The History of the Customer Show
Written by Katt Janson Merilo
The Blue Moon Camera and Machine annual Customer Show is our favorite event of the year. Opening in December to celebrate our anniversary, we somehow have conned our staff, customers, fans, and friends to get dressed up and walk the streets of St. Johns in the rain and cold all evening, and it’s always been 100% worth it. On this 15th Anniversary and 14th year of Customer Show-ing, we’re feeling nostalgic: let’s take a step back a little over a decade ago to when this whole Show thing got started.
Discussion of the first customer show brings us back to the image that began the show. While sifting through prints one day in the lab to perform routine quality checks, Jake stumbled upon an image that he instantly adored, made by our customer and friend John Bodaly. “I knew that, left to its own devices, this image would eventually be put in a box somewhere, to be potentially forgotten and never seen again, and I couldn’t stand for it,” Jake says of the discovery. Motivated by his drive to ensure that this and other photos that are too good to go unseen have their day (or month) in the spotlight, the Blue Moon crew made a show. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and a decade and a half later, it’s still does.
The overall idea of the show has been the same since that first photo: during the staff’s normal routines in the print lab, there are images we come across that make us stop and take notice. These images are then shown to the rest of the staff, and a majority vote is taken as to whether or not it should be put into the show. If 51% of the staff like it, it goes in the Show. Some of the photos are a close call, coming down to tie breaking arguments on either side, while others are unanimous, but once it’s in it’s all just a part of the Show. The customer is informed of their selection, asked to sign a print to participate or decline the invitation, and all the approved prints get mounted and hung in anticipation of an early December opening.
The actual event of the Show has evolved over the years. The first Show took place in December 2003 to celebrate our second anniversary of the store’s opening. At the time the Show hung in one venue: a neighborhood cafe then called Cafe NOLA, which has since been renamed to Proper Eats. Those who have been to a Customer Show opening before know that Proper Eats remains our Show’s hub, and while we’ve expanded to more venues over time, Proper has been the host of the current year’s show and, in later years, after-show dance party.
After a couple years of the Show, we started running out of room for all the stellar photos our customers were making. In 2005 we added a second venue: the Cafe Xeno’s, now James John Cafe. The expansion to another venue allowed us to display more than one year’s Show. This began the tradition of the current year opening in Cafe NOLA/Proper Eats, with previous years’ Shows appearing in our other venues. Like Proper, James John continues the tradition begun by Cafe Xeno’s of hosting a Show each year. Over time we continued to grow, eventually coming to the five venues the Show boasts today.
Eventually, we started having a dance party after the formal opening reception. Mostly this is because we love a good dance party, but it was also meant to give the staff, who all worked the show, a chance to party off the clock with everyone else. We’d tell you for sure what year we started doing that, but it was such a good time that none of us can really remember for sure. At a certain point between 2010 and 2012 the post-show memories all start to get a little hazy around the edges, so we’re guessing it started some time around there.
One of the best things about the Customer Show always was the photos themselves. We’re not exaggerating when we say that these are the best images we’ve seen all year, and that we bet they’ll be some of the best anyone else could see. Our customers are creative, brilliant people, and to gather work from over 100 creative, brilliant photographers together for one viewing creates a staggering display. And we’re not the only ones who think so – One year, a man approached Jake in a huff and demanded to know what stock service the photographs came from. Jake reassured him that the Show was exactly what it was advertised to be: a collection of our customers’ work from the year. The incredulous attendee responded with, “There’s no way this work came from a mini lab.” Well, it did. And our customers really are just that good. Some may think it defies logic, but what good has logic ever done us, anyway?
Our stock photography salesman wasn’t the only Show attendee who couldn’t believe that our customers were capable of the excellence shown on the walls. Another accusation came to us with assertions that we were performing heavy digital post production work on our images, doctoring them to be more interesting, compelling, and beautiful than a straight film shot from “amateur” photographers could be. This was also a foolish accusation, as all of our prints pass through an optical printing machine that has what could be thought of as only eight buttons related to image correction: +/- Cyan, +/- Magenta, +/- Yellow, +/- Density. When a button is pushed, it affects the whole photograph, helping to take away overall color casting and brighten dark shots, and that’s about it. The rest of the credit belongs to our customers.
These two occasions far from take away from the Show, and if anything only stand as testaments to how wonderful it is. The wonder is certainly in the photographs themselves, but it’s also in the event as a whole. When we say that the Customer Show is what we consider to be the biggest and most important undertaking of our year, we hope you understand what we mean. We’re honored by the opportunity to gather and show the images that moved us – that made us think, laugh, cry, advocate, and appreciate. We’re further thrilled for the excuse to throw a big party, put on our best dress, discuss art with strangers, and walk the streets of our beloved neighborhood well into the wet and cold winter night. If you’re in town and have not been to a Show opening night, come. If you’re not in town, make the trip. The only word to explain what it’s like to gather so many art lovers in one neighborhood for one night in celebration of theirs and others’ work is magic. The air is filled with it. Also, making new friends while asking their favorites and arguing in support of yours will give you a little taste of what it’s like to be in the lab, selecting images and sharing a love for them. It’s the best part of Show night, and it’s a gift our customers have given us for which we can never repay them.
As far as the future of the Customer Show, who knows? As long as we have customers, we will have an annual Customer Show. Aside from that, we’ll see what opportunties may come our way. But come December you can always count on us to show up, Show hung and ready to shake our tail feathers all night long (or at least until Proper finally sends us all home).
The Traditional Staff Photo: Customer Show openings through the years