Through a Lens, Darkly
I’ve only just concluded the final act in a sad little drama that began shortly before Gen Con 2009, and I just have to share it. As the Dragnet voice-over used to intone each week, “The story you are about to hear is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Or in this case the monumentally incompetent. In my first blush of anger I had intended to name and shame the culprit for his buffoonery, but I calmed down and decided that thought was unworthy and spiteful. Instead I’ll call him Mr. A.
I discovered I’d be able to make it to Gen Con very late, just a couple of weeks before the con in fact. I realized I had a heck of a lot on my plate and would need to be in several places at once to get all the coverage I wanted. While prowling the boards in search of advice no how to work the convention as a press representative I happened to see a post offering to do photography at the con gratis for anybody who needed coverage for blogs or whatever other media in exchange for photo credits to build his portfolio. It sounded like an ideal arrangement, so I responded.
It turns out that Mr. A (the man behind the post) was just a high school kid, but he had a very professional-looking website and some decent portfolio shots (and the price was right), so I wrote up an assignment sheet of what I wanted shot in the exhibitor’s hall. Inasmuch as the Alpha is a miniatures-centric blog it should be no surprise that almost all of what I wanted were miniatures shots. “No problem,” says Mr. A. “Leave it to me.”
I happily marked shooting the stills off my burgeoning “things to do” list and turned my attention elsewhere. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that. I didn’t know this kid from Adam, and here I was entrusting him with some important work without any references at all. I don’t have any excuses, I should have know better. But I let myself be seduced by the promise of offloading some of my workload onto somebody else. As we shall soon see, this was a colossal blunder on my part.
Upon arriving home from the con, I immediately busied myself with getting my convention stories posted on the blog. I sent Mr. A an e-mail to see about getting the pics he took for me during the con. Four days go by and I heard nothing from him. I e-mailed him again, double-checking that I’m using the same address I’d used to talk to him before the con. A week goes by, I hear nothing.
Finally I sent him a message that includes a deadline, since these photos are getting less and less newsworthy as time goes on. Another week goes by, and my deadline comes and goes. I write him off as a lost cause.
Then out of the blue I got an e-mail and a voicemail from him about a week after my last attempt to contact him. Mr. A says my earlier e-mails had been caught in his spam filter for some unknown reason. Why did his mysterious “spam filter” suddenly start eating my messages when we had corresponded without a problem several times before the con? Why didn’t he take the initiative to contact me, since he’s had all my information for weeks on end since the end of the con? He is silent on these points. I don’t really care as long as I get the photos I’ve been waiting so long for.
I downloaded the .zip file he sent me, uncompressed it, and got my first look at my long-awaited photos. They’re pretty much completely unusable junk. Frame after frame is blurry, dark, blown out by flash, or some combination of all three. I quickly realize that Mr.A has no more idea how to properly photograph miniatures than my cat does, but at least Hobo (unlike Mr. A) is honest enough not to claim a skill he doesn’t have. To make things worse, the last few shots he takes are at least decent, thanks to generous help and tips from an exhibitor who used to shoot pics for a living. Of course having finally gotten the hang of things, this is where he quits.
Having seen the poisonous fruits of his labors, I suspect he’d been ducking me, too ashamed to show me his failures. The hell of it is, he had to know pretty soon after he started shooting that he wasn’t getting anything usable. He had my cell phone number; he could have called and explained that he couldn’t do the job. At least then I would have known where I stood and could have taken at least some of the shots I needed myself. Instead he left me high and dry. According to the time stamps on the pics, he only spent a grand total of 31 minutes even trying to take these shots and then just gave up.
When I first realized just how bad the situation was, I strongly considered posting his name and website as a warning to others that might consider engaging his “services.” Fortunately, I decided to take a couple of days to calm down first and decided against picking a fight. Regardless of who did what to who, I don’t need to start a feud and maybe make an enemy or two just out of pure spite. I did send him an e-mail telling him exactly what I thought about his lack of professionalism, but unsurprisingly I heard nothing back.
I decided to share the whole sordid story of what happened as a cautionary tale to others, and to help remind myself not to be so stupid in the future. After all, the only thing worse than making a dumb mistake is making the same dumb mistake over again. I have this theory that there are only a finite number of mistakes in the Universe, and if one makes each of them once and learns the appropriate lesson then one might achieve Nirvana. After this debacle, I guess I’m one step closer to that idealized state.
At the end of the day, the lesson I learned is to do your own work. Nobody else will ever care about it as much as you will. You certainly can’t depend on anybody but longtime associates to come through in a pinch. Try to take shortcuts and the results will usually not be to your liking. And when you foul up, own up to it and take your lumps like a man. You’ll be a better person for it. I guess that’s five things. Close enough…
[Editor’s Afterword: I’m using some of Mr. A’s photos to illustrate this story, which strictly speaking I shouldn’t be doing since I’m not crediting him. If he should happen to read this and want his “credit”, he has only to let me know. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath, though.]
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