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The Whole 9
Creative Photography Circle
Anthony Godoy is the creative director at Dead Serious MM, a Seattle boutique branding agency. He’s also a photographer and life-long writer whose work has appeared on The Whole 9 for a few years. Though his days are being infringed upon more and more by business development and management responsibilities (running a company and all), he still finds time to hit the design world hands on. He is also a skier, lover of music and gets around pretty fast in the social media circles. Follow him on Twitter, @deadseriousmm, and on Facebook at Dead Serious MM.
I am a frugal man. Today I will wash my shoes, San Fermin. And for that I ask for your forgiveness.
In John Turturro’s film Fading Gigolo, there’s a scene at 18:21 of a guy hosing down the sidewalk before turning the hose on a tree. It’s a moment that has nothing to do with the plot and involves no characters in the film, but I LMFAO. Only after seeing it five times did I read anything into it. The first four it was detached from context and story, meaningless, just flying by like a bee through a picnic, and it’s my second favorite moment in the film.
In many of my favorite films there are these moments, put there on purpose or not, that I can watch over and over that seem to have nothing to do with anything, but I laugh, or think or am affected in some way. They’re independent and ask nothing from me in the long run. These moments are often what make a movie a favorite.
There is a five-gallon bucket on the kitchen floor. I can see half of it from where I sit on the bed. In it is what I suspect to be the best pair of shoes I’ve ever had. Twenty minutes ago I scrubbed their sidewalls back to bright white. Now they are submerged in the bucket, and I’m reminded of a tortured soul who told me of a drowning raccoon. That was a story. The shoes aren’t putting up the kind of fight the raccoon did. But still, I put them there and I feel I’ve betrayed them somehow. Also a story.
I’m a little emotionally raw already, figuring out a potential new client. The new-to-us car broke down yesterday. My wife is coming back tonight from a business trip during which she celebrated her birthday (that I missed), and she’s still suffering from a nearly debilitating neck injury. I’ll have to tell her about the car.
And there are my shoes, underwater, quietly kicking for their lives.
Though I try to avoid walking under ladders, I’m not superstitious. I am however sentimental, and having just scrubbed off the sticky street goo I earned during this year’s San Fermin in Pamplona, I’m quickly nearing an agitated state.
I’m going to go make myself a cup of afternoon coffee to round out the pain. It’s the same reason I smoked in India.
Our first night in Pamplona, the first night of San Fermin, my friend Dave and I hit the ground drinking. Two-liter bottles of sangria were $3. I don’t remember what happened to Dave or getting back to the apartment, and I flew out of bed the next morning at 5:15 not knowing where I was or what was going on. As I get older, that gets stranger, perhaps even a little easier, though it’s still no picnic. At exactly 9:15 that morning things got rough, and right around two that afternoon I was completely out of my mind. I tried taking a nap.
When I laid down and closed my eyes, a silvery movie projected against the blackness of my eyelids. It was a lock-off shot of a European fountain, with random people, kids, dogs and birds passing through the frame. The camera pointed a few degrees too low, almost annoyingly. It had a frame rate of one every 3/4 second. And it appeared murky enough to not be able to make out details, kind of like a dream. Not only was it locked off (the camera doesn’t move), but I couldn’t look away from the center of the frame, leaving everything else in the periphery.
There was no plot. There was nothing special about any of the 3/4-second tiles. It was basic people watching, and they seemed to ignore the camera, the way they would ignore a man with his hand held out begging for coins. I opened and closed my eyes from time to time to see if the projection would return, and it did. I comfortably watched it for around 2 hours. It wasn’t a scene, really, and it wasn’t a collection of images. They were just context-free moments strung together over time.
Maybe I was hallucinating, so tired that the candy I’d eaten shortly before laying down (which I brought with me from SEATTLE) put me over the edge and my mind started projecting this scenario. I’ve hallucinated plenty in my time but never in this jerky frame rate, and never of something so pedestrian as people around a fountain. I watched calmly, wondering when a story was going to unfold, or when it would get visually interesting the way a good hallucination does. But it never did.
Later I told Dave, and he didn’t seem surprised. He boiled it down, reminding me that I’d spent weeks living through a camera, existing from click to click, stealing moments from unfolding scenarios. I’d been traveling in the heat, and I’d hardly slept in days. And being pickled in sangria, something was bound to happen.
Dave’s comments reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a college professor on the source of dreams. His theory was that a dream is simply leftover energy in the brain’s visual cortex. When we sleep, our brains purge excess energy by randomly firing. As I lay there too tired to sleep, my brain started dumping energy, and there it was, the raw material of a dream, unmolested by sleep.
Actually, there was nothing random about it. How many fountains had I stared at in the past couple weeks? How many people had passed in front of my camera and me? Kids? Dogs? Birds? All of it was relevant. But why the 3/4-sec frame rate? Why the annoying tilted angle and helpless stare? Why the silver tint (that I have seen in hallucinations)? Something made this. But what?
Going to Pamplona didn’t just spring up from nothing, like, I woke up one day barking “Bulls!” My wife had been planning a Europe trip for some time, part family business (she’s Romanian), and part return to the Loire Valley she’d fallen in love with on a previous trip with girlfriends. As she laid down the plan, I noticed we were to be between Paris and Madrid at the beginning of July.
When I think of the beginning of July, I don’t think of fireworks and charred hot dogs. I think of Italy, 2001, where I nearly died from something India gave me. Dave said, “Happy Fourth of July” from a nearby couch. A couple days later I read that San Fermin was jumping off, and the two became inextricably connected. Fourth of July to me means San Fermin. It means Pamplona.
I called Dave in April of this year, out of the blue saying, “Dave. Pamplona. July.” I heard him pause long enough to refer to his mental calendar before replying, “Yeah, sure,” but not in the “Yeah, right,” kind of way, but in the, “Yes, of course,” kind of way. He’s always calm. I suspect were he to go down in an airplane, and as those around him are losing their minds, he’ll calmly try placing one more order from SkyMall before impact, in case he survives.
I’d secured an apartment, and Pamplona wasn’t going anywhere. That was good enough for me, and apparently good enough for Dave. We connected in Paris on July 5th, during what was the hottest week Paris had seen in some 60 years. And the next day we flew to Pamplona.
