31 August 2010

Lessons from an Art Festival: Saying "Thanks" and Meaning it


Believe me, it may not seem like it to those of you popping in and out of our booths, but it is hard work to stand around for 5-10 hours, greeting you, the interested and perhaps even buying patron, with a smile and a “Hello.” And then when you compliment us on our work – as you often do and usually upon exiting empty handed from our booth – I must say “Thank you!” and mean it.

So what is so tough about that you ask? For some, perhaps many, it is no biggie. The jeweler women on either side of us at the Farmer’s Market always seem warm and chipper. I’m not. On the other end of the art festival spectrum there are those booths occupied by GDAs (Grumpy Dudes with an Attitude). Not a role model. My goal is to be engaging and open and truthful. And, that is at times Work!

I don’t mean to imply that being deceitful, obtuse or disinterested comes naturally. But, sometimes it is easier to be lazy, to not rise to meet people, to not greet people, to say “thanks” and not mean it. It’s obvious that this not what one should be doing, but after a long day – or a couple of even longer days – laziness sometimes comes a-knocking. Don’t answer the door!

How you interact – or don’t – with your potential customers is extremely important. To facilitate this you must become adept at reading those who enter your booth. Some clearly don’t want an interaction: lack of eye contact and mumbled response when you say “Hi!” are your sure give-aways. I try to always greet folks and I find “How are you?” is a better gauge of their willingness to connect than a mere “Hello.” If they don’t want to talk, leave them alone and perhaps say “thank you” when they depart. To those that do seem warm to my presence I will usually add, “Let me know if you have any questions” as a sign that I too am willing to engage.

Many of the questions I get are of the “what kind of cameras do you use” or “do you have any photos of whales (or planes or beaches in Oregon or ashrams in India…you get the idea).” The trick is to answer each questioner as if I have both never heard it before and it is one of the most interesting things ever uttered. They don’t know that I have already told the 3 previous people that I shoot with Pentax DSLRs and a Hasselblad XPan II nor can they assume that just because I don’t have any images of eagles hanging in my booth I might have some matted in the bins. Each person is unique and should be treated thusly, and so I tell myself.

Occasionally pros or semi-pros as well as real tyros will ask good questions (often about my infrared work) and a full-on conversation/discussion unfolds. These are great. I love sharing information (I said I was open didn’t I?) and think it is funny that others “hide” their methodologies and techniques. Fortunately there are few of those folks and the photog community is genuinely quite willing to share their “secrets.” The only problem is that sometimes we get so wrapped in the discussion that I fail to see the other people in the booth. I try my best to acknowledge them without sacrificing an interesting conversation that may grow to an even more interesting connection.

When compliments are spoken they should be treated as gold. Perhaps not a currency that can purchase anything (I have several tens of thousands of dollars worth of compliments safely banked in my imaginary safe deposit box) but they do mean something. After all, a visitor does not have to utter anything (and many don’t) so I take it as GENUINE when someone says “I like your stuff” (I know: “stuff?”) or “great images” (better) or “you really have an eye for composition” (plus better) or “this is so unique” (Bingo! Ding Ding Ding! You’ve hit the jackpot!).

So I promise, if you come into my booth late in the day, perhaps even while we are breaking everything down, I will do my best to say “hi” and maybe even chat. It’s the least I can do since you have taken the time and effort to look at my work. And if you pay me a compliment, truly I will say thank you and truly I will mean it (and my account grows!). But if you ask me if I have any duotone photos of dolphins jumping out of the water off the coast of Maine with a submarine in the background and a falcon soaring overhead whilst holding a rabbit, well, I just might have to tell you that I’m working on that...when I actually am not.

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