Jim Varagona

Category: babyphotography

>Hasta La Vista Babies

>Well, my time as a baby photographer has come to an end. I realize I may jump from job to job a bit too much, but I have my reasons. Driving 500+ miles every week with little compensation was my biggest beef. It gives you a lot of time to think about life and gas prices.

It also was getting to be against my morals and ethics to continue. I was working for a company that considers itself one of the largest in home baby and family photography companies in the country. They do not screen employees at all for drugs or anything else fishy in their background. In fact, it is the only job I’ve had without a pre-employment drug screen. If only the parents knew this. There are carpet cleaning companies in the area that boast that their employees that enter your home have been thoroughly checked, yet folks that get near your babies are not held to those standards.

Furthermore, the business practices were a bit shady. For as large as they claimed to be, there was no printed employee handbook or standards to go by. Rules were made up as we went along and policies changed week to week. It really made me feel comfortable with the company I was representing. This was on top of sales pitches based on lies, and I don’t use that term lightly. I know sales can be dirty, but I was selling sitting plans for visits that would be completely free if the customer approached the company for them. It was pitched as a deal they couldn’t pass up, because we would charge an expensive sitting fee otherwise, but by discussing this with other employees in different parts of the company, we realized that was a sham. The future sitting plans were pure profit and by selling those, we helped the company pay our salary without that money being tied to anything else. Genius, but ruthless. I felt horrible selling with this knowledge, but we all have to make a living. Sometimes I avoided the selling, which made me look bad to those in charge, but I made my money from taking the photos anyway, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Funny thing is, I was called on my lies by some customers, and what do you do in such a situation? A father called me “a fucking liar” for telling him that I had no idea what our prices were and I liked just doing my job as a photographer. That line sounds like a load of crap anyway, but it was fed to me, and he called me on it. “How can you work for a company and have no idea what they sell your product for?,” he asked. I had no response, but to “have a nice day”.

It’s a drain knowing more and more of the dark side of a company you represent; a company you work for without much gas compensation, with no paid vacation or holidays, yet still pushes you further to not tell the customer much, because that would scare them away before the salespeople get to them.

When those henchmen arrive, we get more of their money through packages that are pitched from the most expensive down to wet their appetites. Again, genius, but sick. Even the lowest priced packages are too much for even me, but these are their kids, right? I had to consider the places I was working in. I was shooting in trailers, in rundown ghetto housing and apartments, and in places without ceilings and with huge insect problems. We were going after their money? I understand that those people make the choice to spend, but how can one feel completely comfortable knowing that you’re helping contribute to that lifestyle. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on photos, go to Wal-Mart, spend $10 for 85 pictures, and put the rest towards fixing that leaky ceiling, having the Orkin man swing by, or getting some much needed dental work.

To illustrate my point, I shall elaborate. This goes for the family that had baby roaches crawling through their trailer, most noticeably in the kitchen, all over the stovetop surrounding the thawing pounds of raw meat. (See image below) In addition, the young daughter ate a Happy Meal, which she dumped on the floor first and proceeded to munch on. It was as if they were trying to rub it in, but no one said anything about the critters. I simply cancelled the rest of my day to shower myself and hope for no further contamination.


click to enlarge, but you should get the idea

This goes for the family with the dad that casually showed us his ankle bracelet monitor, which was to keep him from doing bad things. Or the house without a lamp with a shade and a drop ceiling without drop tiles, with the insulation hanging down and water dripping onto my equipment and paperwork.

I certainly do not discriminate. I never judged folks until I soaked them in first. There are lots of fine people out there in bad situations, hell, lots of good kids out there in bad situations, like having to sleep with rodents, insects, or no air conditioning in ninety degree heat. As I have said before in this blog, I felt like a government spy of sorts, but I couldn’t do much about it but take it all in.

Despite the company being a joke, I enjoyed taking pictures and being around the babies. Driving takes its toll on you though. It gives you time to ponder how messed up things are, and that can get to be depressing.

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>Snagged

>Today I had a shoot in quite possibly the smallest trailer I’ve been in. I pride myself in being able to pull it off though. It amazes the locals like one of those David Copperfield specials or the old Circus of the Stars shows.