Knowing my wife and I were to cover some ground, I made a specific decision to bring my camera and shoot everything I could. And it wasn’t a frivolous decision. She’d once implored me to leave my camera at home before taking off for Paris I think. She told me I’m working when I have a camera with me. It established that I am one thing when I have a camera, and that I am another when I do not.
With both eyes unencumbered, we see things in real time, and react accordingly. With my wife I’m a hormone-filled 7-year old, getting lost, bugging her with incessant questions and roaming hands, and I’m always hungry. “What’s that?” “Can we go there?” “Can we eat here?” “But why not?” But put a camera in my fingers, and I’m just a hormone-filled shell of a man, wandering off, and moving unpredictably like a dog following its nose. If I act differently because of the camera, I must also think differently.
The difference is the camera. I’m curious and playful without it, and with it, well, I don’t know. What am I? It feels seamless, but it’s looking like it really isn’t. And if my behavior changes, what else changes? Does my brain go into some different mode when I have that camera in my hands?
During the 3-week trip between Spain, Romania and France, I shot maybe 10,000 images, or moments. Much of it is vacation stuff with the Anthony photographic spin, pictures designed to highlight our trip to friends and family. The rest was what may come. At each day’s end, I’d scrub through hundreds of images, process some and then post most to my Tumblr page. I posted maybe 230 over the course of the trip. That’s roughly a 40:1 ratio of available shots to those I deemed fit to post. Looking at that ratio seems weird, right? An experienced monkey could shoot 40:1.
Of those posted shots, I’ve printed only a single image. That’s 230:1. I Googled what else might have a ratio of 230:1. The first thing that came up is the Texas Rangers’ odds of winning the 2015 American League Pennant, 230:1, calculated in late April, 2015.
Odds show something. Of the 230 images I posted, one is fit to print. But what does that mean? Well, fifteen years ago I was showing images and video I’d shot in India and Asia, and tried to get people involved in the story. Nobody cared. Nobody I knew, anyway. As time went on and the glut of online imagery grew exponentially, I got the feeling people cared less and less about any story at all, and fed off of the interactivity of clicking through hundred’s of images in as little time as an internet connection would allow. 230:1 has something to do with incentive. Why would I print what nobody cares about, not even me?
Today when I shoot, I don’t care about any story, unless I’m shooting with a predetermined story to tell, and when I do that, I have full control of the subject, and all the time in the world to stage the shot. That’s my branding work.
As I vagabond around shooting moments, I’m not looking to tell any story, but to just capture an interesting image someone somewhere will spend perhaps a full second tickling some newly evolved cerebral pleasure center with.
I suspect a good rambling photographer can hit a better ratio of free-flow shooting. 50:1 maybe. But then how many overall shots? 10,000 over 3 weeks? 50,000 over 5 days? My recent trip looks like this, 10,000:230:1. Does that mean that my chances of taking a printable shot are 230:1? Or 10,000:1? Really? 10,000:1?
What that means is a sick feeling in my stomach that I’ve wasted something – time, money, opportunity, I don’t know. But imagine numbers that look more like this, 500:250:100. Of 500 shots, half are postable, and over a third of those postable are printable. Is that even possible? 5:1? How good of a shooter do you have to be to hit that number?
And that one single shot sitting in my office, a 20×20 inch print, I can’t even bring myself to take to the framer. Something else is at work here. Something terrible.
Madrid’s airport is big. Not only are its runways spread out over the foreseeable future, but the terminal we were in has a really high ceiling, and I swear it’s a mile long. Dave and I were grinding down bocadillos when I saw a guy in the distance wearing distinctive red and white. As he drew nearer, I whispered to Dave, “I bet he’s running.” It seemed like the guy heard me, and in Terminator fashion, with a concrete expression, sunglasses and all, he stopped and turned his head towered me before continuing on.
His name was Erik, a professor from Florida, I think he said, and he was headed to Pamplona for his fourth San Fermin trip. He looked dressed for a friendly game of tackle football, only serious, like the one guy on the field you’d want to avoid. He asked if we could split a cab when we landed, and then gave us the Cliff notes on what to expect in Pamplona.
His first piece of advice was to not just show up, get hammered and run with the bulls. He said the vast majority of people who get hurt are those who do exactly that. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have seen the sense in that. It’s almost cheating. Now pushing 50, right. Scope it out first, then maybe. But probably not. But maybe. Next year.
His next piece of advice was that if you do run, stay on the inside of corners, and avoid what I thought he called “suelos,” though I don’t think that’s exactly the word he said. Bulls that run in a pack have a pack mentality, and freaked-out individuals running in front of them are not a priority. But for the bulls that find themselves separated from the pack, things become points of interest, and bulls will take a different tack, which likely include actions against individuals.
He said something about not wearing a backpack when you run, mentioning that the last guy to die there was a traveling student who showed up and ran with his pack on. I did see later what getting snagged looked like. I’m surprised the handkerchief round the neck is still so popular.
He said a drink doesn’t hurt, but being hammered and sleepless can count against you. How can it not? I mean there’s a lot to be said for the rush of adrenaline one experiences when faced with danger. But even then, a lot of people get that rush when running from something terrible, and would have made it were it not for being faded. I did see a few examples of extreme focus. In the image below, you can see the panic moving one way, and the one guy standing his ground. Man crush.
He mentioned a couple of bars and cafes where we’d be sure to find an American contingent. By the time we arrived in the old city where our apartment was, we knew a thing or two about the Running. We never saw Erik again.
Assignment photographers will often have an angle to shoot, or some premise to support through images. If they don’t get it before leaving for a destination, it will present itself soon enough upon arrival. You’re lucky if it’s an honest angle, say, Death In Gaza. You’re screwed if it’s dishonest, like, The Real Kardashian. Those are largely editorial shooters.
I’ve done editorial work in the past, and will do it again I’m sure. But honestly I’m mostly a hobby shooter, and really not even that. I’m a hobby shooter without a shtick – I don’t do flowers like my wife’s father did, or birds like my electrician. I shoot what Dave’s mother once described as, “Promiscuously.” I may have reoccurring themes, such as the hero shot, or the extending foreground shot, or the multiselfie. If there’s anything across the board to identify my stuff, it’s the high contrast I add in post and my incredulous use of vignetting.
