Archive | April, 2017

CRUISE – Southampton

30 Apr Exterminate!

My work day starts with more safety training. Since I still don’t understand any of the procedures that a ship emergency carries with it, I have many questions for the Italian Mr. Sanders. Alas, this training is scheduled during our precious port time, meaning that any training time cuts into my port adventure. So, should I actually ask the scrawny Italian how to identify vertical and horizontal fire zones, and watch his body succumb to a four-minute charade with Italian subtitles and English sound effects? So far the educational value of those attempts at communication has never risen above the entertainment value of his exaggerated gestures.


Dr. Who and his eviltons had a guest appearance in Southampton. Exterminate!

Alternatively I might just leave the ship, and enjoy light British rain and Victorian architecture in Southampton. Thus I opt for the easy way out; bottle up my safety questions, and see some city scape instead. In case of an emergency I can just stalk any of the other crew members, and hope that they fake understanding more easily than me.

Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

The Grand Stairs are a photographic attraction on cruise ships. Often enough they were my photo studio.

During my evening shift our assistant manager shows me how to “catch” people on the stairs, and how to properly pose and shoot them. He has an aura of authority, I grant him that. When he shouts “Stop” at a random lady who descends the stairs, she halts in her tracks, and produces a face that vaguely resembles a smile; probably in the vain hope that he might let her continue walking. Once the first photo is made she attempts to flee. However, she did not prepare for the gruesome gaze of the Assistant Photo Manager, who, by the power of his eyes, freezes her once more.

The vague smile on her face has made way for lines of panic, and after the second photo she considers whether it might be safe to continue her journey. But no, the figure of authority that holds my camera is out for blood, although he now has to resort to hand gestures to keep the unlucky passenger on the stairs. Her third pose is one of discomfort and insecurity, not far from actual terror. After triggering the flash the Assistant Manager points at various portions of the digital photo that he made, and highlights its grandeur. Our female victim uses his drop of attention to flee the scene as fast as her short legs allow. Tonight she was lucky to escape with her life, and in the future she will know better than to walk the Grand Stairs alone at night.


You can view my photo gallery of Southampton here.

CRUISE – Sea Day, Safety, and Gala Night

29 Apr Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

During my morning shift I am called off for my first of many safety trainings. About thirty crew members are stuffed into the training room, all fresh to the ship, mostly oblivious to the safety regulations of the company. The safety officer identifies that as a problem, and volunteers to rectify it. His weapons are a board with the international alphabet, a folder with information about the ship, and a rather monotonous voice. None of those weapons shows much effect, and soon enough I find myself drifting off into much needed sleep. Maybe I should record his monologue; five minutes of broken English from the sonorous Italian counter clerk should cure most people from sleeplessness.

In a desperate attempt to remain awake I open the information folder that the Sleep Officer has handed out, yet again he stops me in my path. “Don’t reedd thise. This is not the information”, proclaims Mr. Sanders. The Italian baritone pulls out a pile of red paper cards, and drones on: “the information you neede is here, on the redd carte.”

Well, that’s a relief, but why don’t you give us that card then? Why do you even bother handing out these “vessel familiarisation” folders, if their contents don’t matter? And why are you droning us into sleep, and then wake us from slumber? If you are trying to be a nuisance, at least do it quietly!

The man has a heart, though, and after half an hour of spelling out the different alarm codes that we may encounter he hands everyone a “redd carte”, and walks with us through the ship to show us our safety locations. I still have no idea how I got there, or what role I am supposed to play during a drill or emergency. But that is a worry for another day. For now I am happy to return to my walking duty in the gallery.

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

Life aboard a cruise ship is not all just fun and games. It’s still pretty, though.

We spend all day at sea, so the photo gallery is open from nine o’clock in the morning until midnight. I don’t really mind walking the nearly empty gallery, and gazing tiredly at the many pictures of nameless passengers. But I have to shoot this evening, and I really should be rested for that. That’s just my opinion, though. The manager thinks I will handle the situation well, so he is not concerned with my inability to sleep during the day.

It’s not like this is going to count anyway, because, as mentioned before, the passengers have had quite enough of us pesky photographers. They don’t want any more photos, and they are not shy about announcing that circumstance.

Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

The Grand Stairs are a photographic attraction on cruise ships. Often enough they were my photo studio.

Still, I feel a certain degree of excitement about my evening shift, because for the first time I get to shoot cruise passengers. My studio is the Grand Stairwell; a set of wide stairs that connects the three public decks around the Atrium, and glitters in various elegant colours. My job is to catch people off guard, pose them on the stairs, and shoot their portraits. Ten photos of any couple, five of a singular person.

However, that is not yet the thick of it. It is also gala night, so a tiny fraction of the passengers has dressed up nicely before trotting to dinner. Thus, we follow them into the big restaurants, with the mission to ban their annoyed faces on digital pictures. Without really understanding what I am looking for I walk among the tables, politely ask the guests for a photo, and occasionally shoot someone. First the couple, then lad and lassie as singles. The resulting photos are OK. Apart from exposure, posing, composition, and the fact that every face looks tired (of life in general, and photos in particular). But alright; apparently that’s how things are done on a cruise ship.

