I've been evaluating various lenses in my new system. Ordering new flashes and then working the rest of the time on a website for my master's swim team. I'd been looking at images all day long. At the end of the day I just wanted to rest my eyes and when I cleared the clutter off my desk I found a small box of prints. These were images I'd done in a printing plant in New York City a number of years ago. I know what cameras I used but I don't want to say which ones because then the discussion turns from "look at the composition", "look at the tones" into "wow, I had one of those and they're really sharp.
I remember this job so well. I'd been asked by an art director who knew my work to come up to New York and shoot images for a company called Primary Packaging. They printed exquisite packages for the cosmetic industry (among other clients). They did the little black boxes with gold foil stamp for Chanel and the lovely white boxes for Lancombe. I remember one room at the plant that was filed with gold foil for embossing. Just rolls of the stuff.
But what I really remember best is that the plant was filled with craftspeople who knew their jobs the way we know how to put on our pants or drive a car. They ran the presses with an eagle eye and a nose for ink density. There wasn't a digital indicator or device anywhere.
The whole process of shooting this de-mystified the New York Shooting experience for me. I called Michael O'Brien who owned a studio for years in the city to ask for a reference to an assistant. He put me in touch with a New York hot shot. I know he was disappointed when we met up to head over to the shooting location. I had one camera bag. A stand bag with my scarred Gitzo tripod and two old light stands. I brought along a couple of monolights and an old orange extension cord. I figured we were going to a printing plant, I could pick up a sheet of white board to use as a reflector once we got there.
My "entourage" was totally lame. It consisted of me, my very cool and highly talented New York assistant and the art director. Assist was shocked that we might be shooting people without hair, make-up or wardrobe people in tow. Just not done. He was also shocked to be not only the "first assistant" but also the second and third assistant. He was even more shocked when I decided that the plant had pretty good natural light from the hundreds of feet of frosted glass windows that ran down the length of the building. In the end I didn't even need someone to hold a white card as the light was perfect all day long.
The art director introduced me to the client. We went over the shots they were interested in and then.......the art director left. And then.......the client told me to go wherever I wanted and to shoot whatever I liked....and he went back into his office. The assistant was stunned. I felt a bit inadequate as I really didn't have much for him to do except carry the bag.
The cameras didn't have meters so eventually I let him do all the metering. And he also kept track of all the Polaroid trash we generated. Lunch was exciting. We walked two blocks to a sandwich shop. It was filled with factory workers. They all ordered two sandwiches.
I spent my day walking up to people and asking them, "What do you do?" They were all happy to tell me and then show me. If I liked it I set up the camera and took photographs. I always use a tripod. I still do.
At the end of the day I had about 40 rolls of 12 exposure black and white film rattling around in the bag. The assistant kept trying to write things on the paper but I stopped him. He wanted to keep notes so that I could "hold back" some of the film and test some of the film. The notes, presumably, would tell us how to proceed with the film not destroyed in the first run.
He was quiet when I told him that I was going to have all the film run at the same time. I asked him about good labs in the city. He had some suggestions and I asked him to get on the phone and find out what it would cost to develop and contact print the 40 rolls in the next 48 hours. He seemed excited that we could get it done for "only" $30 per roll. I laughed and we headed to a Fed Ex office to dump all the exposed film into a box and send it back to Austin Prints for Publicaton.
Jeff souped and contacted the film in one long night and had it all back to me with dispatch. It all looked great. It cost ten dollars a roll, plus shipping. I handed the art director the stack of contact sheets and he mused that he hadn't seen contact sheets that nice in years. The images were eventually used 12 feet tall at a trade show at the Jacob Javitts Center. They looked incredible.
Now when I look at the test prints I made in my old darkroom I remember being on the factory floor and marveling at how all the printing flowed through. It was such a mature process.
I don't know if the plant is still there. I'm pretty sure all of the people I photographed have retired. No one asked me about my camera. No one asked me about my film. Occasionally someone would look at a Polaroid and make a polite remark.
It was really a wonderful shoot. Just wanted to share it. Wish there were more like that.