What I shoot are random moments. They’re not stories because nobody cares. They’re not scenes because those are snippets from a story. It’s a moment that has horizontal and vertical thirds, if I’m lucky subjects have their eyes open, or not, it’s in focus, isn’t over or under exposed, and it’s shot within 1000 Kelven of the actual light. Shooting for print work as I do, I also try to lean toward text-friendly negative space.
Landing in Pamplona I had no agenda. And every foot I walked further into San Fermin stripped me of what I thought I knew. I was a Rumsfeld joke who didn’t know what he didn’t know he didn’t know. I recognized little from when I was there last. Dave was doing just fine navigating us around with his phone, which freed me up to go in to – what Dave would explain to me later – my Nothing Box.
I have a couple of images posted from that first night, but going through the RAW files, I’m looking at absolute shuttershit. Dave I think tried coming to my defense telling me he had my camera for a while. But I can tell the shots he took because I’m in them. That first day and up till my subnap the next, I don’t know what the hell I was doing. I can’t blame the sangria, because some of the best shots I’ve ever taken I don’t remember taking at all.
Having been shooting in Madrid and Paris I’d grown used to radically changing light conditions, between shadows and different color temperatures reflecting off stone streets and buildings. Were the cities of Europe to adopt a color, it would be a Crayon called 2,000K. But those first night’s RAW files are completely out of control, saturated in Pumpkin K, blurry, boring, and worse.
Maybe I was tired. Maybe I didn’t care to such a degree that I rebelled against that camera, and though letting it fire away, I crippled it, sabotaged it again and again so as not to be responsible for capturing something I didn’t understand. Looking at the RAW files the moments are suddenly images dripping in passive aggressive torpedoing hate. This was writer’s block with a camera.
Up to that point I’d been on vacation, shooting my wife and playing grab ass and wandering around. Now here without her I was just some idiot with an expensive toy maybe I shouldn’t have been carrying around. I was having such a great time with Dave who I get to see maybe once a year that I just went off the rails.
I don’t think moments appreciate being sabotaged. And now I have a few hundred Pamplona moments saying, “Hey, what about us?” 200:9,800. I have many more saying, “Hey, what’s up with this white balance?” 3,000:7,000. There’s the, “Are you even watching the ISO?” crowd. 4,000:6,000. Awesome, a whole, “What the hell are you even looking at?” crowd. 8,700:230. And in the din, I have pretty much all of them screaming, “What the hell is so special about that guy?!” 9,999:1.
Pushed up against mob rule I want to yell back, “Because he has a goddam story!!!”
He has a goddam story. That picture has something to say, and I don’t know how to handle it.
Last week I was having drinks with a guy, an architect. I don’t remember what prompted it, but he said something to the effect that up to a certain year, he hated his own work. I knew what he was talking about. For years I had a lot of my travel stuff up on the walls, and I grew to hate it. My wife has a few shots scattered around the house in unnoticeable corners, but 90% of it is in big envelopes that could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn’t care. The architect? Whatever he doesn’t like is all over Seattle, screaming at him as he drives by. I suppose they exchange “screw you’s” as they pass.
On the one hand, he had bad relationships with projects he’d done for clients. On the other hand, I don’t really get along with moments I shoot when left to my own devices. I love the work I do for clients far more then anything I do on my own. That’s bothered me.
But this image came jumping out of my camera, at first catching my attention because of its technical success, but growing more and more into a story every time I look at it, and I’m fighting it. I may cut back on the vignetting. I may monkey a bit more with the contrast. But it’s speaking to me. And it’s going to go up on a wall.
I wish I knew who shot it, me, or the guy with the camera.
I’m not good enough at golf to complain about my game.
- someone on a golf course
Good and evil are subjective things, immeasurable in karats. One man’s sin is another’s good deed. The world is built on this and at no point in time more so than today. What matters is the motivation of opinion. We like or dislike something immediately, but our first thoughts are often shrouded in the fog of motivating circumstances. Thus, to creatives, we aren’t just playing to the tastes of our audiences, but also to their priorities.
BMW has a reputation for unveiling new designs that are at first despised, and then loved. I hated the X3 when I first saw it, and that was after months of anticipating its release. I stewed, complained, cried and moaned to anyone who’d listen, and especially to those who would not. In fact I hated the X3 so much that in 2005 my wife and I bought one, and we both hate it immensely to this day.
It was during my shift from dislike to love that I learned I wasn’t alone in my radical swing of opinion toward this BMW design. But chances are that I liked the X3 from the moment I saw it, and the questions should really be, what motivated me to opine in one direction over another, and at what point did I get over myself?
Clients of mine build homes in Seattle. Playhouse are modernists, and if you know what modern homes are looking like these days, you’ll understand it’s pretty amazing to see a modern home go up in an established neighborhood. It’s an attention grabbing contrast of design, light, and materials.
And they don’t just build, they speculate, meaning they buy land, design, build and then sell. From beginning to end there’s no guarantee of a return. And starting in 2008 that was risky business on the cusp of a crash that prompted troves of Realtors, contractors, investors and designers to blow the dust from their resumes and look for work elsewhere.
Playhouse understood that urban decay doesn’t stop for recessions, and that if Seattle were to come out of the recession in any fighting form, it would have to do so with momentum. They identified what was going to be in demand, who was qualified to build it and with what materials that were readily available to maintain what level of green standards, and on what land, and to what demographic, and from where the investment money was to come. Then they ventured ahead like firefighters into the blaze, and saved many from ruin.
At any point in the last five years their designs have flown from the shelves so fast that it’s been routine for the marketing materials Dead Serious created to arrive hours after offers had been made and hands had been shaken. And you don’t avoid knowing a thing or two about what you’re doing when you’re spec building. The process of building a design isn’t all fancy sketches, neck scarves and zinfandel. It’s a bitch. And doing it well is even harder. So if you’re doing it well, you’re doing it right.
