I’ve been making jewellery for, effectively speaking, about forty-five years. I sold my first pair of earrings when I was fifteen, so there have been a lot of pieces put out there. I know what they looked like, kind of, but there is no record of them anywhere. Or at least any record available to me. That bugs me.
When I started my own business in 1986, I began taking photos of everything I put together so that I could keep track of my accomplishments, for better or worse. At first, I used an old Nikon SLR that I cadged from my wife. She had purchased it for her year at journalism school and it was just sitting there. I added a macro lens to it and it served me well for the next twenty years or so. The process of snapping a dozen pictures at a time and having to wait a week or more to find out whether they had worked honed my skills as a bonehead photographer, as I seldom got a second chance. Filing the photos away into a series of crudely organized albums provided the basis for my future database project.
When I finally got my head around the concept of computers, the database started to develop, but it wasn’t until the advent of digital photography that things really achieved some efficiency. Until then, I was still snapping analog photos, waiting for processing, then scanning them into the computer. Oh, and I still used the photo albums for organization and display, so I was just adding another layer of work. Add to this the books of contact sheets, listed by approximate date, and you have quite a lot of extra time spent on archiving and organizing photos.
The convenience of digital photography provided a great deal more flexibility in the process and, not incidentally, an increase in the actual number of pictures taken. By this time, they numbered well into the thousands so the database was pretty much a necessity. It provides the basis for the IdeaShopper that exists online, but that’s another story entirely.
During this time, the pictures were generally taken under a certain amount of duress, as I’m always running somewhat behind. I’d finish the piece, snap the photo of it, and the customer would come and pick it up. The artistic quality of each shot was secondary to its value as a record of work done. To this end, the photos have a starkness to them that, I hope, provides me with enough detail that I could duplicate the piece should a bad thing happen. I refer to them as autopsy photos.
Over the years, I have had some professional shots taken of my pieces, but this is a rare occurrence and inconvenient in the extreme, what with my propensity for running late. That being said, I was impressed by the incredible difference between my rudimentary work and that of a pro. My most recent apprentice, Chris Sifford, is a pro and took some stunning shots of a few of our pieces. Chris has since moved on to other, more lucrative pursuits, but I still appreciate the life he brought to my work.