I got my first job at Sears Portrait Studio when I was 18. Mostly because I wasn’t a fan of food or folding shirts. I did like kids and photography. At least that’s what I thought until Christmastime came.
If you’ve worked retail during the holidays, you kind of know what I’m talking about, but really you have no idea. The crying. The screaming. And that was just the moms. Sure, there were tears running down the kids faces too. And sometimes snot. “You wanna get that, mom?” Don’t get me started on the puking. But there was that too.
I worked for Sears Portrait on and off through college. I excelled at taking good pictures and customer service. My sales were decent not because I was a good saleswoman (I wasn’t), but because of those other two things. People liked me, and they liked my work. I also made illegal exceptions to rules when it came to packages, and – oh yeah – I acted a FOOL in those rooms. It was a job where my excitability was allowed and encouraged and embraced.
I often credit moving the summer between my junior and senior years in high school for bringing me out of my shell, but it very well could have been this job.
It didn’t matter who was watching…hot dads, hot uncles…I went nuts to get those smiles. Inevitably there would be the occasional mom who would say, “Oh that’s not his real smile. Can you keep trying?” Needless to say, I broke several sweats. On a daily basis. And no matter how bad I wanted to, I never said, “Well that smile is on your kid’s face, so if it’s not HIS smile, then whose is it?” Well not to their faces.
PS Fake smiles are THE WORST. But kids can’t help it. It’s a phase they go through. Like the period between 18-months and 3 years when they want to do anything BUT sit still and stare at a stranger doing weird acrobatics.
This blog’s title, “Who’s got stinky feet?” refers to the question I’m pretty sure I was trained to ask the kids. I’m shocked at how often they laughed when I accused one of their parents of smelling. I said it a million times a day. And that frog! I had a stuffed frog that I danced around and threw at walls and the ceiling. Kids really think it’s funny when you pretend to injure things.
I definitely had my favorite clients. There was a family of five who all arrived in their jammies with a plate of cookies. And one Christmas, there was a family with a set of newborn twins. This was before all of the newborn photography blew up – basically Anne Geddes was all I had to go by. The babies were sleeping and I posed them on a Christmas present, and it was pretty much the cutest thing I had ever seen. I had tears in my eyes. Their mom had tears in her eyes. That family ended up coming to me every time for the next few years. They were one of several regulars. And although we couldn’t accept tips, they would offer drinks or gift cards or kindness during the craziness that was the Christmas season.
While there were harrowing holiday sessions, there was also a lot of fun to be had. On slow days we would take pictures of each other. Or our friends would come in.
Oh the 90s. We had such a blast with that shoot. (This example is obviously the most proper pose.) We coordinated like three different outfits. Spelled out the word “friends” in baby blocks. Let me tell you, it got crazy! My sisters and I did a session too. I apparently loved that pose – and vignette – a lot. (Truthfully, in both cases we had more entertaining poses, but these two were the easiest to get my hands on today.)
PS The matching dresses were a throwback to our growing-up years. (Like a joke we were in on.) The plan was to wear them to my older sister’s rehearsal dinner.
PPS My haircut was a combo of Faith Hill in the This Kiss video and Dharma Finkelstein (obsessed!).
PPPS It was the 90s!!
I very much feel like it’s only a matter of time before one of the thousands of pictures I took shows up on awkwardfamilyphotos…because you guys…this world takes all kinds. It’s also fun to think about all the photo albums my work has been in. And the wall frames.
Sears Portrait helped me pay for college, and I think I learned a lot about the way I interact with people from that job. It was an endless supply of short-lived, intense relationships, and the ability to craft those into something mutually beneficial is a skill that hasn’t stopped serving me yet. So thanks, CPI and Sears Portrait Studios, and RIP.