I’d seen drawings of Square Peg some time ago. I deal with most of the projects at various stages from rumor to sale. I also photographed the home next door to the lot Square Peg was to be built on, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. It’s in a tucked-away hillside neighborhood wedged between Capital Hill and swank Madison Valley, not far from the UofW. It’s full of trees, abuts an arboretum, and contains a mix of architectural styles ranging from gorgeous Craftsmens, to brick classics, to Tudors, to an occasional ailing 50’s stucco. Sort of like the rings of a tree, it’s reflective of Seattle’s eclectic design past. The outstanding homes make you want to cry they’re so beautiful to look at, while the ones longer in the tooth make you think, ‘Well, I’ll bet someone nice lives there.’
Square Peg was just framed and I think paneled when this remark appeared on Playhouse’s Facebook page.
Really disappointed with the construction at 2518 East Lee Street. It is a monstrosity and an eyesore. Let’s hope you paint it a color that helps it blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.
I read and reread it, and imagined hearing it in different tones of voice, and accents, male and female, anything to soften the screaming resentment with which it was written. But there was no way around it, it was motivated by rage. Then I read my client’s reply.
You are disappointed, but I am thrilled that finally someone in Seattle is willing to commit to the permanent record their intolerance towards diversity. . . Maybe you should burn a cross in the yard. That’s what some people do when they don’t like their new neighbor.
I couldn’t have written it better myself. A tantrum begets a scolding.
Having a few years experience as an opinion editor and dealing directly with citizens on hot topics when the fur flies, my mind played out a few possible scenarios of how this might go. Being more concerned with their brand strategy, I was interested in the long game, not just this one design or this one pissed-off chick. I caught up with my client and mentioned to him that the next step is very important, as it will direct how this plays out.
“Be the other shoe to drop,” I said. He balked, and the worst happened.
At the time that I was mad at BMW for the X3, I couldn’t even afford to think about buying a new car. I had done well enough immigrating into my little second-hand BMW 2-door hatchback. I’d married lucky but drove around like I was doing BMW a favor by driving their car. I know, right? What a dick.
I’d once worked with an animator whose concept car sketches I’d seen, but other than that I was as qualified in auto design as I was in heart surgery, or in the finer points of making a good Chinese cheese. But to hear me yammer on about the horrible X3 design, you’d think I’d invented the wheel. And gasoline. I never went so far as to quote my associate’s take on the X3’s design, because that would have just made me out to be a butthole. “My friend designs cars, and he says . . .” But I’m sure I wanted to.
Truth of the matter is that the car wasn’t what I’d envisioned, and I, the BMW owner and newest member of the nouveau riche, felt entitled to rage against the machine that had slighted me. I was motivated by spite. I deserved to be heard, not just recognized, but known, and to be placated in some way, propped up and gently burped. I wanted BMW to apologize to me directly and immediately rebuild the X3 because I deserved it. I was entitled.
Well, anger being the brief madness that it is, I saw through my tantrum, as I’m sure did others, and I realized that the X3 was exactly what I needed. And so I bought it. (Don’t get me started on the X1, but OMG have you seen the X4?)
Seattle’s a hotbed for nativism.
“You aren’t from here, are you!” I remember hearing that once from a small man in a bright mango-colored rain jacket. He’d lost his place near the front of the stage as the crowd filled in to some event. He looked like Cisco. I saw rage in his face as he clinched his fists and lowered himself into a slight squat. His accusation rang out like a bear cub’s startled bark fully expecting mama bear to rush from the trees to his defense. He was swallowed by the crowd as he stood whimpering.
There’s no uncertain amount of resonant hate toward out-of-staters who’d brought their liquidation monies to the Pacific Northwest and started raising both property values and the design bar. I suppose it’s the case anywhere this happens, but Seattle took it exceptionally hard. (see CALIFORNIANS) Now there is a reflex toward most development that feels a lot like “You’re not from here!“ I don’t always disagree with it. But even when I staunchly agree it reminds me of that little martyr guy appealing to the mob for some survival-of-the-fittest pass. Had I taken him out at the knees, he may have garnered such support and sympathy from the crowd. I may have even apologized to him. But it was just a crowd at a show. It be’s like that sometimes, as my father says.
I’m sure it must have somewhat stunned Seattle to watch Bellevue and Redmond explode the way they did as Microsoft grew like weeds. And as the Amazons and the Vulcans and the Group Healths explode in Seattle today, city leaders are fully aware Seattle doesn’t have the runaway land Redmond enjoyed. I don’t want to give away the ending, but companies require people, people require homes, and cities don’t become leading economies through the preservation of stagnation.
What’s at stake? Mayor Mike McGinn was recently seen at Zillow’s headquarters touting Startup. He called it, “an initiative to support the growth of the Seattle technology-startup community and establish Seattle as an internationally recognized home for emerging technology companies.” I read this in the Weekly, I think.
Enter Peter Steinbrueck, mayoral candidate and son of Seattle hero architect professor savior-of-Pike-Place-Market Victor Steinbrueck. It’s fitting that Peter is the only Seattle native in the field of potential mayors, as well as something of a Robin Hood in the eyes of natives not-so-fond of an evolving high density urban Seattle.
“You’re not from here, are you!?” might read his campaign slogan, with a picture of him in a slight squat with clinched fists. He may have a plan to steer the city’s growth in sustainable directions, I don’t know. I hope somebody does, because it is a problem. But believe that the issue is how best to facilitate growth, not how to stop it.
Last week I noticed that the Facebook attack had gone on, and it went in the direction I had seen coming: Mob South. It had turned into a klatch of hysterical entitlement and expectation, motivated by fear and intolerance, which became clearer the longer I watched from behind the wheel of my little second hand BMW. There were cries of lost views, accusations of non talent, indictments of greed, and finally some smart ass chiming in with, “who handles your PR? Have you got an intern at the helm?” Little did that person know he or she’d been slapped back by the main dude, who, in the end, realized he was dealing with non issues and closed the door. And it was a shame, because the people involved with Playhouse open a lot of doors to a lot of people.
I also realized that in the minds of these people was a collective vision of a smallish man in khakis and a tie hiding behind a desk somewhere, someone easily bullied. But most of all they seemed to imagine someone who owed them something. One woman wrote that what my client should have said was, ‘I’m sorry you are unhappy.. we strive to build beautiful modern houses…’” and further pedestrian and apologetic language you might expect to see in a recall press release for tainted meat, or cars with faulty breaks. I wondered what this woman knew less about, architectural design, business or people.
