Last Page, First Page

gassers-front-9340Its the end of an era, the end of a chapter. After five years working at Adolph Gasser Photography in San Francisco, the time has come for something new.

John announced his retirement and the closure of the store a few days ago. It was both a surprise, and no surprise at all. Business is difficult, John is getting older. I sit just steps away from his office and heard snippets of phone conversations, about selling, about moving on. So I’m not surprised, but still, surprised. The question wasn’t if, but when. Now I know when. When is March 31st, soon.

Years ago I knew that time was limited for the store. The world is changing, San Francisco is changing. There’s no space for a family owned, local business that refuses to embrace cutthroat capitalism, not in the age of iPhones and online shopping. Even I buy more photo gear online than I do with my staff discount. I told myself that I wanted to be there when it happened, to go down with the ship as it were. Now I am doing exactly that, and it feels strange.

Some of it is relief. It was hard fighting to stay alive in this economic climate. My passion isn’t retail, I’d rather be making photos and videos. Still, helping people with their projects and problems gave me a lot of pleasure. I’d literally click my heels or do a little dance when I felt like I’d just saved the day for someone and didn’t think anyone was watching.

I met a lot of great people, both customers and staff. I hope to continue some of those relationships, and those that don’t, I’ll still treasure. I was exposed to so many people, ideas, history, so much technology and talent. It was a run down building, full of crazy characters, leaky roof and old memories. It was a special place, and now it’ll be sold off, piece by piece until its nothing but a memory.

I’m going to launch myself headfirst into freelancing for myself, a pool I’ve been wading in for years, but never committed to. I have savings, and we’re getting severance packages, so there’s some time and freedom to spread my wings and take that risk. Its time. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. I’m buying some microphones and lenses from the rental department so Adolph Gassers will be a part of my work for years to come.

I have so many feelings right now. The fear and uncertainty surrounding what’s next for me. At the same time excitement for the future and the new possibilities that open up in front of me. I can work on projects I’ve long wanted to work on, I can take more classes, go on more trips. The risks are great, but so are the opportunities.

I also feel guilt and sadness that our loyal customers will be left without their local photography store. I love our customers, both the regulars who come in year after year and the wild eyed newcomers who marvel at our time capsule of a San Francisco that’s quickly fading away. I saw one of them at the Chinese New Year’s parade last night filming as his band marched by and I burst into tears.

We haven’t been able to talk about it with anyone until the official announcement today. Its difficult to listen to people thanking us for our help and expressing their gratitude that a store like Gassers is around to help them with their photographic and video making needs. I choke up a bit when I think about it. Even the talkative old man who brings in old VHS porno tapes to be converted to DVD. Where will he go now?

I’m proud of where I worked, and the help I’ve been able to provide. Its an honor to have worked someplace that’s been such a fixture since 1950.

There is still much work to be done. The remaining merchandize isn’t going to sell itself, and there are many more problems to solve and conversations to be had. It isn’t over yet. I’m glad for this transition period. It would be much worse if it were to be cut off like a hatchet. This process will likely be both painful and ecstatic, and everything in between.

I wish John a happy and healthy retirement. He was a great boss and he deserves that for everything he’s contributed to the community. Similarly my best to my co-workers, whether this means retirement, new careers, travel or anything else they chose to do. Finally I hope that our customers take advantage of our blowout sale and can find the resources, advice, inspiration and connections they need to make their own photographic and filmmaking projects.

I feel honor, pride and gratitude. Onwards to what’s next, but never forgetting the people and the places that have fed me. Thank you all.

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What Day Is It?

Days of the week lose all meaning when you’re working as much as I have been. January and February are traditionally sleepy months in the photo and video business, and this year was down right comatose. Then the numbers came in, that said I owed the IRS my first born. It has been a trying time in the corridors of cash.

Its little wonder then that over the past month I’ve said yes to every job or gig that wandered my way, such that I don’t know the last time I had a legitimate day off. The best I can think of were days where I only had ONE job to do. Last night I finished up at SF MOMA at 2am, and then took almost another hour to get home, before getting up and coming here to Adolph Gassers. Luckily today I finish at 6pm.

There are so many cheques in the mail right now that I expect the sky to go dark in a few days as they fly over head and come in for a landing in my bank account. After so many months of financial gloom it feels good to have streams of cash coming back to water the roots of my life. I’m slowing down the work schedule now, being more judicious and saying “I want more money.” when they offer a gig, and being totally fine if they say no to just reject the job.

My self-respect is back. I hope.

As with all things it will go up and down. But for the moment at least I’m feeling better about my prospects for a decent life/work balance.

Thoughts on a facebook fast

Rather spontaneously, when my parents were in town around Ash Wednesday, I decided that I would give up facebook for lent. At the time I wouldn’t have called my facebook use problematic. I already have StayFocusd installed which is set to limit my facebooking to 20 minutes per day on all of my computers. I gave up drinking for January, and I guess you could say that I’m just in a phase of investigating how I live my life, by taking things out and noticing what’s different. facebook was just another experiment.

facebook certainly has utility value. Its become the de-facto way to find out about engagements, pregnancies, promotions, parties and friends visiting from out of town. That said, I find that I use it more often than not as boredom relief. Nothing happening at work? Check facebook. Avoiding a deadline? Check facebook. Waiting for the wife? Check facebook.

