cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Professionalism


Hey guys. Yeah, I did it again. What can i say. One month. But i really tried this time. My post was ready last week. Two weeks ago actually. But unfortunately the subject matter sat in my mouth like a stale dirty peanut. My catering business finally had a big event a few weeks ago, an event for someone we didn't know (for a change!) a baby birthday party with nearly three hundred little tea sandwiches (more difficult than that sounds!) and a ton of cupcakes! Sounds like the perfect subject for a blog post, no? A triumph finally for our new company here in Sao Paulo. The problem was not the food, my food was well received both in flavor and presentation. Great feedback on that front. The problems arose from the fact that i offered both of our services at once--meaning both catering and photography. Yeah, i shot the party as well. Sounds a bit odd but really the catering was make and deliver only--no presence during the party. When consulting with my client she mentioned that she really liked my photography and asked if i would shoot the party as well. Now, let me say that i really wanted this catering gig. So i offered to photograph for less than a quarter of the market price as a way to entice her to go with me for catering. She accepted. Big. Dumb. Move. on my part.

We had a thorough catering consultation with dozens of emails back and forth. The party was for a one year old baby and there would be no other children at the party, only around fifty adult guests. easy. After prepping the sandwiches and cupcakes for an entire day, i woke up very early on the morning of the party to assemble everything. As per usual i went through the "im not going to finish!!" crazy freak out, but of course everything was packaged two hours ahead of schedule (thank you husband sous chef). The party was a big hit. It was beautiful, the decorations were stunning for a Brazilian party and the baby was awfully adorable. The entire family was beautiful, and my food was very well received. It was a hit. So I relaxed and started photographing; the job that i'm used to.

That night H and I went out to dinner where i beamed over a steaming plate of ribs how i pulled off a big catering event, and how i took some pretty good photos with flash (i usually am terrible with flash). Overall, i was beyond happy. Then the next day happened.

My client emailed me early the next morning asking for the photographs. I thought it was a little funny, as in, oh it's cute, she has never hired a photographer before. I sent an apologetic email explaining how it wouldn't be possible to send her the photos right away, nor within the next few days. Professional photographers almost never deliver within the week because photo processing and editing requires a lot of work etc. She explained how she was so anxious to see the photos so i gave in and spent nearly the entire day monday selecting and editing photos for her. I had them uploaded by 5:30pm. Success?

No.

Later that night i received an email from client telling me how much she loved the photos, how the lighting and style were exactly what she was hoping for. Then came the line---the line i have heard other photographers complain about and dread---the line that goes---- "can i have the rest of the photos now?" boom. Finally happened to me and i kicked myself at that moment for not having had "you will not receive all photos shot" signed in a contract. I explained, as professionally as i could that i do not give all shots to the client, that i select the best that are non repetitive. She wasn't having it. Long story short i received a series of very angry emails telling me how she expected (because it is common in Brazil) to receive all photos, because everyone has a different eye for things. At that moment i began to feel professionally insulted. To tell your hired photographer that you would like to view the raw images because you have a different "eye" is an insult to the artist. in any country. I then wrote an apologetic email explaining my reasons and that i would not change my policy. I told her i would go through the photos and send her more photos that i deemed acceptable. Which is a big concession i might add. So two days later i went through and edited another one hundred photos (mostly repeat scenes) and uploaded them. Job done. Closed. Bad experience over. Was happy I handled it well.

Wrong.

Late afternoon, middle of a cupcake shoot for another client, hands covered in buttercream--i receive a call. It's the client. What on earth could she possibly want now. What happened was the most disgusting, utterly rude and inappropriate interaction that i have ever had to go through in my professional life. My client called for no reason other than to lecture me. To lecture me literally by telling me how i "just got off the boat" and do not know how things are done in Brazil. How, while my photos were good, i did not deliver the amount she expected. How i didn't hand over all raw, unedited photos, how i took too many photos of the baby and didn't get candid photos of every guest drinking a beer and a shot of the front door. I'm not a mind reader. I was told that in Brazil, photographer are expected to hand over all photos for the client to take and get edited. I will tell you, after living here four years, working and conversing with other photographers this is a complete and utter lie. It is absurd to even think any photographer in any country would do this. I was beyond insulted. I was insulted as a photographer and as an immigrant. The treatment was that of a bourgeois speaking to their maid about a subject they clearly were completely oblivious to. It was disturbing behavior and honestly it shocked me. Who would treat someone they don't know in this manner? It was very puzzling and disappointing.

I listened to her ten minute lecture while saying very little. When she finished i told her that unfortunately i would still not change my policy and to have a nice day. I then hung up. Obviously it hit me. I was very upset. I was so proud of the event, so proud of the service. I couldn't wait to post all the photos here on the blog. But afterward the sour taste wouldn't leave my mouth. I decided not to post any pictures on the blog nor to even talk about it. I just wanted to move on with my next projects.

Now don't get me wrong, i'm not a photography saint. Not everyone has to be pleased with my work and I am not perfect. Yes I should have taken a photo of the door, yes more photos of guests drinking beer. but I didn't. and I can't go back in time. At that point the only thing to do is to apologize for disappointing them and move on. That's exactly what I did - I apologized and it should have ended there. but it didn't.

After speaking to three different Brazilian party photographers (born, raised and schooled in Brasil) i was reassured that this client was out of control and wrong and severely misrepresenting Brasil.  Looking back i feel a lot better, calmer and am actually quite happy with how i handled the situation in a professional manner even though i was insulted in every aspect possible. Talking with fellow photographers here, i know it is imperative to have the clause of not receiving all photos and of accepting what the photographer gives in the contract. My big error here was thinking that this party was a small, inexpensive event that wouldn't require the precautions as say a wedding shoot would require.

Lesson learned.


Moving on, we had a huge photo shoot last week with one of our favorite clients, Sophie & Theo's Cupcakes and are currently working on a big cocktail party two weeks out! Do you think we can manage over 700 individual cocktail appetizers? At the moment i have no idea...but we think we can. And what after? Already booked for a luncheon! So we had a bad experience, but it taught us a lot. And we are prepared for the next event. Hopefully you will stick around to hear about our next adventures!

7 comments:

Andrew Creelman said...

Wow, congratulations on being able to bite your tongue! That woman sounds like a nightmare!

jenncuisine said...

wow what an experience! Glad you were able to turn it into something to learn from - as always love your work, those tea sandwiches look delightful!

Mallory said...

Thanks Andrew and Jenn! The ironic part was that the one thing i felt like i did right (biting my tongue and keeping it professional) she also had a problem with! I didn't write it in the post but she said that my "cold, to the point business-like emails" were offensive to brazilians who like things "sugar-coated and sweet." not even sure what that technically means in this situation...woe to he who uses business language (simple, explanatory, respectful)when dealing with business! overall good learning experience though.

M.Lane said...

Good grief! This proves one of my pet theories. That no matter what you do you can't make some people happy and that rudeness and craziness transcend borders.

Well played!!

ML

Mallory said...

Thanks M. Lane! and unfortunately yes, rudeness can be found on every continent and every country in the world. and craziness too!

D. Hess said...

Oh man. So glad that terrible experience is over. I always love your posts and pictures, and know how hard you work. You deserve so much more respect than she showed you!!

Mallory said...

Thanks for your kind words Dan! yeah it was disappointing but i think i learned a lot. I've got a tasting with a client tomorrow night for a party and i'll make sure all policy rules are known :)