Catching up again with my client, I mentioned the fray, not in an “I told you so” way, but in a “you know what’s up, right?” sort of way. He was on the go and said something about the time. As he walked out the door, he looked over his shoulder and paused quickly. He had a wince on his face. Then he was gone.
I’ve known him a while, and that look said a few things. It said, ‘This isn’t even about design.’ It said, ‘That home is going to sell and the people who are going to live in it are going to love it.’ And it said, ‘Really?’
I drove to the project to see for myself what was going on. I went there expecting, maybe even hoping to see someone’s view being blocked, or fence being bent over, or a river full of half empty paint cans and fish floating belly up and crying children at its muddy shores – something to justify the tears. I walked around the project, photographed it, walked the block up and down trying to find some fault in its place in the neighborhood. Nothing. It fits.
It wouldn’t be the first time I stopped in my tracks and called someone at Playhouse to congratulate him or her on a job well done. (Remember they once named a project in my honor – The Bane Of A. Godoy, due to my reoccurring reprehension to specific elements of modern design, mainly butterfly roofs. In the end I called to congratulate them on the project and how it actually fit my street. The home was quickly bought by a creative director at a large ad agency, and his partner.) As I stood in the ally which runs along side Square Peg, a car with two people sidled up beside me. We spoke briefly on the issue.
“They’re all assholes!” the car’s passenger said. “A family’s going to move into that house and the lights are going to go on and everybody’s going to love it, and they aren’t going to hate that house and they aren’t going to hate that family!” And they drove off. The driver, coincidentally, was an architect who had no opinion on the matter.
The most recent Facebook comment, dated May 12th, goes like this:
I implore you to reconsider the colors for this house . . .
If you’re looking for an appropriate voice, that’s actually Darth Sidious, and not Scarlett O’Hara. I tried both. “Implore” isn’t a request here, but a threat dramatically growled out with a drooling British accent. It’s again motivated by some sort of entitlement complete with clinched fists and red face, and not simply from a squatted position, but lying down and spinning Chuck Berry circles on hot asphalt sprinkled with shards of glass. Think Pris’s demise.
I agree: Someone is going to move into Square Peg, and they are going to love it. The plants will grow in and the lights will go on and a family is going establish itself and there will be no cross burning in that yard. Someday they will move out and another will move in and so on until someday when Square Peg is being torn down, others will protest, imploring the wrecking crew Square Peg’s value to the neighborhood and how its replacement will be a monstrosity and an eyesore. And one man’s good deed will again be an evil to those entitled to the way things aught to be.
“Take the number of vehicles in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X…”
Everything I needed to know about advertising I learned from comparing the sexy misadventures portrayed in beer commercials, to my alcoholic mother. I’ll spare you the details, but clearly, advertising lies.
Amidst a sea of consumer options, and an evermore-suspicious consumer, it is Ad Man’s task to either portray a client’s product as better than its competitors’, or to invent expectations of a better consumer experience or outcome. Over the years advertising has simply abandoned the qualities of the product for the imagined optimum consumer experience that “may” result from a consumer’s purchase of or participation in a product or event.
It’s Fantasy. Remember J-Lo in that Fiat? That was horrifying.
The result is the consumer’s ability to stare at McDonald’s commercials and the ensuing inability to see the obesity, to watch soccer mom SUV commercials and not see the oil wars. And side effects are just punch lines in drug commercials pushing affliction and self-diagnosis.
Consumers don’t truly understand the product, but buy it anyway.
When neither product or experience can separate one from another in a pool of related consumer goods, like say, ventilation duct cleaners, then it becomes a matter of price, a battle that wages nicely on AmazonLocal, Groupon, and other deepening online coupon arenas. The word “coupon” itself doesn’t mean “advantage,” or “quality.” Coupon means to consumers “cheap,” and to businesses, “bait.”
My wife’s attention was drawn to AmazonLocal’s coupon, sold by Green Heat Service, that read, “$49 Air Duct Cleaning and Inspection.” The experience and the product painted their own pictures – a clean-cut engineer-type man with blue eyes and a yellow hard hat who arrives in a nice new van with high-tech machinery to clear your dirty ducts of allergens. This image is reinforced by Green Heat’s website, chock full of stock photography depicting clean living and even cleaner people. The authenticity is provided by Amazon.
But that’s when the coupon game gets ugly.
Today my wife texted me that Green Heat’s people had arrived markedly early, and she was surprised at the speed with which two men stripped our ducts of their vent covers and filled the living room with industrial-looking equipment. I ran home. Entering the house I saw a dingy immigrant scurrying about looking nervous as he sucked dust with a Sear’s shop vac from a vent as far as his arm could reach. I could tell that the last thing either of the men wanted was to see me walking through the door and assessing anything. And it didn’t take long for the other shoe to drop. There was my wife, on the phone, angry with someone.
“It doesn’t say anywhere on the coupon anything about the difference between supply and return ducts . . .”
I recognized the music before even hearing it clearly. My wife had been duped by a misleading promise, and Green Heat Service was trying to either cash in on it, or wiggle out of it, saying now that they only vacuum “supply ducts,” and not “return ducts,” where the dirt really lives. That was an extra $300.
English isn’t my wife’s first language, so I can tell when she’s being lead around in a scheme by someone on the phone, which was clearly happening here. I held out my hand, and she gave me the phone. I listened as a woman rambled with a clearly defensive tone. She was even cross. Mean, actually.
“Stop,” I said. And she paused before barking out an indignant, “Who’s this?” as if she’d caught me in bed with her pimp.
“This is Mister Godoy, who am I speaking with?” I asked. I was surprised at her attitude and her response, something between inmate and ex convict. All I wanted was her name, which she wouldn’t give. She yelled out that our service was over, and she’d be pulling her workers immediately, and hung up. I envisioned a woman slamming the receiver on a payphone in a Seattle police station drunk tank.
The on-site manager seemed nice enough, and I could tell that he deals with this from time to time. His phone rang immediately, and it was in fact the same woman telling him to pack it up, they’d been fingered.
I listened to him for a bit as he offered me some smiling explanation while packing up his things. Like most foreigners he spoke with his hands, and he motioned around the house to ducts and vent covers. He smiled in that way.
