“Photographers, know thy printer, for the printer will forever portray your perspective to the world.”
A most frustrating situation occurred in early November that has inevitably motivated me to narrate a very exasperating experience with you. This story should be shared because it is a collection of events not dissimilar to a comedy of consecutive errors. Even though the story has a relatively pleasant conclusion, the lessons, I would opine, were accrued during the plot between the prologue and epilogue.
Our story features many fascinating characters, most of whom are protagonists, but one that could be, depending on your perspective, a bumbling, clumsy, sheepish semi-antagonist, or a dastardly villainess just doing what was expected of her. You can decide once you know what transpired.
Due to the fact that we are approaching the holiday season, and because I would rather take a much more light-hearted approach to my bizarre and irksome experience, I have decided against using the real names of the characters, who are actual people and companies. Instead, I thought it would be more entertaining to portray these entities as some of my favorite cartoon characters from various, animated television series. None of the companies involved, I believe, deserve negative press because, as we all know in life, mistakes do and will occur.
What you should know, at the very start, is this story revolves around one single photograph. It is one of my personal best images of downtown Seattle, and it took some considerable time to achieve it, which is why this story is significant to me. Here is the image that is the source of this anecdote.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
As a professional photographer of urban landscapes at night, I am very keen on acquiring as many unique and atypical views of the city as humanly possible. With more than six years of residency in Seattle, there was one particular location that I had always been keen to visit, which was the clock tower at King Street Station. The tower has been under renovation for many years. However, back in February 2013, I thought I would make an attempt to find out if I could visit. After several attempts to contact the station, I was finally directed to my contact, Bugs Bunny.
Now, most of us are familiar with Bugs, or someone like him. He’s amiable, clever, and very busy trying not to fall into any gimmicks or traps. He has his own interests to protect, so one can’t just approach him anyhow. When you have manic, one-track minded fiends like Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam, and the extremely wacky Daffy Duck on your heels, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to willingly welcome any offer that comes your way.
As a result, Bugs kept me on hold for a while. We corresponded via sporadic emails, and each time I thought I was getting warmer, Bugs would back off, and I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks, or months. This was where persistence and patience served as true virtues. I kept contacting Bugs to remind him I was alive, and that there was something in it for him — a complimentary, autographed 24in x 36in TIA original image of his choice from the photo shoot — if he allowed me to visit the clock tower, which I completely understood was inaccessible to visitors, but there was something tugging in my soul that encouraged me to stay in contact with the bunny.
Days and weeks and months passed. February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September. . .October. I thought I would try one last attempt. It had been eight months, and I knew my own persistence had its limits. I emailed Bugs one more time, reminding him I was still interested in visiting, if only for 30 minutes or less. I was not expecting a response, but an hour later, Bugs responded that he had seen my website and really loved the images of Seattle. “Ehhhhm, how long do you need up there, doc?” Bugs asked. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! We had agreed on a mid-October date.
Keep in mind that Seattle had been having a mad love affair with the fog since summer had ended. There was absolutely no guarantee the weather was going to cooperate on the chosen date, so I only had one chance to do this, and I was fated to capture whatever Mother Nature deemed appropriate for Seattle on that particular evening. As you can see from the image, she took very, very kindly on the Emerald City with a most memorable sunset intermission during our month-long bout with the fog.
Afterwards, I thought everything would be easy, and it definitely started that way. I would post-process my images (check!), contact Bugs for him to select the complimentary image that I could enlarge (check!), and get the photo printed. Bugs gave me even more incentive by informing me that he would arrange to have the image on display in the station for people to see. (See how cool Bugs can be?)
Unfortunately, this is where things took a turn for the erroneous in our story.
Typically, I go to the Jetsons to produce my prints and poster enlargements. The Jetsons have been printing my work for almost ten years, and have never done a poor job that I could recall. . .that is, until late October when George & Jane sent me this monstrosity in the mail from Orbit City:
Dark. Underexposed. No highlights. It didn’t look anything like the digital image I sent to them. I was shocked (and embarrassed as some friends were looking at it for the first time with me). The Jetsons actually got the print *wrong*. I couldn’t remember when they had ever done this before. It’s as though they completely forsook any kind of quality control or overview to make sure the print, at least, resembled the original file. When I got this thing (or whatever it was) in the mail, I went to my laptop and emailed George to let him know of his folly. Unfortunately, it was a Friday, and Orbit City was a few hours ahead of Seattle, so I knew I wouldn’t get a response until Monday. When that day came, I called the Jetsons to speak with one of them to let them know I wanted a reprint at no additional charge. Elroy answered the phone and apologized for the error. When asked about the reprint, and how long it would take to receive, Elroy surprised me by saying they had already reprinted the image and had shipped it off to Seattle!
