I Am Not a Photographer!..

Nearly anyone today with a smartphone photo-clicking-habit tends to be labeled by others as "A photographer".

I live in a state where about every third person I meet (outside of the camera room) is a Realtor, attorney or insurance broker. Talking to them long enough, you might also find that they too call themselves a photographer.

We truly are the sum of all that we've ever been, yet none of us are merely what we do. We are much, much more.

As I write this, I am (to most people) a photographer. Truth is, I am NOT a photographer. (by vague definition of someone that takes a lot of pictures).

What I truly am is an entrepreneur, systems junkie with extreme diversity in abstract problem solving. - But try putting that on a business card.

In my increasing role of inspiring entrepreneurs I've found it difficult to write shorter blogs on efficiency. It doesn't take a clairvoyant to notice the stigma that real professional photographers face because of our diluted identity. "But he's just a photographer." "Why would I attend his workshop on streamlining my business or leadership development?"

Unless we redefine the acronyms, my education cannot be measured by the initials after my name.

Brian Geraths MBA. fits well, if we call it "Manifester of Bold Affirmations". Bold they are, and manifesting has become my way of life.

MS is an easy one, if we can refer to me as "Mr. Systems". Like a reincarnated industrial engineer, looking to maximize on every second of my life by way of abolishing redundancies - I am indeed Brian Geraths MS.

But perhaps the most suitable is the time-tested, economy-challenged, experience-fortified BS. While my fellow Pendletonians and retail work-mates might assume it to be bull$#|+, I much prefer "Balance Seeker", or Balance Science. Brian Geraths BS.

I ended with that one in favor of those of you who will defend your investment in earning those initials the widely recognized way of attending a university. I respectfully bow to you for your achievements. Just the same, it's taken me 50 years to arrive at the wisdom of these words.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer.

I confess, I used to feel educationally inadequate when my formally educated friends would use college as a time-reference or rationale to wear team colors on everything they own. That is, until I took a leadership development course in 2013. The first day of the 9 month course, a personality type indicator was administered by Dr. Marci Nemhauser Psy.D. We then divided into four "types" of workers. Each quadrant then gathered in separate corners of the room.

Based on the results of our personality inventory we divided into our highest ranking titles - "Leader" people, "People" people, "Task" and "Free Spirits".

Of the 33 people in my class, I found myself the only guy standing in a corner with two women. Despite all that I knew of myself, all the managerial positions I've held successfully, it was systematically determined that I am a free spirit?

At first, my ego felt the imbalance of my being in a corner with only two other people, now wearing a label that was likely ill-perceived by most in terms of leadership value. I took a deep breath and decided - "screw it, I know who I am and what I've proven capable of, why would it matter what anyone else thinks? I am what I am."

I love to be in the quiet corner. I enjoy being liberated from my once-judgmental Self. Besides, my second-highest score was in the "People" box, so I'll listen for their description also.

We were then asked to look around the room and reply to who we thought were the most likely leader "types" of the group. {Crude distillation here Dr. N., Sorry} "People" people would likely be too caught up in pleasing. "Tasks" would rather focus on projects than working with or directing others. "Free Spirits" would be too flitty to manage, so it must be the "Leaders", right?..

The answer was, drum roll... Free Spirits!

Free Spirits think "out-of-the-box". We are less attached to claiming credit, than the effective means of win-win successful result. We are able to fit in with more than just our own type. I have no idea how this affected the way that our other 30 business peers looked at us, the lonely three, but I know where my mind went.

"A HA!.. So that's why I was able to..." My mind raced through my past as a manager in many different departments of Fred Meyer. Always rising to the top in pretty short order. So many times during and prior to my "manager" titles, I made things happen without seeking credit. Promotions came slower, but I knew how to get things done using all levels on the ladder of our organization.

In that process I became a systems guru. A mediator. A schedule-writer. A problem solver. A merchandiser. A planner and just about EVERYTHING that flies in the face of the labels "Free Spirit" or "photographer", as I understood them. Entrepreneur, however... YES!

Truth be told, it was my lack of passion for retail, countered by a sense-of-integrity that wouldn't allow me to do a sub-standard job, that drove me to maximize efficiency.

