Perhaps ‘adaptability’ or ‘mutability’ would have been a more accurate title for this post, but its impetus was a nine-day shift at work. I settled on ‘malleability’ as the word stems from the Latin malleus, meaning hammer, and by the time I garnered a day off I felt like I had been beaten with hammers. Art hammers.
Let me start, appropriately, from the beginning. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but I’ve decided to entertain the (fairly unlikely) possibility that people who don’t know me personally read this blog. Last July I was hired by Canada’s leading fine art auction house as a photographer for their Toronto office. Initially, I was not very keen on the job, as it sounded as though it would consist mostly of copy photography. Taking innumerable paintings (many of which from the boringly blobby Group of Seven), lighting them all the same way and pushing a button did not sound particularly glamourous, but hey, it’s a job in photography, and it’s only three days a week, so there’s plenty of time off to be a delicate arteeste.
It has turned out to be much more… good… than I expected. The irritatingly detail-oriented, very precise technique required to properly reproduce these occasionally brain-bashingly valuable objects has really helped me iron out some of the kinks in my traditionally slapdash approach to photo. And outside of the dark little pseudio they have me work in most of the time, the job has expanded to include various other tasks; art packing, installing, customer service, and so forth. Readers rejoice, I’ve stumbled back to my point.
In late November, we had our annual live auction in Toronto. In order to drum up appropriately lucrative enthusiasm, we crammed our gallery space with what would later amount to be $20.8 million in art and opened our doors for the public to come and see what was on offer. As part of this, the management dragged me out of the basement, tossed me into a suit, and had me stand near the door, simultaneously acting as security and reception. It’s been a very long time since any job I’ve held has required me to cordially speak to strangers, and that ability has atrophied down to a pale, vestigial nub. The fact that I was a new employee there, and mostly unschooled in the prices, bodies of work, media, histories, even the names, of the artists whose work we were displaying only complicated matters.
I will spare you all the excruciating minutiae (excrutiae?) of those boring/draining/scary days. The result was a startling improvement in my ability to talk to people I don’t know. “What’s that, Max? You’re saying that if you do something, you get better at it? Stop the fucking presses!” It was a very effective reminder of the fact that one’s self is amazingly ductile. Like most (sane) people, I feel as though my mindset is fairly stable. I feel the same way about things one day as I did the day before, as I will the next. I love a good shower. I hate olives. Vocoding is the devil. Everything seems stable, inert, reliable. In this case, given the appropriate stresses, I was startled how easily I overcame my introspective, (occasionally bordering on misanthropic) tendencies, overcame the awkwardnesses that cripple many of my casual social interactions and found myself going out of my way to engage strangers. Cracking jokes with Starbaristas, trying to get a smile out of reliably unpleasant transit employees, or trading stories with people while waiting in line.
The auction’s over. The art is sold, and I can retreat to the comforting, easy pseudio and settle back into my life as I know it.I may feel a hint of regret as I slowly relax back into my shell, but that regret is tempered by the knowledge that the way out again has been made a little easier.