How to Succeed in Business Without Really Succeeding

A neighbour I’d never met before was selling off camera equipment and just for a laugh I went over to have a look. He had truckloads of cameras and I bought a beautiful old wooden 5×7 view camera for 25 bucks. I never bothered to look for sheet film for the thing, never used it, and it rests now somewhere in used-junk heaven. This guy had been a photographer for many years and had recently retired. Weddings, bar mitzvahs . . . that kind of thing. He showed me some old wedding albums and when he told me what he used to charge for that stuff it planted the idea. I became a wedding photographer.

Most people get into business to get rich. I do it to stay poor. I never liked the pressure and all the hassle of normal business so I tended to come up with schemes to provide a product or service for people like me, people with little to spend. So instead of selling you ten pictures in a gold embossed album for anywhere from one to ten thousand dollars I’d offer one hundred black and white eight by tens, no album. It’s all I would have wanted if got married. A brilliant plan. I already had an eighty-five dollar Yashica and a two hundred dollar darkroom. I was in business.

I worked at the Georgia Straight so the ad cost me nothing. Within a week I had my first customer. A professor of mathematics out at UBC. The math department was hip then, lots of draft dodgers. So this guy was happy to pay me a hundred bucks for a hundred photos. I rented a flash, wore my best jeans and t-shirt and showed up at the wedding and shot four or five rolls of film. The next day I had four or five rolls of negatives. Then reality struck. This was going to be work.

Ordinarily my photography consisted in shooting one roll of film, making a contact sheet, and hoping to find one or two shots worth staying up all night trying to make a great print from. I loved it. Now I had to make 100 prints of utterly boring pictures. Not a big deal but it was going to take time. Well, what’s the rush anyway?

Six months later I was starting to feel antsy. A month after that guilt reared its hairy head. Later it was nagging at me night and day. Four weeks later I was losing sleep. Every day I went down to the darkroom, looked at one or two of my own negs and thought, well they’ve waited this long, one more day won’t hurt. I’ll work on this instead. It’s a funny thing about Time. When it’s already been a long time, one more day never makes a difference. One more of anything never makes a difference. More weeks and months passed and when a year had gone by I made a pot of densely caffeinated coffee, drank it all and made another to take down to the darkroom and was up till dawn printing those godawful wedding pictures, each one worse than the last, of all these total strangers standing around feigning happiness. I couldn’t even remember which person was the groom although the bride was recognizable from her dress.

I slept two hours and got up, drove out to the math prof’s house with an envelope stuffed with glossy 8 x 10’s. I knocked on his door and when he saw me he started laughing his goddam head off.

“Jesus Christ! We broke up months ago!”

Next time I’ll tell you about the helium balloons.

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