If I could do the job faster, I could get out on time with an impressive result, thus earn more money in less time. This way, I could become a manager, get my weekends off to shoot weddings, then "Switch horses mid-ride". (thoughts from my Pendleton frames-of-reference)

Naive as that might sound, that was my 16 year-old thinking. That thought drove me to be a "PIC" (person in charge) at my prior, retain/grocery job for Albertsons, and it worked at a very young age. By age 19 I was a graveyard PIC, functioning on a Mountain Dew and Snickers diet, running with 200 pound stacks of freight balanced on a 2-wheeler (aka - hand truck)

I began to recall and process all of the roles I'd played in my retail life, and what were the functions I thrived at. It was always about efficiency. By way of organizing, streamlining and good-old fashioned "HUSTLE!"

Back in the day, we had freight rolling off of the back of trucks on roller tracks with no more than 2 seconds between the boxes. The truck driver just grabbed anything in cardboard, and made sure the track was always full. At the base of the track it was sort-central, creating aisle-specific stacks to be wheeled as close to the shelf location as the stack could be. I LOVED THAT JOB.

"Aisle 2, Aisle 6, Aisle 5..." as we caught them at the end of the track. "Aisle 11a, 7b (oops, too light, set to the side for the top), 5 heavy, 4 light, 1 light, 1 heavy... You get the idea. It was a very "do or die" task where you didn't want that case of glass apple juice bottles hitting the floor, or crushing ramen noodles. This time was all factored into our "Cases per man-hour" so clean-ups were NOT an option. (yes, OCTOBER WAS A WORKOUT - think gallons of apple cider pre-halloween)

Fast-forward to PIC training at Freds in 1987, I found the next best job at the customer service desk. The Salem store I trained at, had a four-sided desk where we'd simultaneously print lottery tickets, rent out rug shampooers, issue money to cashiers, answer the phones, approve checks (yes, the paper things we used to trade like money), execute employee breaks, discern between "Returns" and stolen merchandise, all while smiling under the "Customer Service" sign.


And in my more recent "prior career" as a manager for Fred Meyer, my favorite store happened to be the most intense, diverse and challenging. Widely known for it's radio-ad disclaimer "Available at all stores except Sixth & Alder", our glorified mini-mart, capable of ordering anything you could get in the burbs, but space was a premium commodity.

We were like a mass-variety convenience store in the middle of downtown Portland. For 3.5 years I called that "My store". It challenged every paint-by-numbers system established by Fred Meyer because the baseline systems just didn't fit the dynamic of this store. It had been in red ink for a few years before I arrived, mainly because the suburbia systems (and product mix) didn't fit a downtown shopper.

It was, however, paradise for one who loves a good puzzle to solve. The challenge: We generated 60+ percent of our sales between the hours of 11a and 2pm, vs. the suburban peaks of evening and weekend traffic. We had limited hours Saturday, and closed on Sunday. (okay, the other thing I loved about it).

With extensive grocery background, I was transferred to this store as a rising star in the thriving Nutrition division in the late 80's. "Fooders" at Fred Meyer were a whole different breed than Nutrition Managers, so I was in a very odd position with my history.

Understanding volume, yet realizing the benefit of listening and actual service. I became the hybrid that they needed to help change the color of P&L ink.  Interestingly, the tools I created to do it have also allowed me to keep my photo business alive through the worst of times.

Empowering cashiers to pick a product they were most passionate about to discuss with the rushing customers that kept them in one place for those intense hours. We sold a great deal of low margin sodas and vendor sandwiches, so my quest was to profit more per hour.

Having them pick high margin impulse items that helped them to not feel "stuck in the checkstand" while they comfortably encouraged the sale during those high-traffic three hours.

No freight on the floor from 11a until 2, so that we could be 100% focused during high-traffic hours - This was a paradigm shift for a store that had to use every second to get basic functions done with less hours than needed - sound at all relative?..

We didn't take breaks between 11 and 2. Imagine a New York sidewalk, channeled through our little store for three solid hours of lunch-seeking commuters. Efficiency increased by having more people earlier to stock shelves, and the manager (humble dude named Brian/nicknamed note-boy) took off his red vest, and put on an apron to serve vs. observe.