So what did I learn from cutting it out? Well for the first week or so I found myself unconsciously starting to type “fac…” into my browser without even thinking about it. That’s a clear sign of an unconscious habit right there, but after about a week it went away. Instead when I found myself feeling bored I would pause, and think about things that interested me, or questions I had about the world. Then I’d type that in instead. If I was curious about something that one of my friends might know about, or if I just wondered how they were I’d pen them an email.

I discovered that my Internet usage became a lot more self-directed and conscious. The facebook timeline seems like its curated for our particular interests, but in reality its really more of an indiscriminate firehose of shallow clickbait. Instead I found myself visiting websites I hadn’t frequented in over a year like the wonderful BLDGBLOG.

Emailing and chatting with friends directly rather than through facebook was nice as well. I didn’t get daily selfies or “what I had for breakfast” posts, but what communication I did get had more depth and emotion. I also found that my writing improved since I was giving myself time to properly compose my thoughts rather than just responding to the torrent of posts, comments and likes that makes up the facebook timeline.

I started a photography blog that I’ve been quite happy with. I’ve been getting out more in my local community and just generally more active and productive. When I see someone else on facebook, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, in fact I kind of laugh.

If I had to summarize what I like most about being off of the ubiquitous social network, it would be that I am once again the master of my own attention. I pay attention to the things that I care about, and I spend as much or as little time as I feel appropriate to them. facebooks’ infinite scroll doesn’t threaten to crush me with endless updates.

Lent is over, has been for almost a week, and I’ve yet to return to facebook. I just haven’t felt the need or the desire. Eventually I’ll get back, to get in touch with someone I don’t have an email for, or to promote an event or crowdsource something. Will I return to using it as I did before? I don’t think so. Even after I started drinking again, its been much much less, and so I hope it will be with facebook. I hope to be mindful and strategic about how I use it, not just typing “fac…” when I start to get bored…

Success/Failure

A week ago I set out to do something exciting, bold and a little bit crazy, to walk along the coast from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Well I failed. At least in as much as I’m writing this from my couch and not an Internet cafe on the beach in Santa Cruz. I feel a bit embarrassed and a bit disappointed, but I also feel proud of what I did accomplish, and determined to finish what I started.

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The temptation is to write a blow by blow account of the adventure, but here’s what it boils down to. I couldn’t do it. By the end of my first day my feet were wrecked, sore joints and a few terrible blisters. The next morning I started walking again but within the first few miles it became clear that I was in rough shape from the day before. I tried to do too much too soon. Nearly 20 miles in the first day with 55+ pounds on my back was more than I could handle. By the time I reached a roadblock in the form of no trail and a highway with no shoulders I decided that it was time to regroup and reassess.

I stopped in at a local taphouse in Pacifica for a pint and some salad to celebrate the distance done and caught a bus back into the city.

I determined that I wouldn’t let this be a success or failure, do or die kind of moment. Yes I stopped, and yes I was in rough shape. It was embarrassing to come home after only a day and a half on the trail, but it wasn’t the end. I rested up and a couple of days later with a smaller day pack set out for the Golden Gate Bridge and walked the section that I’d missed the first day from the Bridge to the end of Ocean Beach (earlier I had walked from home to the beach). It was a beautiful hike and made the whole endeavour feel more complete, and it also meant that I was still doing it. One piece at a time.

That left me sore, so I spent a couple more days resting and then yesterday I got on a bus and went back to the place in Pacifica where I’d given up days before and walked all that I could before the last bus home. I had the beautiful ocean bluffs to myself and put a few more miles under my belt.

This isn’t over. I’ll make it to Santa Cruz if I have to head out every weekend this summer to do it. So I’m not doing it as a heroic odyssey, one man alone against the elements. But that’s never what it was really about. It was about getting into nature, about challenging myself, about doing something outside of the every day. Am I sad that it didn’t work out as planned? Hells yeah, but its also reminding me that I have limits, that great endeavours require great preparation, and sometimes no matter what you plan, you get a blister between your toes and it all goes out the window.

I consider myself really lucky that I could turn around, that there was a bus stop only a mile or so back, that I wasn’t so stubborn that I tried hiking up that road with traffic whizzing by. I’m lucky that I’m not a pioneer or a refugee stuck in a hundred mile march, blister or no blister.

I understand my limits and my abilities better. A sixty pound pack is excessive, especially on a trail where food and other amenities are regularly available. Hiking twenty miles in a day might be possible, but it isn’t worth it and isn’t sustainable. Twelve miles feels a lot better.

I stayed off the Internet all week even when I was home in order to maintain at least the time to be alone and introspective. To be honest I’m a bit scared of returning to that world and getting caught up in the swirl again. That will subside and I’ll be just another fish in water soon enough.

