When things go wrong:(Part 2) If the Shoe Fits….

I mentioned in Part 1 of this series I hated Shinko printers.  Here’s why.

Go back in your brain about eight years.  It was a simpler time.  A time of rainbows and clowns, neighborhood block parties and cook outs.  Leave It to Beaver was the popular show on TV.  Women had just received the vote.

OK, maybe things weren’t quite that backwards 8 years ago, but in photography technology, I’m not far off. THE high speed photo printer of choice was the Shinko, a 50 lb behemoth of a machine capable of spitting out a 4×6 print in 8 seconds.  The printer fit into a huge Pelican case, and the entire kit weighed about 80 lbs.

EIGHTY POUNDS.  You want to piss off the Fedex guy, it’s to ship, constantly, an 80 lb pelican case.  I swear they stand at the back of the truck and push them down the aisle in anger, banging the package on the back wall of the truck with a resounding THUD.

Inside the guts of the Shinko was a big, heavy print head.  Now, you aren’t SUPPOSED to take apart one of these babies — to do so voids the warranty — but when you have the problems with these things that I had, in desperation, you take the damned thing apart to see how to fix it.  Usually, said printer is disassembled in your hotel room, making the Unibomber’s cabin look neat by comparison.  When you take apart the printer, you see the big, heavy print head.  And how is the big, heavy print head attached to the frame of the printer?

Two plastic push pins.  I’m not kidding.  So, when Fedex slams that Pelican Case into the back of the truck, the print head does a double take, the plastic pins break, and — the printer eats paper without producing a print.  Not a print in 8 seconds, 80 seconds, or 8 years.  It’s done.

Every other trip, this happened.  So, I shipped two.  Just in case.  That means almost every trip one dropped dead.  Not good.  That’s why I replaced them, at huge expense, with smaller Sony printers.  Which I’ve used ever since, and whoever invented them, they should have my children.

But eight years ago it was the Shinko.  And, I was hired to do a meet and greet with Steve Madden, the famous shoe designer.  The event was to be held at Saks 5th Avenue, in Towson, Maryland, next to the lingerie department.  I arrived at the venue three hours early, and set up my photo station, printer, cameras. Everything tested fine.  By the way, eight years ago, everything was done with a USB tether between the camera and the computer.  You took the photo, made a little movement with the mouse, and the photo printed.  Perfect.

“What. Is. That?” said the minion at Saks 5th Avenue, “that…. cord.”

“That’s the tether between the camera and the computer.”

“Noooooooo.  Noooooooooo.  Nooooooooooo.  No cord.”

“Well, that’s how the photo gets to the system.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me.  No cord.”

My hearing was perfect.  Clearly I wasn’t getting through.  I tried to explain again.

Withering stare.  “Then make it longer, tape it down, so at least it’s not so…so….UGLY.”

Ok, I thought, I understand.  I can do that.  I grew up at Target.  “I can do that” attitude is drilled into your head.  I went to Radio Shack and bought a USB extension cable.  I bought two.  I returned, taped them down.  Ran a test shot.  Everything was fine.

About 15 minutes before the meet and greet, the participants were lined up around the entire lingerie department.  The line stretched as far as I could see.  An MTV host trotted up and down the line with a megaphone.  “In just a few minutes you’ll get your photo taken with STEVE MADDEN.”  You would have thought the man was Elvis.  Here’s a hint: HE’S NOT.

I ran another test.  Fine.  I took a second photo.  BLACK PRINTED.  NOTHING BUT BLACK.

“In just a few minutes you’ll get your photo taken with STEVE MADDEN.” (Swoon, swoon, swoon!)

Another 8 second black print.   WTF?!

It’s the only time in my entire career I ever thought, “If I leave all this shit and simply walk away, I wonder what they would do?”  But I couldn’t do that.

Another black print.

I rebooted the computer.  Took a shot.  Good.  Took another shot.  Black.  Deep breath.  Arm pits now sweating through the shirt.  Heart racing.

In the end, I’d love to say I pulled it off — but I didn’t.  I just couldn’t figure it out.  It’s the only time I wasn’t able to fulfill what I said I’d do — generate the prints on location.  Instead, I took the pictures, handed out cards for the link to download the photos off our web site.

What did I learn?  What went wrong?  As I was driving away from the shoot, I realized, like a lightening bolt hitting me squarely in the head, what caused the problem.  Perhaps you’ve already figured it out?

YOU CAN’T EXTEND A USB TETHER BEYOND 12′.  IF YOU DO, THE DATA FALLS APART.  And prints black.  But that’s not what I really learned.  My main lesson from this:  Never, ever, ever change the system in any way, no matter what, if you haven’t tested it in advance.  Do not let yourself be pushed into doing something, anything, different than what you typically do.  Otherwise, disaster can happen.

And it did.  Big time.  To this day, I never go past a Steve Madden shoe store that I don’t think, “IN JUST A FEW MINUTES YOU’LL GET YOUR PHOTO TAKEN WITH STEVE MADDEN!”  And, to this day, I break out in a cold sweat.

This photo was from a different shoot with Steve Madden.  The client was kind enough to have me back, and I remained shooting for them during his tour all over the area.  So not a total wash out.  But I never forgot my lessons learned.