The Verve Experience

"I'm just not sure we fit your target demographic"

I found myself saying. I was sitting in a swanky inner-city office with my best friend, we were sipping warm, cheap champagne, and shooting those looks at each other that you can only do with someone you've known for twenty five years.

Let’s rewind a bit, to the end of 2013. My wonderful black convertible had just died in rather spectacular fashion, and I had downgraded to a new VW Golf. A week or two after the car was delivered, a $1200 voucher arrived in the mail for Verve Portraits. Because D and I are both single parents, we don’t have many good photos of ourselves with our children, so we’d been talking casually about getting some nice photos done. This seemed like the perfect opportunity!

The first contact was with our “Diary Consultant”, who booked in our shoot. We were initially excited because we’d misread it as “Dairy Consultant” and we both get pretty worked up about a good camembert. Turned out all she wanted was $75.

Bum.

Later, we got individual phone calls from our photographer, where we made it clear that we were “unpretentious”, “down to earth”, and “pretty pragmatic”, which is code for “not really your hipster inner-city types; more likely to be pissed off by the lack of parking than wooed by the decor”. Also: “actually not very rich”. Not sure all of that came through, in hindsight.

In the weeks leading up to the shoot, D and I had lots of email conversations about the photos we wanted. D and her daughter A are right into horses, so they wanted pics with their cowgirl hats and boots. Me and my daughter T are techy bookworms, so we wanted some photos with our laptops and our fave books. The one setting to rule them all? A Monopoly board. Despite ourselves, we started getting excited. I know, right?

The morning of the shoot, we bundle the kids, saddle and ropes, a suitcase of clothes and books, and the Jack Russell Toby into the ute, and we head into town. We get there only fifteen minutes late. Winning!

We meet a hipster young photog with a soft accent that I’m fairly certain is put on. He does well with the four year old, getting her to smile and spin and twirl in front of the camera, but the ten year old doesn’t quite ‘get’ him. We spend a lot of time squishing our faces closer together, asking where we’re supposed to be looking, and wondering if it’s too early for a glass of champers. We brought our own, you see.

Three hours later, A has exhausted her (admittedly pretty comprehensive)
reportoire of poses, the ten year old has wandered off somewhere, and Toby the dog has curled up in a corner and gone to sleep, after discretely peeing on a piece of expensive equipment. The nearly $200 D and I collectively spent on our hair has disappeared in a cloud of product and we’ve started to realise we’re several hours overdue for lunch and the kids are hungry. We get a whirlwind tour of “The Gallery”, complete with buzzword soup (“It’s an investment!”) and we leave with glossy brochures shoved into our hands.

And that’s when things got interesting.

Over a BBQ dinner with friends that night, we analyse the price list. An 8x10 print starts out at $345 (only $10 per week on our 6 month interest free plan!), but from there the prices jump straight into four figures. We start to worry. We were fairly certain that some of the photos were going to be pretty good, but we’re single parents. There’s no way we could afford even a single photo at those prices. At least, not if we expected to feed and clothe our children in the next year or so. And despite the talk of the photos being “an investment”, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to sell them for a profit on eBay in a year or two. To buy these photos, I was squandering my daughter’s college fund, not investing in her future.

The session where we pick the photos and work out how much we were up for (which they cunningly call a “Design Consultation”) was booked for a week hence. We spent the week discussing the shoot, researching other photographers, and trying to work our if we were actually insane, or Verve was.

Turned out it was Verve.

In the car on the way to our Cough Up The Money … errr … I mean … “Design Consultation” we decided to get the free photo that came with the package from VW, one other small photo, and to split the cost 50/50 between us. But first, we wanted to see if we could get them to move on price and give us a discount.

We couldn’t.

And so we find ourselves in a stark studio in the slightly-more-industrial part of the city, with warm champagne and no cheese, explaining that we don’t have ‘decor’, we really just want some value for money, and did we mention the champers was warm? We’ve just been stepped through an endless series of over-exposed photos of us with our faces squished up together, and a criminal amount of white space. Seriously, it should be illegal to have more than 50% of a photograph taken up by white space, especially when you’re paying over $300 for it.

One theme kept coming up again and again: a complete lack of attention to detail. In one photo, T’s bright blue watch strap is flicked up against my shoulder, one title in a pile of books is upside down, in another a single stray headphone cord snaking out of one ear. Some photos have had the contrast turned up so much that the dog lost a leg. And while I’m not averse to a little Photoshop assistance on my skin, we were blurred out to the point that we looked like we could possibly be action figure versions of our real selves.

Whitespace, sold at $1 per square centimetre. Actual portrait is free.

When we try and negotiate to get two smaller photos instead of the one 12x12, we’re told they’ve “already purchased the materials”. Never once is the word “sorry” uttered, only “but”.

At one point, I find myself trying to pick a photo to purchase, rather than
purchasing a photo because I like it. At that point, I decide it’s time to cut
our losses and run. We have one photo we can tolerate, and so we take it. Our “Design Consultant” purses her lips, but evidently decides it’s better to get us out of her studio than continue arguing. Once we’ve signed the release, we’re pretty much abandoned to let ourselves out. So we do.

Incidentally, the several hundred dollars we didn’t spend on a couple of generic over-exposed photographs, sorry, I mean “investments”, bought us a lovely dinner with some really quite good champagne.

They even refrigerated it for us.