The Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders VS The Conservative Caucus

In honor of tomorrow’s annual shoot with the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders, I’m telling this story….

Sometimes, when a new client calls, you take a risk.  Are they looking for you?  Or, are they searching for someone you’re not.


“This is Mike Gatty, the photographer.”
“Hi, Mike, this is Barbara Zahn of the Philadelphia Eagles.  I’m head Cheerleader, and I’m looking for a photographer for our meet and greet…”
Now, keep in mind, in high school — I was the theater geek.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was the stage manager for the drama team.  Translation:  I was NOT hanging with the cheerleaders, and I did not date anyone on the football team.  Though, as it turns out, Matthew was prom king.  But that’s a story for another day.  And, we didn’t go to high school together.
So, talking to the head cheerleader of the Philadelphia Eagles was…
Barbara and I talked, she instantly got down to business.  I suspect she often dealt with the pause after she said who she was, much like the pause when someone says, “Hi, this is Ms. Marlowe from the IRS”, except in her case it was a pause of AWE.
Barbara said the year prior, their event was a disaster.  
Let me back up.
The PEC hired a company to handle their Jr. Cheer Event.  Young girls, ages, 8 to 18, are invited to spend the day with the cheerleaders to learn moves.  During the course of the day, the girls pose with two cheerleaders, a photo is taken, and then the pictures are handed to the attendees as they leave the camp.
Barbara described the entire process ending with, “We had two problems last year.  First, the photos weren’t ready and it was about an hour after the event ended before the last print was finished.  And, second, the photographer was a leach.”
That’s when I wondered what to say first.  Crap, I might as well go for it.
“Well, let’s take the leach part first.  Somehow I don’t think you’ll have that problem with myself, my partner Matthew, and my 65 year old mother.”
Pause.  Heartbeat.
“You’re perfect.”
“Now, as for the second part, we’d print the photos as we go along, that way, they are organized and ready for distribution immediately after the last photo is taken…”  I went on to describe our process.  Barbara hired us.
The morning of the shoot dawned cold and bright, and the cars snaked out from Eagle Stadium’s parking lot, waiting for security to open the doors.  It was early, the first photos were scheduled for 9 am, I like a 3 hour window to set up… so…. ass crack of dawn early.
We set up two photo areas, back to back, my mom shooting one, myself in the other.  There were two cheeerleaders teamed up with each of us, so four total.  I explained the entire process to the girls, and we got started.  Everything went smoothly.
Lunch.  We broke, and when I returned, I started to explain the process to our two new cheerleader models.
“Mike, we were with you all morning.  We know the drill.”
I flushed.  I didn’t want to tell them they all looked the same.   But they did.  Blonde, blue eyed, 5’9, 130 lbs.  Maybe.  Wet. Oops.  My bad. Guess I’m the opposite of leach.
When the event concluded, Barbara came over and pumped my hand up and down.  She was ecstatic.
Now, here’s the thing:  this could have been a disaster.  What if when I told Barbara about my partner, she would have freaked out?  I had no way of knowing she was the nicest, kindest person in the world.  I took a risk in being open and honest with her.  A risk, of course, that paid off — we’ve been doing Eagles events the last 7 years.
But that’s not always the case.  
“Is this the photographer that did the green screen at the Religious Leaders Event in New Orleans?”
“Yes, How can I help you?”
“OMG you were so much fun.  I must hire you for our events.  We are doing a series of religious festivals around the nation, and would like to contract with you to do the photo execution at each event.”
With that, he told me his organization’s name — which, in the interest of fairness, I’ll edit out.  Let’s say Conservative Caucus.  A name I’ve made up.  So, if this is your organization, don’t send me hate mail.  His organization, I might add, made no bones about being for TRADITIONAL family values.  How traditional?  Pat Robertson often speaks at their events.  
“Um,” I said, unsure how to proceed, “Um, are you sure you want me and my PARTNER Matthew doing these?”
“Well, YEEEEES!  (Southern drawl.) We saw you guys in action in New Orleans…”
And so we were hired.  We did, over two years, about 10 religious festivals.  And, I was on my best behavior.  I wore my crucifix.   I said, “God Bless You” after each guest.  I didn’t swear.  I didn’t wear my mohawk.  I didn’t do ANYTHING that might — cause the client a problem.  Before each shoot, I watched Little House on the Prairie. Must. Prepare.
And things chugged along nicely, until….
“Why aren’t you two married?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Why aren’t you two married?  You live in Delaware.”  The client nodded at Matt as he directed me the question.  We were sitting in a blazingly hot tent outside Tuscon.  Things were slow for a moment, an act was on the main stage.
So, I figured I was on safe ground.  I guess I thought if the staff was liberal enough to ask, I could give an honest answer.  So I did.  Besides, times — they are a changin’.  Even for very conservative groups.
We were never hired again.
You know what?  That’s ok.  Not every client is going to be a good fit.  I felt awkward being so edited when I did these events, I didn’t feel like me.  And while we did a great job, I kind of dreaded them.  And, if the client is that uncomfortable with who I am — well — there are other photographers out there.  They aren’t as GOOD, mind you, but they are out there.  Best of luck.  One even advertises on Craig’s List for $349.  He might be a good fit?
But when things gell, when the client is a great fit, you know instantly.  And, the entire event’s tone is different.  Suddenly, everybody’s wings spread — client, participant, mine, the assistants — and we all fly.  If, on the other hand, you try to fake it?  Be prepared for a flat job, a long day, and photos that look like everybody elses. Now, go with God.  Sorry.  Old habits die hard.
Ok, so looking back at the photos, they aren’t all blonde.  Who knew?