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The Goodbye Collage

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/12/2011

We recently had a couple of people retire from the place where I work. Ok, so one retired, one is leaving to go to another job, and the other is leaving to become a full-time mom. (Which is another way of saying that she’s leaving to take on one of the biggest jobs on the planet. Folks, parenthood is work.) Her going away party was last Friday, and we wanted to do something special. So our manager decided we should make a collage.

A collage?

Yep, a collage. He figured it would be cool to scrape through all the photos we’ve made, find the ones with her in them or the ones that reflect work she’d done, and put them together in a collage. Oh! And print it on canvas.

… ?  A gallery wrap collage?

Yes! That’s precisely what he meant. So he went to work on his archives, and I went to work on mine, and between the two of us we got a bunch of photos together to make the collage. That’s when he dropped the bomb: “Ok, make the collage.”

I’m alright with still photography. My videos are really really lame. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I actually took a broadcast video class in college. The teacher’s advice was to keep doing still photography and leave the video work for people who didn’t suck. (Ok, he was way cooler than that, but I can read between the lines.) I think the same could be said of my collage skills.

Added to this, I made the horrid horrid mistake of listening to Pink Floyd while pawing through my photos. There’s no better recipe for a sappy maudlin weepy party than to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell while looking through photographs of someone you’re seriously going to miss seeing every day at work. So by the time my boss dropped this homework assignment on me, I was already in the mood to find the nearest Irish pub and buy the whole place a round of Jameson so we could hold our own mini-wake. Not the best recipe for positive creativity. More like disaster.

Wednesday evening I prepped all the images, got them to the right resolution, layered them with frames, added captions, and organized them for the real push.

I should probably mention that as of Wednesday night, I was still under the impression the party was the following Monday. Sorry, forgot to say that. This becomes important in the next paragraph.

Thursday we all headed up to our summit facility at 14,000′ above sea level to do an instrument change. During the drive talk turned to the going away party. Slowly, like some really terrifying horror movie version of molasses, the realization crept up on me that the party was Friday, not Monday, and that I basically had one day to finish, print, and stretch this collage. And I was at fourteen thousand feet in a remote facility while the printer was at our headquarters, hours away.

Hey, can I get some more Pink Floyd? My happy circuits just burned out.

When we arrived, I opened up my laptop and got ready to get to work. Except my screen kept blacking out if I opened it more than about 45 degrees. I tried several times while the implications really sank in. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. Days like this you feel like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. [Credit for this goes to the captain of the Cornelia Marie, an Alaskan crab fishing boat. Yeah, we’ve been watching way too much Deadliest Catch at home recently.  By the way, this is a great parenting technique: make your kids watch Alaskan crab fishermen at work. That way when you tell them to do the dishes, they know you’re not really being heartless and cruel. Heartless and cruel would be to make them do all the dishes for every house in town while throwing buckets of freezing cold salt water on them. See? Instant good parent!]

Once the heavy work of the instrument exchange was done, I balanced my laptop on its hinge, hooked up a USB keyboard one of my co-workers found for me, and made the collage. Keep in mind this was while breathing only 60% of the air you get at sea level, and that it was kind of like operating a computer that’s inside a shoe box with its lid tied shut. It wasn’t so much that it was hard to do. It was silly. I know because even as people were giving me feedback on the design, they were busy laughing their butts off. I got a crick in my neck, and they laughed at me. Ok, so maybe torturing my kids with shows about fishermen in the Bearing Sea wasn’t such a good idea.

I made two test prints to our big plotter (thank goodness for remote printing!) and saved the file so I could print it on canvas once I got down. The canvas print worked first try (whew!) and by 9am the next morning it was stretched onto the stretcher bars. Done.

Or so I thought…

It actually turned out well. Better than I thought. Better than anyone else thought. During the party people kept coming over to the collage to look at the pictures and read the captions. A couple of other people are also planning to retire in the next five years or so, and already more than one of them has requested we make a collage for them, too.

As I left for the day I stopped off at my boss’s door. He thanked me for the collage, and we laughed a little about the requests we’d had to make others. As a joke I asked if my next training class could be something with a little less mechanical design and something with a little more graphic arts. Like a collage class. Ha ha ha.

He didn’t laugh.

Uh oh…

– Tom


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