From Charming Prints to Unsuspecting Knight - UPDATED 6/11/2015
I recently received a letter from the Royal Rosarians, inviting me to accept honorary Knighthood by our 100th Portland Rose Festival Queen. The annual ceremony is "...bestowed upon dignitaries and persons of accomplishment from around the world".
Flattered, but bewildered, I called RR Prime Minister Marilyn Schultz to find out why. "For your 15 years of service to the Portland Rose Festival Court."
In 1999 Prints Charming Photography was just three years young, and doubling in sales every year. Easy thing to say when you start at zero with a brand new business, but I was in the basement of a modestly sized home in an almost inner-city neighborhood.
Cashing in my 401k retirement account to part with 20+ years of a guaranteed paycheck was just frightening enough to be exciting. Retail management gave me the discipline of organization, but it was my desire for independence that fueled my passion for photography.
Still ignorant to my seemingly innate talent, I joined Professional Photographers of America and it's Oregon affiliate in order to seek mentors and gain education.
My mentor Louis M. VerBaere was a BRILLIANT, award-worthy artist, but had passed away before I took the leap, sacrificing a secured paycheck. What's more, preferred a simple life with no family. His desire for money was little-to-none, being perfectly content with a simplified life of work.
I, on the other hand, wanted a family, desired travel and refused to accept that all artists needed to starve. I was pulled, so strongly by passion that nobody could've told me that I didn't have a Brooks Institute degree or the seed money to advertise my way into quick recognition.
Before cashing in my savings to build my studio, I bought a canopy for my black Nissan pickup and covered it with my logo and vinyl lettering. I was constantly on-the-road, so I made use of my frequent visibility. Every Saturday, or any photo event, I drove it through my neighborhood carwash. Shiny black paint, bright white lettering - it was my mobile billboard and always strategically parked for maximum visibility.
In the fall of '99 I received a call from Sue Bunday. She was a Portland Rose Festival Foundation board member, seeking a unified look for the Princesses. Years prior, each princess found their own photographer which yeilded anything but a unified look.
The night she was done making her rounds to other studios (I later learned) her son asked "Have you talked to Prints Charming yet? He comes through the car wash alot and is always really nice."
The next day, there she was flipping through my thick, wedding-album-style sample samples of portraits. She closed the book and said "Firstly, I love your work. This is the style we've been looking for, but more than that... Prints Charming?.. Rose Festival Queen... How perfect is that?"
We both had a little chuckle about it, and in March 2000 that series of events came to fruition. If there was one thing I learned in my 20 years of retail, it was to never get comfortable. I was conditioned to be ready to move. Never let complacency set in.
In my 14+ years with Fred Meyer, I worked in 14 different stores. I discovered that I was not the first photographer selected by the Rose Festival to provide a unified look, so I had no idea that I'd be doing them a second year, never mind 15.
What few people know about the program, is that gown and crown are anything but costume. They are ornate, authentic and only come out of the vault for two occasions. Once for the coronation, and the second for the official Queen's Portrait. I was prepared to maximize on this amazing opportunity.
Not only did I stage a "Knighting of Prints Charming" during my first Queen's session with Amy Seely, but I put the gown and crown on my three year old Maddie for a few quick portraits before we packed it up. I never assumed they would come back, though I gave my best work (at the time) in hope that they would.
Reflecting on this made me think a great deal about my own ethics in business. I've had the honor of working with real Queens and countless celebrities in my career. The same question comes to mind as the one that drove me to confirm the recognition I was about to receive. "Why me?"
It was not on my bucket list to shoot celebrities. It was not on my conscious mind to photograph royalty. There was only a burning desire to be the best that I could be at what I did and to earn a comfortable living for my family in the process. I've been called lucky by many, and to that I take no offense. After all, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." ~ Seneca
I've wasted a few years of my life wanting things that were not mine to have. Conversely, invested a few decades being grateful for all that I have - even in the most modest of financial times.
Gratitude has been the most identifiable cornerstone of what I have built so far. I could not be more grateful for all that has transpired in my life to endure all that I have, and still smiling today.
I treated the teenage carwash attendant with the same courtesy as my most famed clients. Passion, generosity, respect and a constant desire to always improve. The more I think about it - Why NOT me?..
An even cooler element to this, is that it will be done by the 100th Queen, and the best studio assistant EVER - Queen Emma Waibel. (hoping she'll leave the axe at home this time)
Thank you Leslie Goodlow - who I discovered to be the source of my nomination. I am grateful for whatever nudge you felt to add me to the nominees, and for this 16th year that we've been blessed to work together.
Sue Bunday, I hope you are on my email list to read this, and PLEASE thank your son for me. In fact, ask him to friend me on FaceBook so I can put a face on the guy who ultimately made my Knighthood possible.
I've chosen a deep pink rose called Electron as part of the ceremony. Deep pink, the color of gratitude. Electron, because it is vibrant in color, and grows upward. This is my wish for all whom I encounter.
Humbly, Sir Prints Charming?.. HA!
Still the same royal pain to my kids who hear me nagging about homework and chores - I'll remain fine with Brian.