Needless to say, I was enamored by the Jetsons’ courteous customer service, which is part of the reason why I have been a loyal customer for years. 48 hours later, I received the reprint, and they got it right! The print looked like the original digital image. Once again, all was right and wholesome in TIA’s World of Photography, until I made the ill decision to visit her. . .
Since Bugs was going to put the photo on display, I didn’t want him to deal with the hassle of mounting the image or having to tape it or pin it to a wall. That wouldn’t have looked professional. Instead, I thought it would be ideal to have the print mounted. In previous years, Lady Tokimi had done relatively good jobs with laminating and/or mounting my images. However, let’s provide some perspective about Tokimi. From the Japanese anime world of “Tenchi Muyo!”, Tokimi is one of three goddesses whose chief mission is to promote chaos and destruction in the universe while her two sisters promote peace, knowledge, and prosperity to counterbalance Tokimi’s objectives. This is how the sisters maintained order and stability for a common goal (for which you would need to watch the series to appreciate). Each goddess had a duty. Tokimi’s duty was to ensure anarchy thrived throughout the universe by whatever means possible. To foster harmony would be against her nature so, depending on how one looks at it, Tokimi is just doing her job.
In the context of my photograph, Tokimi’s sole job was to mount the image. Nothing more. Nothing less. Simple, right? I trusted it would be a simple assignment and would not be subject to any kind of mishap. I was wrong. She was, as she reminded me when I assigned her the job, the Goddess of Chaos. There was a slight chance the photo could be crumpled in their machine, or worse, completely destroyed. “Aaaah, that’s not gonna happen,” I thought.
24 hours later, as I prepared for my photo assignment in Los Angeles, a messenger left me a voice mail to contact Lady Tokimi immediately. My heart sank. Tokimi told me that when her associates tried to mount my photograph, it was crumpled in the process, thus ruining the image.
I was beyond livid, but I had no energy to expend over the phone. I just listened and spoke quietly. Tokimi’s people did not know the history with the Jetsons to get the right print, only to have them ruin it. Remember that this is a 24in x 36in poster enlargement. The crumpled image cannot be used. It cost a bit of money to get that print done and shipped from Orbit City only to have Tokimi wreck it in a matter of minutes.
Tokimi offered to reprint and mount the image themselves at 50% off. I considered my options. Bugs Bunny was waiting. The Jetsons had already did what they were supposed to do. It would take another week to get the Jetsons to do yet another print, and more money out of my pocket.
Thinking on a deeper level, I realized Tokimi’s business did not specialize in photography. Tokimi and her world of anarchy excelled at printing reports, making copies, binding books, selling paper, and printing graphics — not photography. What choice did I really have at this point? As I was heading to L.A. the next day for a long weekend of photography, I decided to let Tokimi have a go at it.
I wasn’t optimistic when I returned to Seattle, knowing I would have to visit the goddess’ dominion once more to see what would be the THIRD print of the Seattle skyline. This is what Tokimi produced:
You might look at this version and think, “Aaah, it’s fine,” but it wasn’t. You may not be able to tell from the image here, but it was only a slight improvement from the first print the Jetsons had sent to me (which is NOT a compliment). I didn’t like it, and I knew I wasn’t going to send it to Bugs. I hated it. It was my image, sure, but it wasn’t my vision — the vision I wanted to share with the public. The colors were off. There was too much shadow, and overall, the quality of the print was subpar. They got the mounting right that time, nevertheless. This is what happens when you leave things to be handled by the Goddess of Chaos and not a company that knows something about photography. I held up both the crumpled image (which she also had kept in store for my return), and the image she had produced. I asked, “Tokimi, which one do you like better?” She looked ashamed and said she preferred the original image she and her associates had ruined. When I inquired about the 50% discount, she shook her head and said, “No, Mr. Arasi. We have it noted that this job is free of charge.”
Now, you *KNOW* Tokimi’s posse did a rubbish job if they weren’t even going to charge me a cent for this entire debacle! A friend of mine asked me why I didn’t demand for Tokimi to reimburse me for the crumpled print. It was a valid inquiry, but I figured it would be a useless effort. It would be like asking her to stop the flash flooding in my local neighborhood in Seattle when she’s contemplating the apocalypses of galaxies millions of light years away. She had already stopped the rain, so what more could I ask for?
