Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My boss

My boss, originally uploaded by fni2k.

I know a little something about stress. Specifically what I know is that – with few exceptions – I’ve rarely had any. At least precious little honest-to-god, life or death on the line kind of stress. You want to know what’s stressful? Landing an F-18 fighter-jet in the dead of night on the deck of a pitching aircraft carrier. Or being on the roof of a burning building trying to get to that kid that’s still inside. Those are the kinds of things that can cause stress. Getting the Johnson report done on time? Inconvenient, perhaps. Stressful? No. 

But still, when my boss comes to me and asks if I’ll take his headshot, well; driving that F-18 starts to look like a pretty cushy job.

Peter is the Head of the Drama school where I work. He’s from Australia, and has only been with us about 18 months (and I assure you those two facts are largely unrelated). He’s been incredibly supportive of this… thing… I do. To be fair, it works out very well for the both of us; the School gets pictures that they would otherwise have to pay handsomely for, and I get to play photographer. Still, another person could (rightfully) turn up their nose and shout “get back to work, you!” Whereas Peter has given me the means and opportunity to learn, quite literally, on the job. And for that I am very, very grateful.

“Louis, I need you to make me look… moody. Moody, severe, and fabulous”.

That guy, on the roof, with the fire. He’s a sissy.

There are times when it becomes incumbent upon you, if you possess even a shred of self-worth, to throw all the rules out the nearest window. Create and innovate; cast off the intellectual shackles of the old and violently discover some new truth, one so long hidden from the world. A time to write your destiny across the sky in flames that will become a beacon to the generations that follow.

This, however, is absolutely not one of those times.

Hunker down now, smile confidently; “Of course Peter, I’m looking forward to it. Yes, yes, whatever you like.”

Scenario #1: You try some wacked-out experimental technique and end up making him look like a bridge-troll. For perhaps a moment he’ll think you are quite the mad genius rigging all that gear an muttering to yourself numbers that have “f’s” and “@s”.  He’ll feel as though he is in the presents of an ar’tiest; At least right up until he sees the first proofs and discovers that you made him look like an extra on the Island of Dr. Moreau. (Note to self: avoid Scenario #1)

Option 2: You go ultra-conservative. Flat, even light. Just shy of mug-shot lighting. People will always say they hate pictures of themselves, but deep down we know the ego-monster can defeat the bridge-troll. So create a serviceable picture and let the subject do all the fighting for you. Hell, it’s worth a shot; and meanwhile you can check the HR website for open positions in other departments.

Plan C: Go with what you know. You’ve taken this picture a hundred times before. You know the math, you know what is going to work and you know how to get it all to the finish line. Is it safe? Yep. Are you going to win any awards in Stockholm for this picture? Probably not. But while the King of Sweden will have to wait, you’re about to prove to your boss that his confidence in you is well placed. And down the road that could make all the difference in the world.

First, break out the softbox. He’s the Head of a Theatre Department; so put seats in the background. He’s wearing a black jacket against that dark background, so throw up a little cross-light for separation. SNAP SNAP SNAP. You know you’ve got it, right there in the camera. But take a few extra, because we gotta make this look like work.

Jump-cut to several days later. Morning coffee in the mailroom. In my mailbox is a hand-written Thank You card. I can’t make out all the writing but the words “mother” and “adored it” are too close for mere coincidence.

Stress: it’s what other people feel.

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