Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Big Ledger

SINCE I DON'T SEEM TO REMEMBER HALF OF WHAT I PHOTOGRAPHED, I frequently refer to the Big Ledger. I've mentioned it before but it seemed like a good time to actually show the thing, and to tease some of the shots I'll be putting up in the coming year.

the Big Ledger

The Big Ledger was a hardbound accounting ledger book that I "liberated" from Simpson's at the end of the summer I worked in their accounting department, tabulating sales and stock figures by hand as they prepared to consolidate their records as the venerable old department store was being merged into the Hudson's Bay Company.

It wasn't really theft since they were throwing away stacks of these old-school bookkeeping volumes as they were shutting down most of the department and transferring the figures to computers - a task clearly way above my pay grade, as I did all of my work that summer with a calculator and stacks of dot matrix printouts.

The Big Ledger was almost 200 pages long, but when I began entering data into it on Halloween of 1988, I was forced to skip about a dozen or so pages that had been used already. I began recording my career with a pair of portraits - singer Holly Cole and Michael Horwood, a composer, printed for Music Scene magazine, where my onetime Nerve editor Nancy Lanthier was working.

None of the early - formative, sometimes primitive, occasionally embarrassing - work I did for either Nerve or Graffiti magazine are recorded in the Big Ledger, since they'd both gone out of business by the time I decided it was a good idea to keep track of my career.

Starting from the left hand side of the page, I recorded the sequential number I assigned the print, contact sheet or slide I was sending out. (The Holly Cole portrait - the first entry - is assigned P80001; the "P" is for print, the "80" for 8x10. "C" was for contact sheet, "CS" for colour slide.) Moving from left to right I also recorded the name of the subject, the client it was being sent to, its intended use (editorial, promo, commission, gift, etc.,) the date it was sent, the date returned and the amount I was paid.

It seemed a simple enough system, and it served me reasonably well for the next twelve years. Except, of course, when I had a rush job and had to courier a job to a client fresh from the colour rental darkroom or slide lab where I didn't have the Big Ledger to record an entry. After a while I stopped recording when jobs were returned - they rarely were, in most cases. It's not the most accurate record of the busiest period of my career as a photographer, but it's the best I have.

The last entry was made in November of 2001 - a pair of framed prints I sent to a show of live music photography at a gallery in Texas. Between the first entry and the last I filled up 2,143 entries on 66 pages. After this point the work was too occasional - and I was too discouraged - to bother entering anything in the Big Ledger. In a few years the digital revolution would come along and make this sort of neo-Victorian record-keeping almost wholly pointless.


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