The trail, though I spent less time on it than I’d hoped was a great place to be. Nothing but one foot in front of the other, deciding when to eat, when to rest, and a million beautiful plants, animals, rocks and sea.

Buy Nothing

As I travel through life often I find it useful to take a moment to look at behaviors and ways of being that have become habit and are so rote that I don’t even see them. The last time I posted here I was taking a month off of facebook. A few months ago I cut pornography out of my life. Last month I abstained from drinking (and celebrated its conclusion with some great wine). Now I would like to try another experiment, inspired by two young people from my home town of Calgary.

The Friday after American Thanksgiving has the ominous title of Black Friday, when hordes of crazed shoppers trample one another for dubious deals on consumer goods. The progressive response has been to reclaim the day as Buy Nothing Day. The Calgary roommates took this concept one step further and had a Buy Nothing Year. Reverend Billy would be proud. Stella and I have decided to split the difference between these ideas and have declared November as Buy Nothing Month. It will be interesting to see how our consumerist training is challenged and exposed over the next few weeks.

Of course there are limits to the idea of buying nothing in the city. We obviously have to pay for rent and utilities, and nice as it would be to grow our own food neither of us really has the space for that sort of thing. We will therefore exchange dollars and cents for housing, food and to an extent transportation (though I plan to bike as much as is practical), but that’s it. No eating out, no fancy baubles from the store, and no movie or theatre tickets unless they’re free (thank goodness for FunCheapSF).aaaaaaa

Truth be told I think I’m living pretty close to Buy Nothing Month already, but I suspect that there are a lot of little money leaks that I’m not even really aware of that will become blindingly apparent over the course of this little experiment. I’m sure going to be cooking a lot more.

So here we go. Wallets sealed. Onwards to Buy Nothing Month!

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I decided a couple of days ago that I needed to get away from the facebook. Hence I have declared November my no-facebook month. I abstain from drinking for one month every year, why not also cut out another of my damaging addictions?

Its interesting to notice that there are photos on my camera that I took specifically to put on facebook, to elicit a response. The whole thing is very much a system of levers, and we’re the mice desperately seeking those tasty food pellets. Or perhaps that’s a simplistic view. Indeed I think much of the 24/7, always connected, soundbyte, animated GIF, hashtag world is about reducing everything to binary simplicity. You either like something or you don’t, there’s not much room for real discussion or nuance.

My hope is that this month will be one of more art and more learning than the usual facebook month. As soon as I feel “bored” I tend to open a new tab and type “F” – that’s all that’s required. My browser knows that “F” means facebook, not fastidious, friendly or fun. Maybe these four weeks will change that.

For starters I haven’t written here for a long time so perhaps some summarizing of things going on is in order.

I’m cat sitting Carmella’s cutiecat Niblet for the month while she’s off in Europe. He’s delightful, even when he tries to sleep on my face and lick my eyeballs with his sandpaper tongue. The cuddling and playfulness is great as are the refresher lessons in non-linguistic communications with another living being. I can’t tell Niblet what I want, anymore than he can tell me, but we can communicate. Its pretty cool.

I’m feeling better financially. I felt a bit flush last month due to some good photo/video gigs as well as a refund from an employer who made some payment errors last year. I used some of that to wipe out what I owed Revenue Quebec as well as a much of my credit card debt. I’ve also started squirreling some away in a rainy day fund which is prudent but boy would I rather spend it! I am spending some money on myself though, or rather on my career. I’m buying a little bit of photography gear, but mostly I’m buying stuff to work on some experimental light painting techniques I’ve decided to play with.

I’m taking my photography and videography business a lot more seriously, as well as my art. I can thank my course at CCSF for that, but also just the realization that I need to get on course to the rest of my life in my chosen fields. Life at the photography store is okay, but its not going to last, and even if it did I have a lot more potential than this.

Speaking of which I’m at work right now so I should probably get off of here and do something “productive.”

Agent K., signing off.

Pay me

As a budding photographer and videographer I’ve definitely taken my fair share of low or no paying gigs. It comes with the territory. That’s how you learn, make contacts, get known. I’ve noticed though that when it comes to these pro bono gigs that I can barely muster the energy. Even doing a shoot for a friend like I am tonight I just don’t feel like it. Its not exciting. Standing behind the lens, snaking through the crowd, its fun sometimes, but a lot of the time its just work and I expect to get paid and paid reasonably well when I work. Sure there are times when a job is just fun, exciting, challenging, but my standards and my expectations are definitely on the rise.

The trouble is that during slow months like this one I tend to say yes to jobs that I shouldn’t – those with little to no pay that also just aren’t interesting enough to warrant the effort. Maybe I’m still generating goodwill and contacts, but if I’m not having fun or there isn’t a decent amount of money on the table its hard to take things seriously and deliver the best work. I think sometimes I’m shooting myself in the foot.

Fortunately I’m not alone. When I read about famous actors, comedians, artists and entrepreneurs rarely did things go smoothly for them from the start. Usually it was a jagged progression of successes and failures, excitement and drudgery. I’m in good company and will just keep doing what I love and what I’m good at. Photos tonight, even if I don’t really feel like it.