That’s What It’s All About – By Fred Bonilla

One of our regular contributors, Fred Bonilla, brings perspective on his experience on the other side of the counter.

In our dealings with our clients and customers, we strive to meet or exceed expectations in delivering our products. And as a photographic equipment salesman, my job is to meet the need to get the proper gear in the customer’s hand to achieve what they want from photography. In many cases, it is work or hobby related where the customer uses the equipment to achieve a certain goal or record something for later reference. But more often than not, we see that we get cameras into our customer’s hands to record memories and events that are near and dear to their hearts and preserve them for generations to come. It is a fulfilling enterprise and frankly, it’s why I’ve invested so much of my professional and personal life in photography in the first place.

Nothing moves the human soul in such a personal way as photography does.

In my 30+ years as a camera salesman & photographer, I can name countless times when the power of photography has manifested itself as a healing and powerful force for good.

One such time was in the late 70’s in my first photo job as a manager of a Fotomat (remember them?) styled store in New York City. A middle aged woman brought in a roll of 110 color film for developing,urging me to take good care of it for they contained important pictures.

Being in my early 20’s, I gave my stock answer that it would be well taken care of, thinking to myself that of course, “to them ,they’re ALL important pictures”. Turns out that the roll was somehow exposed to light and it came back labeled “Unable To Print”.
When the woman came back and heard the news, she broke down and wept uncontrollably, then grabbed and urged me to send it back to the lab and do whatever it took to get any sort of image on paper.

Seeing her distressed state, I called the lab and asked them to print any image they could, and work any magic they can. What came back to this woman’s hand a day later was a faint picture of the woman and a young man, with a barely visible smile on both of their faces. Tears appeared again on this woman’s face, but they were joyful and bittersweet.

It happens that this young man was her son who joined the U.S. military and the photo was taken just before he went off to training. This was the last photo ever taken of him for he sadly died in a freak accident where he was stationed.

She hugged and thanked for my effort in preserving this for her (and it was of course none of my doing but the lab’s dodging, burning and other tricks) I learned then as Susan Sontag said that “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

Another example comes to mind in this TED talk from last fall from Stephen Addis, the CEO of the Addis Creson strategic brand agency in San Francisco. In just over 3 minutes, he shared his unique photographic tradition he shares with his daughter and in turn unfolded another page in the power of a photograph to touch our hearts and souls.


And a link in case you can’t see the video here.

The photo industry has changed so radically from when I started and I hear the laments that the golden days are gone. Profit margins have shrunk, customers don’t know what quality is and demand to pay less for quality in the Instagram & Pinterest age. Digital,Digital,Digital! !But in watching the above video and the many instances of when I see the power of a photo manifest itself in someone’s life, it reminds me of the final line of the “Hokey-Pokey”, a truly hokey song whose dance I’ve never done (and will NEVER do!) . In all it’s urging to move arms & legs in & out, it then utters it’s final line.

“That’s what’s all about”
Simple yet madly profound. I hope that as photographers and visual artists, we never lose sight of the joy and profound meaning a simple photograph can bring.

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