Sunday, May 9, 2010


Let's try this post again! Sorry about the repeat, but the first time I posted this article, I was in the middle of spell-checking, when the article posted itself! Here goes, again:

Photofutures. No, not that kind of futures...not as in the commodities futures market, but as in a group of like minded people who collect photography, who aren't speculating on anything. Photofutures members, are considered the most active and ardent group of collectors at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), and whom share the common goal of furthering the holdings of the museums collection of master photographers, both historical and future.

Thirty-five individuals comprise the current Photofutures group, whose members hail from a variety of professions, ages, and backgrounds, but have in common an appreciation and passion for photography. The popularity of collecting photography is partly because the medium is accessible--affordable, if you will. With the growth of digital photography, it's become even more so. You can find beautiful pictures that are still relatively affordable.

Group members travel with the museums curator of photography to various cities around the US, visiting museum shows, art fairs, and most interesting to me are the private collections that we are able to tour. As a group, we become more educated about the medium.

But alas, yesterday was the last Photofutures event for the year (late August through early May). Our meeting featured two artists, both represented by Christa Dix, owner of Wall Space Gallery in Seattle, WA,

The meeting was held at one of our members homes, which happens to be a house that I covet, and that I consider one of the most beautiful homes in all of Santa Barbara and Montecito. A relatively modest home by local standards, this home is a beautiful study in scale and restraint, with a beautiful balance between decoration and ornamentation, and simplicity. The balance is further evident in the wonderfully allocated indoor and outdoor living space which flow seamlessly from one into the other. The simple stucco exterior is centered with an elaborate Spanish style carved limestone surround, punctuated with a glass lined, period style wrought iron front door--a hint at what lie ahead for the
"hous-e-o-phile" and casual observer alike. Out of respect for the home owner's, I will post only exterior shots of this wonderful home, sorry!

Now to the business at hand:
The first artist to present their work was photographer Aline Smithson, . A former New York Fashion Editor for Vogue Patterns, Smithson worked alongside some of the greats of fashion photography, including Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, and Peter Lindbergh.

PHOTOS, above:
TOP: Photofutures member and President of the Santa Barbara Arts Fund, Joanne Holderman, Artist Aline Smithson, and Photofutures member Caroline Thompson.
BOTTOM: President of the SBMA Board of directors, Marshall Milligan, looks at the hand colored photographs by Aline Smithson.

PHOTO, above, from Left to Right:
Left: Photofutures member, and SBMA Board member, philanthropist Mike Healy;
Center: Photofutures member, and former President of the SBMA Board of Directors and philanthropist Mercedes "Merci" Eicholz (widow of the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas);
Right: Photofutures member Amanda McIntyre.

We learned that when Aline Smithson discovered the family Rolleiflex camera, she never looked back. Smithson said she creates her (award winning) photography with humor, compassion, and a 50-year old camera, which is most evident in the series that features her 85-year old mother, my favorite series of Smithson's work.

TOP: Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist Mother, 1871, by James McNeill Whistler
BOTTOM: No. 10, (The Last Super), by Arline Smithson. Hand colored photograph.

The series of 22 images feature Smithson's mother juxtaposed with various imagery, costumes and props, some familiar, and some just darn clever! The series was inspired by Smithson's favorite
painting, commonly known as "Whistler's Mother", painted by James McNeill Whistler in 1871--see photo above. I may be somewhat partial to that painting myself as a copy of it hung on the wall of my family's Breakfast room for the first 18 years of my life...I had many a meal with Whistler's Mother!

PHOTO'S, above: Images available in 11x14, editions of 25; or 16 x 20, editions of 20:
LEFT: No. 14 (Blue Elvis), by Aline Smithson. Hand painted photograph.
RIGHT: No. 8, (Pinkie and Blueboy), by Aline Smithson. Hand painted photograph.

Aline Smithson is an instructor at the highly respected Julia Dean Photo Workshops, ,
the West coast's largest non-degree based school of photography. Smithson's workshop, Creating Art with Toy Camera, teaching participants the history of, and how to use toy cameras, and learn why "blur" (the principal characteristic effect of prints made from toy camera negatives) is such an extremely popular style of fine art photography.

PHOTO'S, above:
Legoland, taken with a toy camera at Legoland California. Through the lens of the toy camera, the  images appear 100's of times larger than their actual size. According to Smithson, none of the subjects in the images above, are larger than three feet in height!

Aline Smithson's artist statement: "I try to create moments that are at once familiar, yet unexpected. The odd juxtapositions that we find in life are worth exploring. The poignancy of childhood, aging, relationships, family, and moments of introspection or contemplation continue to draw my interest. I want to create pictures that evoke a universal memory". And that she does!

