Confessions from the Barbarian King

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories

Who knows what inspires us. I recently smelled someone I had not seen for a while, and I swear I could smell her for the rest of the day and into the next. One of my tricks to get someone to look like they are thinking is to ask them to smell the air. Smell and memory are very closely spaced out in the brain. Usually I get a laugh from the subject, which also works. Being inspired on shoots is sometimes a difficult thing. But this blog entry is being inspired by recent events at work.

So what’s the latest drama in the world of corporate photography? Long disorganized shoots are the order of the day, or days. “Jon,” they say, “we NEED to get this huge unedited list of items photographed for our hospital online training modules. Can you help us?” Sounds easy enough, I say. So after a rewrite of the lists, I go to the shoot and start to knock out shots in different departments.

And then something happened. During a shoot in the ICU (intensive care unit for those who don’t know), a nurse asked to see a photo I was shooting of her and a computer system trainer. I said no, that I was still setting up and told her that I would show her the finished photo once I had had a chance to light the room and finish the shot. I had just started setting up and was shooting instead of metering, you see. So she says that she won’t give me “authorization” to use the photo if I didn’t show it to her immediately.

Hmmm. I paused. And then I proceeded to tell her that if she’s an employee of our company, then I didn’t have to get authorization. Just being an employee is authorization enough. So she flipped me the bird. I wasn’t shocked or even surprised. I was just annoyed that I had to put up with that. And I was annoyed because I know that if I had done that, I’d get in a lot of trouble. I wanted to shut down the shoot right there, and I almost did. But we had a lot left to do. The trainer was right next to her when she did it, and watched and giggled nervously as the nurse proceeded to flick me off again as if she were scratching her temple with her middle finger. So I finished shooting, I showed the nurse the photo, and I proceeded forward with the rest of the setups. Annoyed. The trainer told me how very important that nurse was. She didn’t tell me to NOT do anything about it. I didn’t even ask her opinion. She just offered out to me, “That nurse is a very important person. A real VIP.” “What is she,” I ask. “A VIP, I said she’s a VIP.”

So I kept going, and after we had knocked out all of the formal shots we could, the requestor asked me to get some general room shots of the unit. So I started shooting the “floor” as they call it, with everyone milling about, talking, looking at monitors, talking on phones, etc. And in the middle of my shooting, the Unit Secretary screams at me that I’m not allowed to photograph her because she’s a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) actress. There were at least 30 people in there all listening to this woman freak out on me about how she’s a member of this actors union. I told her that I was just doing my job and she sat down and made some snide remark to her friend about, “Don’t you hate when people just start shooting photos and don’t even ask?” So I packed it in. I was done. I was fighting standing up and telling her to screw off. But I just fumed and put all of my stuff away into my bags.

Before I left, because I was so furious, I walked up to the screamer. I asked her her name, and she told me her first name. I asked her last name, and she grudgingly told me. She looked at me sideways, not really looking at me, and kind of giving me a look of, “Who the hell are you?” And then I asked her what her issue was with me shooting her. She said that she was a member of this actors union, and I quickly told her that it didn’t matter. She said that I had to have a release form for her to sign. And I explained to her how as soon as she was employed at our company, she gave up all of her media rights. Her employment here superseded her union membership. She didn’t want to hear it. But I also told her that if she has a problem with that policy, that she should bring it up to HR because she’s not the only person who apparently doesn’t like that policy. In essence, I tried to get to the root of her problem, and I tried to tell her her options for solving it. I didn’t yell back, and I didn’t call her a fat cow washed up wannabe actress. I was straightforward, said nothing wrong, and with my shaking voice I let it go. Not like me at all. Usually in that situation, I lose it and get myself in trouble with my mouth. And then I scream about the injustice of it all to no one who cares.

So the next day, I wrote a letter to the head of nursing. I explained about the nurse who flicked me off. He copied the email to the department head and head nurse of the ICU. They quickly decided to terminate her. Just like that. But they wanted to talk to me first. I told them that I thought it was a severe over-reaction to terminate someone for a bad choice of finger gestures, but that I was glad that they were going to do something about it. They are planning on pulling her in tomorrow to talk to her about the whole thing. I guess she’s off so I’m sure it will put the fear of God in her.

And I can’t help but wonder, what would Conan the Barbarian King think of all of this? How would he survive in the corporate world? Let’s say his Kingdom was overthrown by the angry wolfen people. So he got a job as a photographer to make ends meet. If some nurse flicked him off, that little situation would end immediately with one swinging move from his heavy sword. The finger would probably be placed somewhere on the counter as a message to all others. Then they’d have to call security, and Conan would quickly dispatch those guys and gals because they all weight upwards of 300 lbs, and at 5 feet tall, that’s a large target for a broadsword. Then the police, then SWAT, and you see how it would just snowball from there.

So I’m glad I’m not Conan the photographer. And I’m glad I kept my head. Is the keyboard mightier than the sword? In this case, yes.

What do you think?