Our department (the one I was leading) began to profit for the first time in a great while so I asked for a raise from the Nutrition department that I was still slotted in. I knew that my skewing of their full category was unpopular, but I gave them the numbers by not carrying what went to waste, maximizing on what was selling (profitably), so I created a 32 x 40" poster, dividing it in four columns to illustrate my point.


Nutrition was a subdivision of "Food Division", who had just given me all categories of their division as incentive for the raise. Determined to make more money (for them as well) I reset the entire store.

Thanks to the support of my amazing Regional Supervisor (fooder) John Brown, who got approval (thank you) from former President (a.k.a. Fierce Retailer: ) Darrel Webb. They accepted my proposal to completely reset about 60% of the store. Somewhere in my 10,000+hrs of merchandising, arose an architect that drafted the full plan. I was given a green light, five go-getters from other stores and two nights to make it all happen.

Within five months, I met Darrel as he came to personally deliver my P&L's of all departments I was serving. BLACK INK!

We now had the highest sales-per-square-foot in the chain. We got bigger offers from competitors wanting to buy our downtown location, and in-the-end, my efforts caused us to sell my favorite job in all of my years in retail. Sending me back to the paint-by-numbers systems in the burbs was depressing. (though they did take pretty good care of me, now single-parenting my 7mo old daughter - now 24yrs old)

After a 12 week course based on the job-seekers book "What Color is Your Parachute", our class peers got to tell us who we were. I was born to observe, loved problem solving, but to hear how everyone viewed me was worth the price of admission in itself.

To my surprise, the four careers that people saw me in. (remember I'm a retail manager hearing this)

1 - Photographer
2 - Author, especially How-To books
3 - Teacher
4 - Architect (thinking they saw how I lit up after a complete redesign of the product layout at Sixth & Alder)

After I eventually cashed in my "retirement" savings to form Prints Charming Photography in 1996, I took a great business class before any "how to" photo classes.

It showed me that I had just entered a business that "out-failed restaurants". Somehow I think that statistic just fanned my flames. I cashed in, declined the "better offers" from Freds to stay, and haven't looked back since.

My hat-rack is filled with these frequent caps as "a photographer".
• I am a career counselor, (high school seniors lost about what they want to do next)
• I am a magic mirror (vs. prozac) to the lady who hates her nose or hair. My results are based on genuine happy, professional and approachable, not a scowl of self-inflicted discontentment.
• I am a mediator when the bride wants birth-mom and birth-dad in a photo together without their new partners.
• I am a systems junkie - creating time-saving, money-making tools to simplify life!
• I am a visionary. The Entrepreneur. The guy in the front of the roller coaster with his hands flailing with excitement when fear even tries to set in
• I am the HR department, affirming/motivating my way from mundane thinking
• I am a salesperson, selling by no other way than doing what I love - connecting with people
• I am a chamber of commerce marketing committee member
• I am the designer of twelve portrait studio locations (including the six I almost rented)
• I am a PR Committee member of my Rotary club
• I am the inagural Education Coordinator at my BNI Networking group AND LOVE IT!!!

and yes, I am a traveler. Here are my buddies from a wedding I shot (while on my free time) in kenya   

and yes, I am a traveler. Here are my buddies from a wedding I shot (while on my free time) in kenya


Source: Scott Kelby via http://www.mediafire.com

Source: Scott Kelby via http://www.mediafire.com

It took nearly 25 years to make good on my peer assessment to become what what they knew of me.  Architect, Writer, Teacher and the craft that has espoused them all - Entrepreneur! Brian Geraths - MS, MBA, BS, and the ones I actually earned from photographic study - FP (Fellow of Photography). But try fitting all of that on a card!

I'll just settle for Brian LTTDID (learning til the day I die)


Brian Geraths

Passionate for nature, life, writing and sharing, this site is mutually dedicated to my three favorite vehicles through life - Photography, Writing and Speaking. As professional photographer I was (and still am) in my favored "Observer" mode. As writer, these observations exposed a deeper understanding into ethics, authenticity and leadership. As speaker, I get to be selfish. In giving we gain - big! By helping you to discover your own authenticity, passion and where you too are a leader, I get a huge pang of fulfillment. Yes, I am a giver - the most selfish sort of person that ever was. (that is, once you realize how great the results of giving truly are)