Smithson's works with four cameras: a twin lens Rolleiflex, a Hasselblad, and a Diana and a Holga plastic (toy) cameras. She said the first two cameras provide clarity and formality; the latter two provide spontaneity and simplicity.

Aline Smithson writes a blog, , highlighting the work of other photographers, both known to her and brought to her attention by others, giving thorough insight into a particular artists work. She also writes on photography shows, dealers, and features related websites. A great blog to subscribe to!

Our second presentation was by photographer Charles Groog, based in nearby Ojai, CA. Groog, a college English professor by day, is a fine art artist who works with botanical, still life, and natural imagery.

PHOTO, above: 
Artist Charles Groog discusses a "Bonsai" photograph from his Botanical Series, with Patsy Blake, Photofutures member, and a member of the SBMA Board of Directors. Groog created the mixed media piece by processing nine negatives, each an individual photograph of a single object (plant), then stitches them together, matching the parts to create the complete image. On some images, he adds strings to replicate ropes tethering the plant to the earth. 

Groog prints his work with a hand coated platinum/palladium process, printed on handmade Japanese Gampi (a flexible, natural fiber), mounted on a rare and beautiful natural fiber Washi paper. The nine separate photographs on Gampi are sewn together, and that image is sewn to the Washi paper.

Groog's website,, describes his work as follows: As a cross-disciplinary artist, Charles has synthesized imagery from literature as well as the pictorial arts to his imaginative work flow. Botanical and other natural imagery, architecture, and nudes are often isolated from environmental backgrounds both to draw attention to their inherently sensual details and to make their implausible disconnection from the natural and vital world a cause for further investigation. A little deep, I know, but when you see the work, the verbosity of the description of his work rings true.

PHOTO, above:
Butterflyfrom the portfolio, "Once Removed", by Charles Groog. Here, Groog blends the natural and artificial worlds into a working order of references.

Groog shoots Polaroid film on a 4x5 inch camera, or medium format film developed in PMK Pyro...hand developed, a rarity indeed in today's digital image world.

PHOTO'S, below:

Left: Bonsai 4, from the Botanical's Series by Charles Groog.
Right: Bonsai 5, from the Botanical's Series by Charles Groog

The platinum/palladium development process, printed on the hand coated gampi, creates images that are sensual artifacts. Stunning!

As the Photofutures group entered it's tenth year, in acknowledgment of the groups support of the museums photography collection, the SBMA showcased 58 of the acquisitions made by the Photofutures members with the exhibition, Ten: Gifts of the SBMA Photofutures.

Photofutures purchases are made with combined funds from its members, at an annual Photofutures Buying Spree, of which Caroline, my wife, and I have had the honor of co-hosting for the last two years. I must say, keeping order at a buying spree with a group of overachieving philanthropist types is no easy task!

The Ten exhibition highlighted those areas of strength in the museums photography holdings, including work by Western Pacific Rim artists, photography at the Intersection of Art and Science, and Contemporary works.

The museum has identified photography as important from the Western Pacific Rim, China, Japan, and Korea--all nations in the midst of significant technological and economic growth--works that express the complex nature of cultures in flux, which reflect upon the rapid transition from traditional to modern ways of life.


PHOTO, above: 
San Xia 2, 2005-2006/2007, by Chen Nong. Eight hand-colored gsps, ed. 5/10.

The image above is a detail from a group of eight hand-colored photographs depicting groups of Chinese men wearing mock armor created by the artist to evoke the terracotta  army of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi which was discovered in the region in 1974. The San Xia region of mainland China is home to the Three Gorges Dam which harnessed the power of the Yangtze River resulting in dramatic environmental changes.
In his melancholic portraits of local Chinese who were hired by the government to demolish their own communities in anticipation of the regional flooding, photographer Chen Nong calls attention to the socio-cultural and environmental impact of modern industrial development.


 PHOTO, above:
Sandy Skoglund: Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981. Silver dye bleach print.

Sandy Skoglund photographs installations that she builds in her studio, employing actors to populate her fabricated tableaux. In the large-scale print, a young man, consumed by nightmarish anxiety, sits at his bedside, inundated by flying goldfish while his mother sleeps nearby.

When members of Photofutures attended the international contemporary art fair, Art Basel Miami Beach, relationships forged between the collectors while traveling, increased knowledge of contemporary photography, and exposure to private collections in Miami led to the joint purchase of the photograph, below, during the next annual Photofutures Buying Spree.

