totally useless when you were shooting on 8 x 10 color transparency film that had a speed of ASA 10 (that would be "ISO 10" later) and with such a big camera and lens, to get adequate depth of field, you had to stop down to f/64. Lens board tilt and swing don't work when you need everything sharp in the center to the edges of a giant pipe. You couldn't reach that far down the aisle with lights near the camera, and you couldn't put them in the aisle because they would show, or hide them behind the seats because they would create ugly hot spots. Nowadays you could take multiple shots focussed at different distances and combine them with a photoshop filter. At least I have been told so.

But the only way to do it then, was to dress in black, wrap your Photoflood lamp in a black paper cone (it could have been almost any wrap of dull black that didn't reflect, but the paper made a snood that prevented any accidental spillover back at the camera) open the shutter and proceed like a dancing snake, always moving side to side down the aisle, while wiggling the black electrical cord like a tail, all of this to keep from recording any of the lamp, the electrical cord, or yourself in the exposure, and over the several minutes exposure illuminating the entire interior of the airplane evenly from one end to the other.

Both of these guys pretty much taught me all the practical photography I knew, or helped me polish up what I already knew. I did the same for them. It wasn't planned, we were a team so it just happened naturally.

They were also afraid of the owner, who wasn't really much of a photographer himself, but he was the owner. He had gotten his start by shooting the pictures that Linda Darnell used to get her start with whatever studio she worked at, and she never forgot that. Somehow she turned some big accounts his way. And I was good but arrogant, and sometimes my arrogance spilled over. It had gotten me fired a few years back at a well known portrait studio, so I could never put that one on a resume'.

One day, I had constructed a room interior out of two rolling wall sections, with some framed prints of hunters with bird dogs and zig-zag rail fences hung on them, a crystal chandelier hanging from the boom of a big spotlight, and was shooting a line of wine with dressed up diner models and a male servant model pouring wine into crystal glassware on the dining table, everything romantically hazy except the bottle of wine, when Bill (the owner) came in and said something like, "God Dammit, Doug, you have been at this all day and you have everybody else tied up too. Hurry it up, we have other jobs to shoot." or other words to that effect. He was actually a very nice guy but was saddled with a worrisome mind and a bad temper. The picture I was shooting was for a big vineyard, I forget which one, except that their wine was well known, we were getting $2000.00 plus expenses, (in 1958 money) and it was for a full page advertisement in Gourmet Magazine. It had an actual chef from one of the restaurants handling the food, a roasted turkey and various Thanksgiving dishes, and I had it lit with a whole bunch of 5000 watt spotlights to punch up the highlights. I had a girl painting glycerine on the turkey and the broccoli and other food, to keep them succulent looking and the other two photographers assisting me. A real team shot.

For a shot like this, one photographer always did the lighting and operated the camera. That one was boss, like the director in a movie. This one was mine and all three of us, and the glycerine girl were working on it, when Bill came in and cussed at me in his inimitable manner.

It pissed me off. It wasn't that I didn't need the job. It was the best advertising photography studio south of Chicago. And as a job, probably one of the best in the country, because believe me, living in Dallas was totally superior to living in New York, at least in my opinion. But I had been working on this shot all day and it was beginning to take shape, and I knew it was going to be a real good one. I knew the owner couldn't do it himself, and I actually didn't think the other photographers, outstanding as they were, could have done it as well either. So you might say I was feeling cocky.

I took my head out from under the dark cloth, looked at him and said, right in front of everybody, "Bill, you want a good photograph, don't you?"

He looked very surprised. I guess nobody had ever spoken to him like this. He answered, "Yes".

I said, "Then get out of my hair and quit bothering me and I'll get you one."

Bill stared at me a few seconds, jammed his trademark cigar back in his mouth, blew a big cloud of smoke and disappeared back into his office. Nobody said a thing. We just finished up the photograph and it was, like I had promised him, a good one. A masterpiece.

After that, both the other photographers did the same thing to him when he started unnecessarily rushing him. One day he called us all three in his office asked us to sit, and asked, "What have you guys got, some kind of union?" We had a good talk, everybody laughed, and we realized we were all on the same team.

Probably the biggest professional mistake I ever made was when a competitor in Houston offered me considerably more money and I quit and moved down to Houston, because Bill was 64years old, and wanted to retire and turn the studio over to me and move to a place he had bought down on the Baja Peninsula and live on a pension from the studio. If I'd had the sense (The Texas expression was, "The sense God gave a billy goat) to actually understand the opportunity, I'd have gotten him to make it all three of us as owners, because I know I would never find any others like those two.

But I didn't have the sense God gave a Billy Goat. :-)