CRUISE – Vigo, first port day

28 Apr Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

We have landed in Vigo, Spain. Old houses and narrow alleys invite the cruise passenger for a walk. So I pack my camera gear, and leave the ship troubles behind, at least for a few hours.

Vigo, Spain, a view of one of the many narrow back alleys

Vigo, Spain, a view of one of the many narrow back alleys

A brief visit to the tourist center allows me to gobble up free internet. Obviously my parents will appreciate information about my save arrival on the ship, even if it comes a day late. I still don’t have access to the ship’s internet services, so for the moment the Free WiFi areas in town will have to suffice.

After two hours the ship calls me back. Not literally, but my schedule says I ought to return, so I better do so. Being late on my first day of work just doesn’t do. As before I spend my evening walking up and down the photoshop, occasionally helping a passenger to find his or her photo. But mostly I am asking directions myself, still trying to figure out what magical order lies behind the arrangement of approximately thirty boxes and forty panels of photos. I am being assured that all of this will make sense once we start a fresh cruise, and I see the piles building up from Day One.

As it turns out I have joined the party during the last days of a 21-day cruise, so there are more passenger photos in the gallery than hairs on my unshaved face. Even worse, this prolonged imprisonment aboard the hotel vessel has dire implications for the overall happiness of the hotel guests, and their willingness to pose for additional pictures. They go through great lengths to avoid us in the hallway. On the one hand that’s lucky, because of the near four thousand passengers only few actually request my assistance in locating their image prints. On the other hand the general mood of the photo team is lacking in inspiration.

This general tiredness has spread right into our supervisor team. While our assistant manager tells me to stay close to the other photographers, and ask them loads of questions, our manager tells us to spread out, cover all of the gallery, and not talk to each other. Since I have less than twenty-four hours of work experience on a cruise ship, I decide to follow both requests, thin though the overlap between those chief orders may be. And thus, we spread out, and congregate, and disperse, and gather again; like a pulsing heart, pumping printed pictures and incomplete conversations through the empty veins of the photo gallery.

You can view my photo gallery of Vigo here.

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port. That bloody cruise ship follows me wherever I go.

CRUISE – Lisbon, Photographic Embarkation

27 Apr Lisbon, port view

Today I am to start my new job as cruise photographer aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Like all of life’s adventures I approach this job with an open mind, and empty pockets. Upon boarding the ship I am greeted by a lone security officer who escorts five newcomers to a cargo room under deck. We leave our baggage there, and continue our journey to the Crew Bar, an illustrious place where nearly fifty crew members fight over bottled water and sandwiches. Before I can set up my camera to film the mayhem a middle-aged Rumanian introduces himself as Robyn, and pulls me aside.

ABC RypMeOff

That bloody cruise ship I worked on.

Apparently Robyn is the Assistant Photo Manager, and identified my association with his department by the size of my photo bag. He introduces me to half a dozen other lunatics who also belong to the photo team, but since I am still focused on the food battles, I don’t actually pay attention to those poor souls. I congratulate myself on that decision when one of the other guys starts to present video and audio clips of sexual encounters. I can find my own porn; thank you very much!

Alas, all fun must end. After a long wait in front of the purser’s office I have the great pleasure of arguing in broken English over the validity of my various documents. Upon agreement that my papers might be in a state that some authorities might call valid, the purser stashes my passport, and prints me my very own cabin card. The photo on that card, taken with a web cam from the late nineties, barely resembles a human being, but considering my own state of hunger I don’t feel the urge to protest the issue.

ABC RypMeOff - crew cabin

My shared cabin aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Onward we venture, through the gray hallways of the cruise ship, until we arrive at my cabin, a shared luxury cubicle with nearly six square metres of living space. Robyn informs me that the cabin is supposed to look a bit tidier than what I see in front of me. I appreciate that sentiment, because at the moment it is filled with garbage and piles of clothes. As an artist I applaud the frivolity and boldness behind the state of the cabin, yet as someone who supposedly must rest and live in this space I have to put the intentions of the artist into question. Well, quite likely I will meet with my cabin mate Pancho later, and we may discuss the extent of his art exhibition.

Most of the rest of the day consists with me standing in the photo gallery, and trying to fake interest in everybody’s names. It looks like almost everybody in the photo department is a lunatic, so I feel quite at home already. According to Robyn I must ask many questions, and learn fast, so as to become a valued member of the photo team. An exciting outlook, considering that I have literally no idea of what is happening here, and still require the physical assistance of other crew members to even locate food and bathroom areas. We shall see how fast a learner I can be. Not that I would really stress myself out on this matter.

Lisbon, port view

A port view of Lisbon. Sights like these make most cruise troubles worthwhile.

A bit after midnight I finally meet my cabin mate in my shared cabin (and modern arts exhibition), and already his first question puts me off the journey – “Do you mind if I smoke in the bathroom?” Apparently Pancho has been an ABC photographer for over a year, so I should not have to inform him that smoking is prohibited in the cabins, and that the fire and smoke detectors are likely to take note of his unhealthy habit. To my great despair he has found a way to smoke in the bathroom without setting off the smoke detectors, and he is set on abusing that feature. Realizing that I am not a smoker he says: “OK, we try it once, and if you don’t like, we find something else.”

What a bloody great start into the contract! My cabin is a crammed exhibition of abstract art, my bathroom is a smoking parlour, and my team mates are nearly as crazy as me.