PHOTO, above:
Jackie Nickerson: Grandmother, Masiphumelele Township, Western cape, South Africa, 2004.
Lambda photograph, ed. 4/4.

The next photography exhibition at the SBMA is Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography, which opens July 3, 2010, and runs through September 19, 2010.

PHOTO, Above:
PA-YA: Noblesse Children #12, 2008, From the series Noblesse Children (2008). Chromogenic photograph. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Photofutures Group of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The exhibition first opened at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), and is the first major exhibition in the United States of photographs made by contemporary Korean artists presently living in Korea. This exhibition opens a window into the rapidly expanding field of photographic practice in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Bringing together work by 40 contemporary photographers, this exhibition surveys the range of contemporary issues through the themes of family, urbanization, globalization, identity, and nature.

Co-organized by the SBMA and the MFAH, this groundbreaking exhibition is not a presentation on "Koreanness, " although issues of cultural and personal identity are strong components. Rather, it is an attempt to identify Korea as a source of complex and stimulating visual ideas expressed through the medium of photography.

Chaotic Harmony offers an enticing glimpse into the new century as it is perceived by two different generations of Korean artists - those who began exhibiting their work in the 1980's and 1990's, and those who are now exhibiting images from their first or second series of photographs.

Wow! The SBMA, what a museum! Interested in Photofutures? Contact the Santa Barbara Museum of Art,

Good Night Moon.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Oh, my gosh! Had I known how many people would contact me about the lack of customer service in this world, I would have written this series long ago!
Is customer service dead?

I think not! There's even a "Dummie" book on the subject, Customer Service for Dummies?

Customer service will never be dead as long as their is a desire by the public to be appreciated for their business. I'm talking about all businesses, whether for goods and/or services, or even a business like the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (notorious for the lack of service and cooperation of any kind).
And speaking of the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, and I've had experience with these departments in Texas, New Mexico, and now in California. I have to say one thing about this particular governmental department, no matter which of these states your in, it is exactly the kind of experience that you can have at Starbucks, it is the same every time you go there!

So lets give Starbucks a break (for a moment), and consider customer service at the DMV:

Visualize, if you will, the DVM: You pull up to a building that used to house a supermarket. You walk in, and there are posted instructions in several different areas, in both English and Spanish. Good, so far. There is a well worn Formica counter in front of you, and an oddly placed stand that dispenses "numbers" (a queue in jolly old England) similar to the one at Baskin-Robbin. There is no one behind the counter, but you can see the "bull pen", a plethora of mostly empty desks, with the exception of the handful of employees, who all happen to be on the telephone.

Now, I don't know about you, but anytime that I've needed another document, or an important question answered, I have never had one of the employees leave the front counter and go back to their desk and telephone anyone on my behalf. I estimate that I've licensed no less than ten cars in three different states, and I can't for the life of me figure out who in the heck these people are talking to.

Do you?

What I do know is that if they're talking on the telephone, then they're not at the front counter helping the people who have taken "a number". I would rather have my wisdom teeth extracted than register a car, in any state!

Photo, above: Ouch!


Photo, above: The "Express License Dept.", Dept of Motor Vehicles, NYC.

I wonder, what kind of customer service training these employee's have had? Or, do they have so many more rights than their employer, that the employer doesn't even have the right to enforce a customer service policy? I don't know the answer to this, but as a California business owner, I haven't one right if a disgruntled employee files a claim of any kind. That's for another series!

For those of you engaged in the workforce, public or private, when you've given good service, and it is appreciated by the recipient, is there a sense of satisfaction for having put yourself out there? For me, absolutely. It is almost as gratifying as the financial reward.

But a funny thing happens when I give good customer service, the financial rewards come more frequently. If anyone can refute that, then bring it on!


Here is some of the email from this weeks post's:

Received 2/18/10, from one of the mega-producing real estate brokers, in Dallas, TX comes this story of customer service gone awry, and this time it was at the GAP (I've already said that Starbucks may get a break from me today!):

"Regarding your Design Guy comments about Customer Service... thank you for railing against those who know nothing about good service and its importance.. It's rampant.. today I was in the Gap and waiting in line to check out with another person. Ahead of us was an off duty employee purchasing something who was getting so much attention from the two employees checking customers out... it was unbelievable... they were joking, gabbing, on and on amongst the three of them with no regard whatsoever for the real customers behind her waiting to pay real money for the purchases... it was shocking... I really wanted to say something but my desire to just get out of there was stronger... And worse, one of the idiots was the manager!! Where's she getting her training? So, tell me about soapboxes... I'm right up there with you.
Take care and keep writing.. you're really quite good at it!