I held up a hand and said, “Look, we’re both in advertising. She’s into the numbers, and I’m into the psychology, and it’s clear what happened here,” I said. He relaxed, and smiled wider. “The coupon offers some low price to clean our ducts, and people bite thinking ‘what a deal.’ You guys arrive, quickly rip the house apart so that if we want all the ducts clean, as we assume we’re already entitled to, we have to pay what you’ve already calculated is a likely surrender price.” In this case, over $300. He smiled and cocked his head to the side with his hand held out toward where I don’t know. The conversation turned to skiing.
This was a common instance where a lure is put our there, a clear vague promise underscored with grayish fine print that may or may not explain the details, because it isn’t important. What’s important is to get the product or service provider’s foot in the door, where the negotiating begins. Coupon = Bait. Once work is started, most consumers will fork over the cash needed to fulfill the basic expectation out of frustration, and that’s how money is made in a war where the only service and experience ever offered was actually imagined. It is the bait and switch.
When he was gone I turned to explain it to my wife, and to point out in the fine print what I suspected would be somewhat clear language. I started with the AmazonLocal email.
“Good news, Lia! Your AmazonLocal order is confirmed.” Notice the language, not that anyone is grateful for our business, but that we are somehow fortunate to have either been personally accepted into some fraternity, or lucky that their technology worked. Either way, some sort of onus is now upon us, and AmazonLocal and or Green Heat is owed some type of return.
And what are we so fortunate for?
“Air-Duct Cleaning and Furnace Inspection.”
I clicked the link, and carefully read the fine print.
Fine print 1: $49 ($369 value) for air-duct cleaning and furnace inspection.
There is the service, and a restatement of the offer designed to further ingrain our expectations and to strengthen our resolve to achieve them – the cleaning of the air ducts and an inspection of the furnace. And apparently our AmazonLocal $49 is getting us $369 worth of services, while the same $49 on Groupon from the same Green Heat gets you only $299 worth of services. Maybe that’s the good news?
Fine print 2: Enhance air quality
There is the consumer experience and the payoff, the young fit-looking models dancing around on a beach enjoying the advertised beer.
Fine print 3: All supply vents vacuumed using state-of-the-art HVAC equipment.
And there’s the sly introduction of the rub, “supply.” Apparently there are also “return” ducts, not mentioned anywhere in the fine print, which suck dirty air from the house and into the furnace, before newly warmed and filtered air moves into the “supply” ducts. It’s a single word, and a technical one, really, which will mean nothing to any consumer browsing coupons or excitedly taking the afternoon off of work to be home for the service. But it means everything to the opportunist in its releasing both Green Heat and AmazonLocal from any culpability in false or misleading advertising were two or more litigants to ever sit at the same table together.
My wife didn’t grow up with beer commercials or the constant carrot of a better life upon the spending of cash or the deepening of credit card debt. She grew up in bread lines, and so I forgive her for not really playing the game properly.
Remember the film Fight Club? If you do, and you’ve read this far, you know exactly where I’m going with it. But let’s review. . .
“Take the number of vehicles in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X…”
What we have here is the number of people who pay for a coupon (A), times the number of people who simply pay the surrender price (B), divided by the number of people who raise hell when they recognize the scam (C) . . . and, well, you get it. Apparently enough people pay the ransom after they’ve realized they’ve been suckered by a business, and the ruse continues with AmazonLocal’s blessing and backing.
I don’t really create advertising. It seems so desperate. I brand. I dress the date, I don’t scribe cocktail innuendo and double entendre to make the big dinner easier to pay for in anticipation of an unlikely away-couch inside-the-park home run. My job isn’t to convince consumers to spend, but to make businesses feel good in their own skin.
Maybe I should create a coupon for my business? “I’ll brand you for $49!” Then I’ll tell people when they come to my office that it doesn’t include a logo, or language, or website, or photography, or anything really, just the expectations of owning a great-looking company.
How I ended up with the 8-Tracks to both the Star Wars and Rocky soundtracks, Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon I don’t remember. I was 7. But that’s what I listened to, repeatedly, as 8-Tracks never end. That music to me is eternal.
I do remember in 7th grade a kid named Randy introducing me to AC/DC and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I don’t remember who started my Scorpions or Whodini phases. Kamya introduced me to YAZ, and Chris to Joe Jackson. Skipping ahead it was a bunch of Brits in Thailand introducing me to Ben Harper, and a guy named Shawn here in Seattle to The Long Winters.
My uptake to music was long and winding, and dependent on people to introduce me to sounds I’d be integrating into my life. Sure I’ve always listened to the radio, but what are you hearing besides a handful of songs repeated over and over. (I noticed during my last trip to LA that Angelino’s get a much wider range of music from LA radio stations than we Puddles do from Seattle stations. I think each Seattle station is issued only 5 songs to rotate through at any given time.)
Even then I considered myself to know a thing or two about music, until now.
Manchester Orchestra. By chance I was leafing through Spotify on my birthday in April when I came across a song called April Fool. I clicked on it and was stunned. It was awesome. I clicked on more Manchester songs and felt I’d just found the God Particle. I started spreading the word and to this day nobody I know’s heard of them. But I dug a bit and saw they’ve been around since 2004, and released their first CD in 2007.
Where the hell was I?
Elbow. Again, I’m digging around Spotify and bang, “Wow.” And then, “1998? What the hell was I doing?”
While surfing through pop art images today I saw the word “Maintentart.” I was simply attracted to the word like a pair of legs in a restaurant. I surfed around and found some review on a CD of that name. Spotify had nothing on it. The band is Gigi, so I poked around for it. Before long I had a dozen windows open in my browser. During my search I came across the name Colin Stewart. He was somehow involved in Gigi. I clicked around his site, and then continued on my search for more info on the word Maintentant. It ends up meaning “NOW” in French. It’s a good looking word.
My ADD kicked in, and at some point I just went back to work designing something. Time went by and I realized I was hearing some pretty incredible music. I clicked over to Spotify to see what it was and how I’d gotten there, and I was confused. It wasn’t coming from Spotify. With all the browser windows open I had to surf around to find which one was piping music. It was from Colin Stewart’s site, and the stuff was fantastic.