I set up in a kitchen bordering the living space. It went from tile to carpet. As I shot the baby, my shorts kept snagging on the floor as I went back and forth from kneeling to standing. I paid no mind to it as I progressed. When the shoot had commenced though, I began to pack up and noticed the culprit.

It was a giant, nasty, pointed toenail embedded in the carpet.

More fun with toenails!

FootSmart_FreeFootGift_11.20.06

>Under Their Thumb

>It’s been an odd week for me.

Yesterday, I began my day by traveling an hour from home into parts unknown in Jesusland. My mission was to take baby pictures. I know, it’s very exciting.

The first stop involved two siblings. One of course, being a newborn. The other, a talkative three year old. We hit it off pretty well. I let the kids talk their gibberish, that I hardly ever can comprehend and then respond with:

“Oh yeah?”

or “Really?”

or “That’s pretty cool.”

As long as you acknowledge them, they appreciate it. For the most part. One, early on in my baby photography career, even began hugging my leg and calling me “Daddy”, which mom went along with, but I digress.

It was a different story though with this young boy. We started off with small talk. He asked about my light stands and backdrop. He pointed out a monstrous mosquito on the wall, which I helped him annihilate. Then, out of nowhere, the demon came forth.

“Fuck you boh.” (Boh being my attempt to convey the accent he purposely put on “boy” like he was imitating something he had heard before.)

“Oh yeah?”, I replied, trying to play it off.

He then got in my face, or as close as a boy of his stature could, and poked at me repeatedly saying “Boh” over and over. It sounded a bit like Yosemite Sam.

“I’ll break your ass boh.”

“Really? I think it already is.”

“Fuck you boh.”

It was a battle I couldn’t win. Mom was tending to the little one and wouldn’t do more than give verbal reprimands. I was beginning to think that she had experienced this before anyway, but from a different source. He even retorted to her calls to cease the behavior.

“Fuck you bitch.” He even repeated several more times with feeling that she was a female dog.

Reinforcements were called in, in the form of Grandma. His cursing stopped, but his attitude only increased. He proceeded to taunt me as I photographed his baby brother and when he was told to leave the room, he went to his room and trashed it a la Mark Wahlberg at a hotel during his days with The Funky Bunch.

Shame, shame.

Today, when I arrived home after another day on the road, I received a call, which I ignored. I then realized it was from a client from earlier in the day. She was a younger mother who lived with her parents. As we took the photos of the baby, I asked her to lean into a few for “Mommy and Me” photos, which is standard procedure. Even if they are hesitant, we usually pull it off, and everyone stays happy. Well, she was reluctant, but I convinced her to take a few.

Anyway, when I called this number back, I got her man, who wasn’t present at the shoot. I’m assuming he was calling numbers on her phone to keep tabs, since he said he called because I was a missed call on her phone. He asked me why I made his girl get in the pictures. I told him it was standard, but he told me that he specifically asked her not to get in the photos since they were to get family pictures later. I told him he was under no obligation to pay for those pictures, but we take a wide variety to give folks a choice.

“But I told her not to and she said you made her.”

Another losing battle.

Was he saying I did it for kicks? While her parents and elders were there? Is the whole world going insane?

Why can’t everyone have a good time with me, like the guy that got out of the pen two weeks prior to seeing a shoot with his infant son?

I once heard a piece on NPR about how chimney sweeps in Russia are government issued. You can’t use independent sweeps. The people there then fear that the men are spies for the government to see how they are at home and if they are using the system in any illegal way. I wish I could think of myself that way. People don’t fear me though. They let it all hang out, but that’s a different story.

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>Beaten with the Pulp

>When I arrived home today from Jesusland, where I photographed the children, there was a group of little Latino boys playing in front of an apartment building across from the flat where we stay. There were newspapers and their wrappers strewn everywhere.

One of the boys was dipping a full rolled paper along the curb in the filthy water. The others were grabbing their rolls and beating each other with them. No one seemed to be getting hurt though, but I’m sure they were as dirty as the water in the street considering the newspapers were laying on the muddy lawns and in the street.