Photo, above: A new Gap Ad...maybe they should spend a little time with their employees explaining what this thoughtful message means!

And this received 2/19/10:

By the way..."when these girls were gabbing uncontrollably, there was no eye contact with the other customers waiting, and the talk was loud and obnoxious...they were even yelling at her on her way out of the was absolutely appalling!"

Photos, above: Some fashion ideas for getting rude salespeople to make eye contact with you.


GAP, Inc could have a huge influence on the world in the area of customer service, just look at these stats:

GAP operates 3,167 stores in United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland and Japan. The company also operates its stores in Asia, Europe and the Middle East through franchise agreements. GAP is headquartered in San Francisco, California, the U.S and employs 15,000 people.

The GAP's revenue in 2009 was down 7.8%* below 2008 results (*Business Week 2/19/10)

How about it GAP, Inc want to invest in a little customer service training? Why don't you give it a whirl?


Today's helpful hints from the Design Guy:

To reduce a high incidence of computer key-board damage, consider supplying this new style Aeron desk chair to your employees:


Enough said (for the moment).


To my readers:

Thank you for your emails and feedback on the Customer Service series of articles. I agree the time is now to turn this problem around, and articles like these, and with the interest that you've all expressed, I think we can turn it around, one employee at a time!

Thank you,


Good Night Moon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010



Expectations for Customer Service (and Life)!

I want to address the concept of a “customer having the same experience” every time they visit a Starbucks store, and let’s look at the components of that experience as it relates to our expectations.

Now, I think expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

How so?

Well first it means that I given up on allowing an experience to 'just happen'. I’ve decided in advance of the happening, how it should be. And, rarely do things 'happen' the way that I thought that they should have happened. Then, when this expectation isn’t fulfilled, I’m disappointed, or even sometimes resentful.
Here’s an example:

Your kid gets ready to leave home for college; the school assigned him/her a roommate, based on whatever or however they do such a thing. Prior to the kid’s arrival on campus, they receive from the school contact information on the person that they’ve been assigned to, in hopes that the two will make contact with one another prior to their arrival on campus, and perhaps even find some common interests or goals.

Move in day arrives, your kid walks into the dorm room and sees the other kid standing there, and they immediately begin to size the other one up. If one kid is dressed with designer labels on their clothing, and the other kid is more natural, earthy, they will immediately judge each other as being different from one another. If they have different body shapes or “looks” accents, or skin color, then more judgments.

Without uttering a word, these students will size the other up, and think that they somehow know the other person, even if just a little, or even assume something specific about what the other person is like.

Okay, so what, then?

The designer label kid is probably going to be judged by the earthy kid, as shallow, materialistic, preppy, and rich, sorority girl, a snob, etc…

The earthy kid might judge as brainy or a dropout, uncaring about the finer things in life, poor, lazy, even a druggy, etc…

For these two to get along, they will have to first exhibit tolerance and an appreciation for the fact that they’re different from each other, but are alike in some ways. They must find the areas of interest or likeness that they share in common, or they have little chance of surviving as roommates for an entire semester.

To do this, they have to get rid of any expectations of one another; they have to be open to finding the areas of commonality that are more important to them than the way things appear or look.

It’s very possible to do this if they can drop their expectations. They will have to listen carefully to one another, and use this 'sense' to really ‘see’ what the other is about.

Here’s a personal example:

I belong to a group where most of the guys are professionals and are gainfully employed. For the most part, the group is well mannered, well spoken, dressed somewhat conservatively, and we have few if any tattooed members…except for one member (there’s always that one!)! I have sat in that room week after week, year after year, sometimes catching myself focusing on the tattooed one.

Never listening to what he says, but focusing on my own preconceived judgments of people who would tattoo themselves, along with expectations I would have of that type of person. In this instance, I have no preconceived expectations of this person doing anything right, or well. I expect him to speak poorly, dress like a gang banger (which he does), drive a motorcycle, come from the wrong side of the tracks, wear his ball cap backwards (which he does), and a few other traits. He’s also a body builder, so if he’s a gang banger, then he must be a ‘bad’ one, so I wanted to, and did, stay clear of him before and after meetings. At some point at one of our meetings, unavoidably we ended up talking briefly. Whatever he said, or didn’t say, created some interest in me about this guy, enough so that the next time I heard him talk in one of the meetings, I listened. And over a period of time, I’ve heard some areas of commonality.

