Monday, December 20, 2010

Unintended victims of the digital photo revolution

I spent a bit of time last week with Blurb's newest employee, photographer extraordinaire and proponent of all things AgX, Dan Milnor.  While the digital revolution has been game changing for companies like Blurb, there are downsides as in all industrial progressions.

To Dan, it's the loss of some of the magic and art that make photography his passion.  To traditional photo labs it was really the end of business as they know it.  The latter is what I'd like to blog about today.

Between high school and college I spent some time in Dallas working for a high-volume photo lab, Snap Shots, Inc.  Snap Shots was a wholesale photo processing company, doing business with drug and grocery stores as well as camera shops.  My first job in the photo business was as a film splicer.

As the new kid, I got the hardest, most undesirable job--110 film splicer.  Back in the 70's the definition of a "compact" camera was one that used 110 film.  This was tiny stuff and was difficult to manage once you got it out of the container.  Oh, did I mention that when you spliced film you had to work in total, complete darkness?  No darkroom red lights like you see in the movies or from your college fine art photography program.  We're talking dark here.

So a splicers job was to batch up hundreds of rolls of 110 film into one big reel so it could be processed on a continuous-feed "cine" film processor.  The name came from a repurposing of the machines used to process motion picture films.  Your roll of Christmas shots was heat-spliced with a bunch of other irreplaceable memories by way of a less-than-one-inch piece of tape.  So if any of these splices long Grandma's house pictures from 1975.

It was stressful, sure.  But I developed skills that I still use today.  When you are in total darkness, just like if you are sight-impaired, your other senses take over, primarily your hearing.  I quickly got to the point that if I dropped a small, rolled-up, unprocessed 110 film on the floor among the menagerie of backing papers (yep,  you had to remove the backing paper for each roll before you spliced and many missed the garbage can), I could hear where it dropped and reach directly for it.  That prowess comes in handy in daily life believe it or not. I'm still really good about finding my way around in the dark.

The folks that were the best at this process were blind or semi-blind.  Any photo processing house worth it's salt had a few sight-impaired people that excelled in these kinds of jobs.  When I moved to Seattle and worked on the pro side, I had a film splicer, Juan,  that was great at his task.  And with weddings and other one-chance events, the level of stress was ratcheted up a few notches.  Juan was not only great for the company, he was great for the community.  Film processing gave him a job that made his lack of sight an asset and the opportunity to work in a creative environment.  I'm afraid that these types of jobs have all but gone by the wayside.

I don't always agree with Dan on the virtues of film.  I actually prefer digital from a pure imaging science standpoint.  But I do mourn a bit for the days of analog photography and the businesses associated with it.  And I do feel sorry for the Juans of this world who have lost an opportunity to participate in a visual medium.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Conflicted on the Horn-ics

A small aside from the craziness that reigns this time of year in the self-publishing/personal book industry.  I've avoided railing here on the absurd decision and lack of loyalty that was the move of the Seattle Supersonics to somewhere in the Southwest under a name that I won't mention.  It was the final nail in the coffin in my mind for a league that has really lost it's way under David Stern.

I moved to Seattle in January, 1979.  That year the Sonics won their first and only world championship in five games over the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards).  I was hooked.  Lenny Wilkins was our coach and he was a Hall of Fame player while with the St Louis Hawks of my childhood.  Gus Williams was our star and he didn't look any taller than me among the giants that he had to play against every night.  Paul Silas was the enforcer along with young Lonnie Shelton.  It was a wonderful team.  I bought into season tickets for many years until the cost just got too high to continue, which was the beginning of the end for the Sonics as we knew them.

So the word on the street is that New Orleans, who lost their first NBA team to Salt Lake City (Utah Jazz? Really?  Got to be the strangest name connection since the Lakers left Minneapolis), are not supporting the team and it likely will move.  This is the team that the City that won't be named should have waited for, as they helped to bridge the time after Katrina by giving the Hornets a place to play.  But, no, carpetbaggers with lots of dollars and nothing else to do had to come steal our team, with Stern as a willing accomplice.

Word is that Steve Ballmer remains interested in an NBA team in Seattle, as he was to try to keep the Sonics from leaving only to see the complete lack of support from Seattle's Mayor, who lost reelection to an unknown in large part due to his stupidity in the matter, and our wise State Legislature, who also managed to run the corporate offices of Boeing out of state.  Members of the Seattle City Council even publicly stated that the NBA had no value to the community.  Zero.

In an urban area the NBA is more than just another sport.  It was a major part of our identity.  It's not an accident that Seattle has become a hotbed for basketball.  Ask any of our young stars and they will call out guys like Gary Payton, or Shawn Kemp as a prime motivating factor.

I feel bad for the fans in New Orleans.  I can't imagine doing to them what the losers in Oil-ville did to us.  But New Orleans is not an NBA town for what ever reason and the Hornets are going to move.  And as much as I thought I would never say it, I hope they come here.

Make no doubt about it, those impostors that play in the state between Texas and Kansas are not the Sonics the way the Hornets in New Orleans were the Hornets in Charlotte.  They have no legacy.  That legacy lives, legally and rightfully, here in Seattle.  That team is simply a very good expansion team with no real history.  If the Hornets move to Seattle they will be the reincarnation of the Sonics.  We still have our championship trophy.  The names like Sikma, Payton, McDaniel. MacMillan, Brown and Chambers will be part of the rebirth.  The people who stole our team could have done things the right way and had an untarnished legacy of having saved the Hornets.  In the end, they killed the Hornets.  I feel bad for the players that have worn that uniform in the past.

So I'm gradually getting used to the idea that Seattle may once again have an NBA team.  For some reason the Horn-ics seem like a good fit and may be the salve that heals the open wounds brought to bear by Stern and friends.  We'll see how it all works out.

For those interested, Sonicsgate is a great, award winning indie film about the whole move debacle and Steve Kelly has a nice piece on the recent events.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

That ultimate marketing moment

I've been really blessed to be involved with a company from it's earliest stages where we had to sell the whole "vision thing" to the present, where we have become a global self-publishing leader.  In our early days we talked a lot about democratizing publishing.  It is the thing that separated us from the others in the nacent POD book marketplace in 2006 and it is still our passion today.

Self publishing can mean a lot of things.  It can be the opportunity to share your interests to an affinity group.  It can mean taking control of your brand as you market yourself in print.  It can be an opportunity to support a cause and raise money. It can be the entryway to the best-seller list.

But this time of year it is very much about that ultimate marketing moment that built Blurb to what we are today.  It is the moment that your mother opens the package and sees her life laid out in a beautifully bound book.  Or when your spouse sees your first year in pictures, captured for perpetuity. Or the memories you share with your friends of the trip you took to Vegas that somehow didn't manage to stay there.

We can spend a lot of money on marketing, buying Google keywords, or going to conferences.  But nothing we do in the year compares with what happens when bits turn to atoms on the pages of a real book that will live on the coffee table for a while before snuggling into a nice spot on the bookshelf.  And when someone sees what is possible, their creative mind begins to slowly consider what can be--what can come from within them.  That is the ultimate Blurb marketing moment.

We hear from a lot of old and new fans this time of year.  It never gets old.  It is our passion.  And we've got some very cool things up our sleeves for 2011 to continue to enable everyday folks as well as creative professionals to find that inspiration and tell that story.