I have to admit I was a little annoyed because I knew that some of those papers were from our building, built up from lazy folks not picking them up, myself included. Then I realized that our property was clean of them, and it looked good. I got to the door to unlock it and noticed another paper laying in the grass by the curb on our side of the street. I called out to them, “Hey guys!”

They looked at me like they were in trouble.

“You missed one over here.”

One scurried over, grabbed it, and ran back into the fray.

One less gray hair for me.

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>Now Taking Pictures of Cloned Babies from Election Day

>Forgive me father, it has been over a week since my last blog.

The thing is that I found new employment since ditching the automobile classified photography business. Now, instead of traveling around the area getting photos of cars, I have moved on to in-home photography of infants and toddlers. It still involves quite a bit of driving to get to customers’ homes, but photographing children is more challenging and enjoyable than snapping pictures of cars, trucks, boats, and RV’s.

I must say this is closer to my goal of actually having a job relating to my Bachelors Degree in Media Communications. That looked hopeless during my days in the Italian Retail Service.

In other news, I fulfilled my duties of guarding and troubleshooting the electronic voting machines on Election Day. I understand now why this country has so many issues with the validity of elections. I felt very competent in my role, which I aced every examination for during training. It was very disconcerting though to see that anyone that applies to help with the elections is pretty much accepted. I know we all have a duty to serve in whatever capacity we can to be true patriots, but this is ridiculous. The written exam which determines whether or not one could go on to be in charge of these machines at a location was around 60 written questions. To pass, you only needed 60% correct. I think this helps explain why some precincts have a hard time reporting on time.

Not only were the tech positions filled this way, which I feel is a very important role throughout the day, the other poll workers don’t seem to be scrutinized much. For the first hour and a half, during the biggest rush of our day at my site, one of the precincts had a woman with moderate Alzheimer’s handling the looking up of names in the register. I don’t blame her, because she was doing her best to help, but someone should have recognized her ability level sooner. After she was pulled from that post at 7:30 AM, she asked me what time it was. I told her and she was shocked that it was so late. She thought it was already 12 hours later, and that we were going to go home. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I later hung out with this woman as she stood by the large machine that accepts the optical scan ballots. She helped folks slip their ballots in the shredder looking machine and proceeded to clap and cheer for them. This is how we replaced the fact that our city wasn’t giving out “I Voted” stickers this year. A couple of people were really irked that she was standing right next to the machine, considering it an invasion of privacy. If they took it any further than mumbles under their breath, I planned to tell them that even if she wanted to see their votes, she wouldn’t remember it later. She was a sweet woman, about 90 years old. She told me the same story 10 times about her family and her current living situation. We also chatted about how girls in schools these days like to have their breasts hanging out of their shirts and that she thinks that is reason enough for uniforms. “Everything’s all about sex”, she explained to me, “that’s why they have so much AIDS in Africa.”

Listening to my new elderly female friend, I realized something. She made sense a lot of the time, but then she would get confused and repeat herself, sometimes completely. Sometimes she made no sense at all. It summed up my experience that day. This system means well, I’m almost sure. The thing is that if the workers at the polls continue to be an aging crowd, not many will know what is going on. They all mean well. More emphasis should be put on recruiting of these temporary workers, especially on college campuses to get younger people involved that have experience with the technology that helps us vote. We can all learn something from eachother, no matter what age, race, or belief system. This is another example.

After I got home from the day at the polls, I passed out to the news that Claire McCaskill was trailing Jim Talent by over 10 points here in Missouri and our Amendment 2 that Michael J. Fox helped promote was losing as well. It didn’t look good. Then a funny thing happened on the way to further Republican domination…

I woke up about 3 hours later to hear McCaskill giving her victory speech. Amendment 2 was leading by a slim margin with more votes to count. The Democrats had gained the upper hand in the House and were too close to call in the Senate, because of Montana and Virginia (which both later went blue to win the Senate). It was as if Santa had paid a visit during my slumber.

I know that this doesn’t mean the world is saved from our downward spiral, but now there’s a bit more hope. And it doesn’t hurt that silly Republicans think the Dems will now go on baby killing sprees, clone armies of mutant children, impeach the evil Emperor Bush, tax every penny they make, spend, or hoard, and let Michael Moore live.

MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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