Turns out, he’s not a gang banger at all, though he dresses like one. He was raised in Beverly Hills, graduated from Beverly Hills High School (the school crest, shown below right, is inscribed "Today well Lived"), his father was a successful producer who retired and moved his family to the beach. The guy doesn’t drive a low-rider truck as I would have presumed, but a new BMW. He has been a successful entrepreneur in his twenties and hasn’t worked since. Now in his early 40’s, he’s back in college finishing his degree. He’s very well spoken, has excellent manners, and sports a near full body tattoo. Now that is about as incongruous to my preconceived ideas about a tattooed person as I can think of.

Somehow, I heard this guy when he spoke to me that evening. I was somehow open to hearing him. Sure I kept my prejudgment of him near the surface of my thoughts the first time we talked, but I had to have put them far enough way to allow something to happen…to allow me to listen to what this fellow had to say.

Since then, we’ve had coffee after meetings, and have had some really fun and meaningful conversations. When I walk into a coffee shop or retail store with the tattooed one, I can’t help but snicker at those who seem to immediately judge him for the way he looks, and me for being with him!

Wow! What a great thing to be able to see. I feel like I’ve got a new pair of glasses with which to see!

The skill in both of these examples is listening. Really listening to what the other person was saying. Listening allowed me to put away forever my preconceived idea of who this person was. Had I not been able to listen to this man, I wouldn’t be able to count this man as one of my friends today.

‘So what’s the point?’ you ask. “How does this tie-in to Starbucks Customer Service Policy”?

I thought you’d never ask! Thank you!

When I walk into a Starbucks, I do have an expectation of how that experience is going to be, and I have to admit, that experience is about the same one that they’re counting on: The transaction is quick and efficient; the Latte tastes the same every time; I say, “thank you”, and the barista says, “no problem.”

But I’m not happy with that experience! I want my business to be appreciated! I want the barista to thank me! Yes, he/she should thank me! I want to say “you’re welcome,” just once.

But it’s not going to happen the way I want it too. I’m the customer, but that’s not the way their employees are trained. They’re trained to do it a certain way, and manners have nothing to do with it.

So what gives? Accept this shoddy service, this lack of appreciation for my business? Absolutely not! At the price that I pay for a cup of Starbucks coffee, as compared to what I used to pay for a cup of coffee pre-Starbucks, I expect more.

If I put .75 cents into a vending machine for a cup of coffee, I don’t have any expectation for this ‘cup of Joe’, other than that it contains the ingredients and tastes halfway decent. I don’t even expect the machine to say “no problem.”

Now, see my point? And, yes, that is a Starbucks coffee vending machine you see, above. Am I so far off now?
So what can Starbucks expect? I believe they can ‘expect’ a continued decrease in their business. They’ve closed stores, scaled back plans for opening new stores, and who knows what else is on the radar for them. Further, they’ve opened the door both regionally and nationally for their competition from the likes of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or Peet’s Coffee & Tea (both California based coffee chain stores), or for anybody else that can ‘build a better mouse trap.’ Their competitors here in California aren’t competing with them for a lower price per cup of coffee, or with a better location, or even a different or better flavor of coffee; they’re doing it with good old customer service, and they say ‘thank you’ when they hand you your cup of coffee.

There has never been a substitute for customer service, and there never will be. As long as companies, retailers, and service sector industries continue to miss this important business component, there will always be room at the top.


To my Dear Anonymous Reader responding to the Customer Service: Part I Article

Thank you for responding to my article, I really appreciate it. Customer testimonies weren't used for this article, because it's my opinion of the coffee shop that lacks customer service, and it's my belief that it can be done better. I'm the owner of retail stores, and in today's business environment if we didn't excel at customer service we'd absolutely be out of business. Why is our business growing in this economy? Is it because my company's Internet website is the biggest, fastest, contains the broadest selection, and the cheapest prices? NO. "Today's" way of doing business isn't the reason for our growth, and none of those attributes of "current" successful businesses in this web based world have anything to do with our success. It's customer service. Pure and simple. There is no substitute for it, and there never will be.

Regarding my mentors you said, "they are not cutting edge Sellers...a dying breed", I beg to differ. Neiman Marcus is one of the most successful high-end retailers on this planet; likewise, Ebby Halliday Realtors is among the largest independently owned real estate company's in the world. Both of these 'mentors' are very easy to check out, and I encourage you to do so.

Lastly, you ask, "But what is good about cusotmer service these days?"
Everything about receivng and giving good customer service is rewarding to both the customer and the giver. People are working harder and making less, and care about how and where they spend their hard earned money. I know that I would be a lot more likely to give up my hard earned cash to someone who offered me good customer service than to someone who didn't. I do see your points, and I thank you for sharing.



Please join me for CUSTOMER SERVICE: Part III

Good Night Moon