He’s is a producer/engineer in Vancouver, and co-founder of The Hive, a music production house, also in Vancouver. On his website is a playlist that I’d clicked on and then forgotten about, and from it came a gang of magic. I started cross referencing the band names on Spotify and many weren’t coming up. No Time To Kill. No Red Cedar. No Sun Wizard. No Gigi. No Rolla Olak. No Gold And Youth. No Veda Hille. No Vincat.
I’m sure you’ve heard of The Cave Singers. Colin’s worked with them. Other bands are on Spotify, but I’ve never heard of them. Kathryn Calder. Dan Mangan. The British Columbians. Black Mountain and others. But now I’m glad I have.
It was like stumbling across an unknown box at a garage sale and finding treasure. And now I’m blasting it to you. So go to Colin Stewart’s site, and let his playlist run. Enjoy.
Now, in return, post here some great bands you’re listening to, and spread the love.
“Maybe you shouldn’t design it that way next time.”
– Little Shit Who Works At My Ex Printer
Recently, turning-point comments made by people in my life are happening in slow motion – break ups, diagnoses, complements. Things become clearer, colors more saturated and I hear everything perfectly despite being half deaf. Weird, right?
A month or so ago I was at my printer. My ex printer. They’d gaffed a job and I said of course, “Run it again.” I wasn’t rude.
As soon as the little guy behind the counter faced me and prepared to speak I just knew he was going to say the wrong thing. He slipped into a high frame rate and had a strange almost wild smirk on his face. His eyes blinked slowly, and he said it.
On a full-bleed tri-fold brochure they’d missed the fold and it didn’t line up correctly. The little guy mentioned something about bindery being busy, or a machine not being available, or the weight of the card stock being difficult to work with. I wasn’t angry, as I was just happy they’d fit the job in on a really tight deadline. I’m the understanding type. I’d gladly wait for them to run it again, and without complaint, and in the end I did.
“Maybe you shouldn’t design it that way next time.”
As he said it I felt a little part of me collapse under the weight of disappointment. Absent was the urge to grab the little shit by his little sweater and shake his little ass around, which I would have done without any personal judgments. Instead I went straight to disappointment, a place in me reserved for the Seahawks, M. Night Shymalan, and my lawnmower. And that’s a very personal place for me.
I didn’t say anything. I gave him a parting look that said, “This is the end, you know that, right?” and I walked out the door. It was like breaking up with a really hot girl who can cook and holds down a six-figure 9 to 5. But it had to be done. Never second guess my folds. Never ignore my hash marks. And never pop off with some smart ass remark to cover up your mistake. Believe that.
Getting into my car I had a sick feeling in my gut. I didn’t care that he’d gotten defensive. I didn’t care that I’d be returning to my client without the brochure. I didn’t even care that I’d wasted a half hour of my afternoon. Instead, I was bent because for the first time in years I was without the go-to relationship that I’d relied on to make me look good. That printer had covered me from wall-sized half-inch matte-finished board mounts, to semi-gloss canvass prints, to 100lb cover stock presentation folders and more. On time and with little notice. It had been a good run.
It was time to hit the bricks looking for a new printer, and it was as disastrous as looking for a good martini at an AA meeting. Morons, I tell you. The world is made from processed morons – corn syrup, high calorie, low nutrition, carcinogenic morons.
To make a long story short, I’ve been dating one I’m pretty happy with. Girly Press here in Seattle. I feel I have to give them a shout out because they’ve been so good. Without jinxing it. . . well, without jinxing it, I remain.
Soma FM asked their Facebook fans to help them name 6 more servers. The theme of their already 31 servers? Colors. People started throwing color names out there and a brief scan of comments ran the usual course. Copper. Crimson. Mustard. Ivory.
What first popped in to my head was “blood.” Maybe it was because of the mood I was in – driving my car fresh from the mechanic, which was partially fixed, fully violated and smelling of some serious solvents. Then “Ink.” I wrote both of them down in the comment window.
“Taxi.” That’s yellow. I looked at “Ink” again and assumed people would understand I meant “black” ink. Black ink spilled all over something important, like a white shirt just before a meeting, or a peace accord between two warring countries just before it was meant to be signed. Again, my frame of mind.
“Sky.” There’s something to lift spirits. In Seattle. So, yeah, grey. Then “leaf” in honor of the tree I could see through my still broken sunroof. Then “lie.” Of course I meant white. The smell inside my car was so strong it reminded me of the time I had to iron hundreds of fresh new one-dollar bills, and how it stunk. “Money,” I wrote, and added (US) to make sure I’m clear about the greedy green we all know, and not that funny French stuff.
I saw a women recently with a hickie that ran from the base of her neck to her shoulder. It was a pretty purple-brown-rust color that it’s creator had to have been extremely proud of. So I wrote, “bruise.”
“Nut” because I was hungry and thinking of food and that’s what came to mind. Then “iron,” in honor of the color of something blunt and absolute. “Gun,” which shouldn’t be read into too far. I was more curious as to how many people would think “blue,” and how many would think, “I don’t get it.”
“And finally,” I wrote, “jaundice.” The Soma folks had said they wanted short words, but I saw someone else had gone off reservation with “murasaki,” another with “R:102 G:000 B:151,” which I thought was very creative (and which translates exactly into “I love you. You love me”), and still another with “champagne.” I was in good company.
Colors aren’t colors, their moods. Dead’s art director (the newly acquired Stacy Hsu – genius) was working on some designs today and I was out of touch with the colors because I was out of mood. I knew enough not to comment on her choices being temporarily unqualified to do so. So I went about counting beans and pacing the office in today’s unsettled way.
Funny how I saw Soma’s post about colors.
So here’s what I want you to do, my trusting readers: come up with 6 words that evoke colors to fit your mood. Make the words as short as you can, all but the last, of course.
A phone text exchange. April 15, 2012.
Me: “Hey, why you never design a Jacuzzi or small pool in a house?”
Quinn: “As far as water features . . . “The Bane of A. Godoy’s” sequel, named “Anthony’s Artery,” in honor of your love of meats and cheeses, has a bidet.”
Quinn is my favorite client. His team are my favorite people. Together with his team, they design some of the most cutting edge residential structures in Seattle. He’s not my favorite client because his work is legit, or because he pays quickly, or because he has a silver tooth with a cross on it right in the front row of his grill. He’s my favorite because he free flows creativity at all times. He speaks and behaves instinctively. And he’s freakishly wise.
