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Seasoned folks like my grandmother, Miss Georgianna, always told me to have something to fall back on. Miss Georgianna had eight brothers, which was back-up enough. One of them, Collin, was a house painter and lived with her. On one frosty morning, Jim Lewis, a friend of Collin’s, came over to ride with him to work. Collin’s 1930’s car was heater-less and narrow. As he drove, Collin could feel heat coming from his friend’s coat pocket and he asked, “What’s that hot thing in your pocket, Jim?” Jim replied, “Miss Georgianna got out of me that I didn’t get breakfast, so she gave me a sweet potato.” Jim Lewis could have gotten through the morning hungry, but my grandmother wanted him to have that something extra. I’ve always tried to follow Miss Georgianna’s advice.
A few years after I earnestly began my career in photography, I had gathered enough equipment to do most of my assignments. Early on, I had the habit of keeping plenty of film and batteries for every job. I never worked with less than two cameras. Many people still ask, “Marvin, why do you carry two cameras?” I answer:
- To switch quickly between wide angle and telephoto zoom lenses
- In case one camera breaks
- If a camera is later found to have failed, I have at least a half-set of images from the assignment.
- It immediately identifies me as a professional. You amateurs always carry one camera.
- I might want a picture of me with a camera while on assignment (see the above banner photograph).
- To keep both shoulders sore.
- If someone tries to snatch one, I can bash the thief with the other one. (I’ll still have a working camera).
Once I had a complete front line of two cameras, lenses, flash, meter and tripod, I began to double the equipment inventory. The least expensive backup was buying a second flash unit. When my oldest camera body aged, I added a new body but kept the old one as backup in case any camera body needed the two weeks to a month’s time required for repair.
Eventually I got two sets of studio lighting, light meters, computers, even film processors and backed myself with assistants. In 1985, the wonderfully talented Sali Dimond Gelestino, who had worked for one of my vendors, became my first assistant. We’ve been good friends now for a quarter of a century. Sali, Gregg Adams and others have been available over the years to assist on studio and studio location shoots. Gregg and other experienced photographers handle assignments when I have time conflicts.
At one time, there was even a reserve car until I realized that a sports car was no longer necessary in my life. Among the spares in the car are a flash and battery charger. On studio shoots, there’s a backup set of large flash units, which are used when we have two concurrent studio assignments.
The switch to digital was pretty abrupt. Within 8 months, all 35mm film cameras - save one - and the darkrooms were sold. When the last pickup truck hauled off the remaining lab fixtures and furniture, I ceremonially slammed a sledgehammer into the darkroom wall and called my carpenter. The darkrooms are now additional work areas.
Digital was as expensive then as it is now and we needed three cameras quickly, making it quite a financial plunge. Now Gregg and I have a total of six digital cameras, two of them are backups. This summer, when I was working in Ethiopia and Somaliland, a laptop, DVD disks and a portable hard-drive/viewer combination kept three identical sets of images.
Assignments can have a world of uncertainty. By having plenty of photographic systems to rely and fall back on, I can concentrate on the job. As another old-timer repeatedly said, “Always keep a sandwich in your pocket.”
Posted by: marvinbright