I’ve gotten used to our name over the years, but I can remember how silly I felt the first time I answered the phone, “Wonderful Machine, this is Bill!”
I like the fact that we’ll never outgrow Wonderful Machine because you can apply it to just about anything. When we started thinking about names for our new company, we made lists and lists of possibilities – most of which included “photo,” “pixels,” “image,” or something else related to photography. But then I remember my mother saying, “don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle,” I started considering names that just felt good.
But even though we were still living in the early days of the internet back in 2006, it seemed like all the best web addresses were already taken. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea, go out to our garage/office and search on Network Solutions on my desktop computer only to find out that it was unavailable.
Then at bedtime one night, as I was reading Little House in The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my daughters, we came to a chapter called The Wonderful Machine. As soon as I saw the words on the page, I knew it would be the perfect name for our company. In the book, the wonderful machine was a mechanical contraption pulled by horses to separate the oats from the chaff after a harvest. But to me, it alluded to the incredible electronic contraption that is a camera – and it also alluded to the community of staff members and photographers that I hoped to build.
At first, my ambitions were modest. I worked as a commercial photographer for a while. Every time I photographed an attorney at a law firm or a doctor at a medical practice, I wondered why photographers couldn’t come together to increase their revenue and decrease their expenses to better serve their customers. So I decided to form a little photo cooperative. Neil Binkley, who was my studio manager at the time, became our first marketing director. And Christopher Farber, who was my assistant at the time, became our first apprentice photographer. Next, I lured my former assistant Chris Crisman away from his job working for Dave Moser, and I began feeding Crisman and Farber (as we called them) my overflow assignments. When they weren’t shooting their own assignments or assisting me on mine, I would pester them about working on their portfolio or making marketing calls.
Little by little, we attracted more “apprentices,” and we added our first established photographer, Ryan Donnell, to our roster. We built a website and started promoting the Wonderful Machine brand. It wasn’t long before photographers were reaching out to us to learn more. “Are you a rep? Are you a production company? Are you a directory? What are you?” Even though people (including us) couldn’t quite understand what we were, photographers and clients were somehow (and luckily) drawn to us.
Then, when Crisman decided to go off on his own, I decided to pivot away from the cooperative business model and towards our current model – a production agency with a network of photographers around the world.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the global financial meltdown of 2008, we grew – adding about 100 photographers a year for the next 7 years.
For more on our founder, Bill Cramer, check out this article by Kate Osba.
For more about the current Wonderful Machine, visit the About section of our website.