Corporate photography for me, was always about problem solving! Most of my jobs were "flyers". Designers had boxes and no really relevant shot. I usually figured, by the time they got to me, at the end of their Roladex, they were desperate, their favorite photographer wasn't available, and I appreciated the risk they took to hire me. Some folks, I got to work for several times, but I was never part of the "in group". So most of the jobs had no defined shot, and I would try to sniff out, some of what the designers and their clients were looking for, in general terms. What's the photo suppose to mean, I would plead, but I'd never find the shot, till I got there. Often, I'd invent the shot, with lighting to finding the right place for the people to stand. Touring factories, looking for "the shot" was fun, and nice to be paid for it too! Yea, I still miss it! Here's a few stories, behind some of the shots.
With experience photographing early semiconductor fab facilities in "Silicon Valley", Jeff a favorite client, sent me to the new Fujitsu plant in Texas. There was nothing to see but big black boxes! Now all the silicon wafer processes were automated inside the boxes - argh! Where's the shot? I had to manufactor this shot. Posing workers, I turned and double exposed the control panel. It seemed to suggest the wafer processes and turned into the "right shot", with a hint of "hi-tech" mystery. Whew, a good shot out of shear frustration.
This is a fun one - another what to do when desperate. I was sent to a General Mills Wheaties plant somewhere in the mid-west. They gave me a tour and a taste of the fresh ones, but wouldn't even let me bring my cameras into the plant! I finally talked them into letting me photograph one pallet of Wheaties, in the dark warehouse next door. The only none-distracting background was the plastic wall on the loading dock. When I popped a strobe light behind it, the brown strip turned red and I knew I could make a colorful shot. I put all the red gels I had on the headlight for the spot of color and posed the fork lift operator. Of course, the designers cropped out the bug light on the right, and used the version with readable labels, but this was my simple shot of the day.
Many years ago I was sent to a small island in San Francisco Bay. It was going to be the site of a big impressive business development. Much of it seemed secret, hard to actually find, it had been used for asparagus farms, and missed becoming a bridge site. When I arrived, and drove around, the streets were laid out with construction markers and there wasn’t much to see. I think there was one bank building, and a microwave tower. The developers wanted to talk about the fast microwave communications that was going to bring big corporate development. Only so much you can do with mud, sticks and the tower in the back ground. I had a newish 15mm lens and played with the sun and lens flare for this nice shot, probably the only decent shot of the day. . .
PSE&G Utility Control Room
Working on the PSE&G Annual Report, I was sent to an obscure address in Newark, NJ where the elevator went down deeper than I ever expected. This bunker room controlled all the electrical power from Maine to Philadelphia, managing nuclear plants and the whole grid. One side of the room had old green metal panels and big switches, but the technology was moving to electronic/software controls. Eventually I realized I needed to make the shot, and fast before folks left for dinner. I moved my lights, added a backlight that turned the dark brown background a muted orange gradient, and quickly posed the men. I think one was sitting lower, on one of my equipment cases. I tried to balance the lights a bit, so I could do a slow speed shot to capture the screen, and stack up the guys with a big lens. Yea, made the cover, and the corporate advertising manager couldn't figure out the background, when he took a proof print to the guys down there.
Can you get a good robotics shot? Automotive has the best big robotics. OK, what about the stock market? Chicago might be easier access than New York. OK, what ever fits in your schedule, when can I see film? Two weeks. . . No - 10 Days, we have to get this to press before the tradeshow. OK it was a little more complicated than that, but I was off and running, scrambling for access and eventually got to make this shot in the Ford Taurus line.
Semiconductor Mask Alignment
In the early days of semiconductor production, the masks which worked like photographic negatives were aligned by hand. No one had done a photograph in this cleanroom because of the restricted safelight conditions. I realized that the the light source was florescent lights, and I knew how to filter for that, with 20-30 magenta gels and use a tripod. Easy, and this shot helped me get a bit more work in the Semiconductor Fabs for Raytheon, Fujitsu, and Hitachi, before everything became automated and shipped abroad. Now it's a historic shot, but I still like it.
Worse job interview ever!
Ok, this will take a little explaining. Before the internet was common, information was supplied by company data sheets, and I was thrilled when a designer wanted me to photograph a local printing company for a color brochure. I needed to meet with the president and company team Friday afternoon, but I had blown out my back, again! I went to the doctor, explaining I had an afternoon appointment and told him I didn’t want another injection. He had me lie down on his flat table, and could reach under my back - I was cramped tight. OK, roll over he says, and then he stuck a needle into my spine-argh! I didn’t dare move, but when he said I could roll over, I was like a puddle on the table. I was so drugged up, I walked all around the building to find my car, got lost in the neighborhood, and finally found my way onto the freeway. I was struggling to drive 50 and everyone was doing 70 on 101 South! When I got to the press in San Jose, I could barely carry the bag with my projector, and I didn’t even try to put my blue blazer on in the 100 degree heat. Well, the designer had left hours earlier, and only the press foreman and president/owner were left, and boy was he pissed. He glared at me, and with a mean voice, growled “This better be good.” I was so drugged up, all I could do was find a semi-dark corner to show a few slides. I don’t think I had gotten through ten or twelve pics when he asked, “Can you do this for my company?” Sure, I whispered in pain. “Some see our presses!” I didn’t want to leave my projector and slides, and I carried my jacket. In the big press room, I realized it might get caught or stained, so I put it on, and pushed out the dry cleaner plastic in the shoulders. I was standing there dumb, looking at the wad of plastic, like a skull in a Shakespeare play, till I spotted a trash can. I got the full tour, yes I could add a bit of color and find good shots, whew. I don’t even remember the drive home. Two shots from that project, stayed in my portfolio for years, and each had fun stories.
Printer - Bindery Hands
When I saw the older black woman counting and stacking the brochures at the end of the very loud trimmer on bindery belt, I knew I wanted to photograph her. She wasn’t interested! “Oh no, not me” she modestly grinned. I explained, it looked like she was counting out stacks of 50, with her hands, and that’s the shot I wanted. With permission, I set up a ladder above her and lots of defused light to photograph her hands. Originally I thought I’d go for a slow shutter blur, but you couldn’t even see the brochures, so I added strobes, and got this shot. She liked the polaroid test shot. . . I used this shot for a special promo with Lee Beggs Design, and the Kodak rep explained the saturated red exceeded what the paper print could produce. . .
Printer - B&W and Color
Wow, I had never seen so many pallets of data-sheets! I knew my client wanted to talk about their ability to move from B&W data-sheets to color brochures. So I moved my lights from the bindery area over to light the field of data-sheet pallets, tracked down the marketing guy and print foreman, and posed them in the pallets with the red brochure. Then I ran over to a ladder and climbed to the rafters, with two cameras and dangling sync cords. I had no idea how dusty, dirty and hot it would be up there, likely over 120°. I was probably down, filthy dirty, soaked and sweaty in five or six minutes, but knew I had a good shot. My assistant had the best story though! He was staying out of the shot, when a guy leaned up next to him, looked up at me in the rafters, maybe 25-30’ off a cement floor, and said “Whoa, no way I could do that’! Andrew asked, “What you do?” and the man replied “I does the books.” Andrew laughed and said “No way Lee can do that!” and yes, I’ve been a poor freelancer all my life. . .
Yea, more to come. . . One of these days!