In the end, I was still without a photograph, and I was ready to give up. I sent Bugs a text (yep, he’s on my cell phone directory!) to apologize for the delay. I didn’t want to share the details, but wanted to ascertain if he had lost his patience, or had changed his mind about displaying the complimentary image. Bugs texted me back a minute later, “I still want to display the image, doc!”
Well, alrighty then! Onwards!
The Jetsons were too far away in Orbit City, and I wanted to work with someone local for the fourth and — hopefully — final print. Unfortunately, the Jetsons had suffered financial difficulties in recent years. They had more than 1,000 stores in the United States seven years ago in 2006. To provide some perspective on how badly they have been hurting, the Jetsons operate less than 20 stores in 2013. A friend of Jane Jetson informed me about a local printer in the metro Seattle area that I had never used before. The printer was a duo by the names of Tom & Jerry.
I hadn’t heard of them before, which was surprising given how long Tom & Jerry had been in the area. Even with their positive reviews and longevity, I was uncertain, given my experience so far with printing this ONE image. For many reasons, Tom & Jerry were a wild card. Things could go very, very well or very, very badly. In my mind, this was Tom & Jerry’s business:
I decided to open my mind and given them a try, as I was literally out of options unless I wanted to shell out hundreds of dollars for a COMPLIMENTARY gift for Bugs Bunny. Because Tom & Jerry’s was a local business, and not a national chain, they took longer to print images, which was not necessarily a bad thing in concept, but I was now a month late in getting Bugs his enlargement. Time was not on my side anymore. If Bugs was a paying client, this probably would have been TIA’s first official failure to deliver on time.
As it turns out, Tom & Jerry did a good job:
I really liked the white border too. The duo had printed the image well and mounted it beautifully. It was still missing some highlights, but in retrospect, I know I am my own worst critic, especially with my own photography. Other people in Tom & Jerry’s store came over to compliment the image. I figured the quality of the image was just fine, and perhaps I was just looking for fault given all the events that had transpired to date. Still, I have a brand that I wish to protect and I never want to give a customer or client or friend any one of my own images if I, myself, am dissatisfied with it.
Truth be told, I was somewhat exhausted with this particular image. It took eight months to create it, and six weeks to print it — or print it *well*, rather. It’s similar to when a singer has to perform the same song over and over and over and over again. Eventually, the singer gets tired of her own song, even if it’s popular and well-received. Of course, she still loves the song, but she needs a break from it so she can sing something else!
I delivered the image to Bugs later that week, which was shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday. He was very content and plans to contact me when the image is on display at the station. It’s the perfect time given the holiday season, and an ideal place to conclude my story.
– If an image needs to be mounted, make sure the company that prints the image ALSO mounts and ships it. If anything goes wrong, the same company is responsible for the entire product and service.
– Don’t rely on several companies to handle multiple services that ONE company can do altogether and independently. Bundle the services. Even if it’s more costly, it’s better to use one (and the same) company. Aim for high quality in the long-term instead of low cost in the short-term.
– Never rely on a company that does not specialize in photography to perform ANY photography-related prints and projects.
– Always be honest with your clients, even with complimentary gifts (especially if you made the initial offer). Your actions will always reveal your personality as a photographer, businessman/businesswoman, and a professional.
– Always try to offer something in return when asking for access to a private place or area for your photography that is typically not accessible to the public. People are usually willing to work with you if you can offer something to compensate their efforts in order to achieve your objective. The offer doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary, but make sure it’s something that’s worthwhile, or that you would accept if you were the one approached by another. Never be self-centered or unilateral with your intentions. Diplomacy can be effective.
– PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE.
– RECYCLE. RECYCLE. RECYCLE.
“Photographers, know thy printer, for the printer will forever portray your perspective to the world.”
– TIA International Photography
EDIT (December 18, 2013): Bugs let me know a few days ago that the picture was on display in the Baggage Claim chamber of the King Street Train Station. I went to visit and document my final achievement for my photography in Seattle for 2013. Here is yours truly, the photographer, posing with the most troublesome photo in my career in photography to date! (In case you were wondering, yes, I would do it all over again. Every second of achieving this photo was worth the time and toil the eight months before and five weeks after)!