Twenty years ago I would not have cottoned to him so well. I would have hated him, actually, always being rubbed the wrong way by the feeling that he’s more creative than I am, threatened by his confidence and infringed upon by whatever hang ups I may have been harboring, which were many I’m sure. But a couple realizations have taught me a few things:
Realization #1: I am a creative director, which means it’s my responsibility to look for creativity wherever it may hide, recognize its potential, and direct where it goes. Sure, sometimes the perfect creative idea comes from me. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Realization #2: I am not the most creative person.
I once finished a book, put it down, and then became angry because it was written so well. I felt as if my chances of ever writing something good had somehow been diminished, as though that particular writer had taken my place in some unseen line. Crazy, right? But still, I was bitter for weeks over it. That was pure unadulterated ego.
Now I understand that a client, though not in a creative media role, may actually be even more creative than someone who’s creative for a living. Not every creative person works in the field. Is Quinn more creative than me? I think so, and I’m fine with that. Remember, my job is to direct creativity for business purposes, not just be creative.
Realization #3: It’s okay to incorporate creative from non-industry types, even the clients you’re creating for. (And sometimes it isn’t.)
Quinn names his projects, Redemption, Meat Fly and One Long Prayer as examples, and how he comes to these names is always interesting. He named a modern house he built on my street after me (The Bane Of A. Godoy), in honor of my disdain of modern houses being built on my street. It was funny, but more than that it was complex. Sure Quinn’s good for a laugh, but it goes further than that. Because of how his creativeness drives his view of the world, the potential in everything he says is so much more than usual. Of course I put up a fuss from time to time about an idea just for good measure. Occasionally I even win. But I try to maintain the integrity of his instinctual idea. In fact he has a saying, “First thought, best thought.” He’s right.
Are all clients creative? Well, in some way I suppose. When they’re not they usually know it and let me do what I do. That’s why they come to me. Others struggle and can get lost in the process. That’s when a client may not be a good fit, and I liken it to this – branding is like a suit: Some clients look good in Armani, others in Sears. If you aren’t comfortable in something, don’t wear it, no matter what it may do for others. That’s when I tell potential clients that though my work may look good in the window, it may not look good on them.
Finally, he has been a client through my most revolutionary period, and has been pivotal to my success. He’s grown as well, exploded actually, and his team feels like mine in some ways. He has other philosophies that just make growth possible as well. Suffice it to say he’s the perfect client because he makes me better, and that makes him look better.
And I’ll bet there’s a project here at someone’s desk called Anthony’s Artery.
Starting a business for the sake of starting a business has never been my thing. Some people start them just to start them. They are business people whose satisfaction and claim to fame is that they own a business, or businesses. It’s Trumpian for the sake of being Trumpian. I’ve never been impressed, as success without an appealing life is just empty success.
A couple years ago my best client asked me about starting an actual business, something that at the time I saw no real benefit in, the way I saw no benefit in going to college before my lengthy collegiate career. The idea died on the table. Last year I started working part time in a ski shop to motivate me to ski again, and it rubbed the same client the wrong way.
“I think you took that job just to keep me up at night figuring out how to get you more work,” he said waving his hands in the air. In October, just days before I went to Europe for a few weeks, he said to me, “When you get back, we’re moving offices, you’re moving in with us and you’re starting a business.”
“Successful business owners are optimists by nature,“ he said in early January, while negotiating the terms of a partnership. “They have to be. You have to be.”
He wasn’t really talking to me when he said that. He was talking instead to an environment, my environment, and he tied it to the Dementor and Patronus relationship of Harry Potter’s world. That made sense. But it really made me think about what it means to be optimistic, or to be an optimist.
He asked me days later in the rush of the new office, “Are you optimistic?” It was a loaded question. Anyone who knows anyone never asks a direct question. He knows me as well as anyone, so what I heard was, “Are you happy? Do you trust me? What’s the plan? Is your wife freaking out? Can you handle her if she is? Are you feeling depressed? Are you ready? Can I trust you? Do I owe you money? Are you free for lunch? If this whole thing goes south . . .”
So I nodded and smiled in that bro way. Had I said yes it would have been perceived as a lie, which it would not have been. A smiling nod says more than yes. It says, “Yes. I don’t know. The plan is to go go go. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. You’d better. Yes. Yes. We’ll see . . .”
No one can disagree with the notion of success and optimism. But what does it really mean to be optimistic, to be an optimist? I hear the word optimism, and even use it I’m sure. But so to “calculus,” and “inversion layer,” and I know squat about either. So faced with it, what is an optimist and how does it relate to business? How does it relate to me?
I am confident. Being confident means to me to trust that something will work as anticipated. I am confident my bathtub will keep water from spilling into the rest of my house. I am confident the pen on my desk will lay down some ink. I am confident that when a potential client presents a need, I will deliver a viable, if not stellar solution. I am confident that I will produce the best work.
I am hopeful. Every one of us is hopeful about something. I’m hopeful that it will snow in the mountains just outside Seattle. I am hopeful my wife will get the raise and promotion she so deserves, or that new position with the more conciliatory company. I am even confident about that. I am hopeful that we get both an NBA and an NHL team. I have little control over any of that. But I hope.
I am driven. Pitching a potential client isn’t as easy as floating an idea through an email and expecting the client to throw their panties at you (unless you’re dealing with schmucks). Instead you have to deliver thousands of dollars worth of thinking and planning in the face of non-committal. Many horses die standing upright at water’s edge, and not for lack of effort. But I work, and plan, and create and drive. Even in the face of hem and haw, I continue with the work, and the ideas, with no guarantee. Perhaps I am driving hope with confidence.
Confidence and hope and drive make sense to me. Perfect sense. It’s optimism I couldn’t get a grasp of, and thinking about it in the face of starting this company, I’ve come to a resting conclusion: Optimism is this feeling I have that if everything goes south, I’ll be alright. I am optimistic that if hope and confidence and drive fail, though I am confident and hopeful and driven that it will not, everything is going to be okay.
I will be fine. I am optimistic of that. And I’m Dead Serious.