One of the first books that I had read when I was working in the business world was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. My copy is heavily dog-eared, underlined and dusty. I can see it from where I am sitting -- on the top bookshelf in my living room next to the Steve Jobs biography. With over 15 millions books in print, I'd say many people have read it and perhaps even learned a thing or two from it. Carnegie is one of the reigning kings when it comes to the self-help book genre. In his book, he gives prime examples of how to act around people, how to listen, how to engage in conversations, and how to be a leader. He gives you the key ingredients to help you become a better you. I suppose some of the techniques that I learned in his book helped me to be who I am today -- a successful gallery owner and author.
I'm pretty certain photographer Erik Schubert has read this book once or twice, too. Schubert has created a photographic series published by Lavalette simply titled How To Win Friends and Influence People, inspired by his own father, a pharmaceutical salesman who spent may days on the road.
The book starts off with a quote from Schubert's father: "Give 'em sell!" Great salesmen or salespeople, to be politically correct, live and die by the sales that they make. They are great talkers -- pitchmen, I mean, pitch people who can convince you to buy their products. Some people are just born with this knack for selling -- they're genuinely good at it. They're also dreamers who are not only thinking about meeting quotas, but also exceeding them in order to gain that euphoric rush that you get when you achieved something great. I know this because I used to be like this. These sales-driven people with a gift for getting you to say 'yes' are usually thinking many steps ahead of you, in the event that you come back with: I can't afford that right now, or I don't think I have use for your product, or the most simplest of statements, the dreaded "no."
From a lonesome set of dress shoes neatly placed on the floor, to a booth at an expo, to an old cassette tape with the title How To Create Original Material makes an appearance in the book. What is real and what is not? Diagrams, illustrations, sketches, tchotchkes -- Ceci n'est pas une plante. Our society uses these visual clues as a way to formulate our desire to want or to like something: a visually stimulating photograph or image sometimes forms our decisions.
Everything that Schubert is addressing, page after page, becomes a sales pitch or an advertisement -- or in some instances, it's a statement: Can you believe that we as consumers can be convinced into buying or needing this product? The randomness of the objects that he photographed at various sales expos were props or part of the set that was left behind. When Schubert photographed these objects away from their known context, something odd happened: the objects became awkward and obscure -- do shirts really come in a box like this?
The flipped over photograph with the hand-written note on the back that says, "Gary, 2005 will be a great year for us all" -- I'm wondering to myself: was it? Although corporations would love for their sale trajectory to always go up, in all actuality, it is cyclical and comes in waves. It's not always a smooth ride to the top. Sometimes, products and companies fail and jobs get eliminated. With an increased number of people buying products and shopping via the Internet, the traveling sales person is slowly becoming a dying breed.
The pyramid scheme breakdown of what executives would earn drawn out on a piece of white paper laying on a green rug tells us there are many people involved in the sales channel, and things aren't as rosy as some people are led to believe. You seem to be always kicking back to someone -- your achievements become someone else's rewards. How does that sit with you? Are you still high-fiving your buddies after you closed that sale?
In one instance, I think Schubert is taking us through this virtual walk-through of what a traveling salesperson does on the road -- attending expo after expo trying to sell their wares, building up excitement for a product, and making that pitch hoping to land that one, huge client that could be a game-changer. While the other hand sees a son who may have rode shotgun with his father on some of his trips to gain insight into this sales ritual, but not quite entirely sold on this path. The images tell us people have been there, but are void of people -- a void, or a maybe a distraction, that Schubert may have been looking to avoid altogether.
(Images courtesy the Artist and Lavalette.)