Archive | May, 2017

Invergordon, and the Swimming Mall

31 May low tide at the port of Invergordon, Scotland

Today is my second visit to the Scottish town of Invergordon. As you recall from its last blog entry, Invergordon is a beautiful flower among Scotland’s already astonishing greenery, and it is difficult to imagine how any humanoid may develop negative thoughts when visiting landscapes like this one. But even today the passengers aboard our swimming five-star hotel develop issues that they need to discuss with their friendly neighbourhood cruise photographer. Since I lack the poetic skills to adequately describe Invergordon’s visual pleasure, I will take the opportunity to talk about passenger problems. As I mentioned yesterday, I feel for our guests, and that empathy is one aspect that keeps me going.

yellow fields in Invergordon, Scotland

Invergordon, to me, is the best place to be. But even this view can’t distract all passengers from complaining away.

The predominant issue that passengers complain about, by far, is the price of the photos. Approximately €20 per photo sounds like a lot of money, especially with today’s ready availability of high-quality cameras. When we shoot photos on deck, or on excursion, the lighting conditions are usually so uncontrollable that even the latest generation of smart phones could reproduce the quality of our pictures to about 70%. That is certainly good enough for a visual memory of a cruise trip around Norway, so people rather shoot themselves, yet still complain about our price policies. However, outside of our regular promotion sales we can’t really do anything about this issue, so I will just move on to the next subject instead.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

Everything is shiny aboard the ABC RypMeOff. But apart from visual standards guests also have needs of  serb´vice and civility, and ABC Cruises does not meet those easily.

People can book certain cruise packages that already come with a few free photo prints. In particular, members of the Yacht Club pay at least 50% extra, and in return get access to their own restaurant, and other premium items. The package also includes a free photo, and every day elite passengers complain about the policies behind that photo. The fine print says that elitists can have one picture for free, one that was taken at the Captain’s Dinner. That policy has been in place for a decade, and still passengers come up to the counter, and argue about it. Granted, some of them did not read the fine print, and are consequentially perturbed by our rejection. But if this really is your twentieth cruise, you should actually know the rules, and stop bothering us with your request for items that you already know are not included in your package. Our seasoned counter clerk frequently complains about the aura of entitlement that seems to engulf our high-paying costumers, and I can’t say I blame her.

On the other hand, when you pay €5000 for a return trip to Norway, you rightfully expect to not argue over the deeper meaning of the phrase “free photo”. I know that rich people often feel entitled to more than their unfair share, but is it really too much to ask for the company to fulfill their promises without bickering over fine print? Even though club members likely have enough money to pay for a barrage of photos, they are potentially not in the mood to spend it, especially if the counter clerk tells them that they misread their order form. Handing out one free photo to every rich man aboard would cost us literally nothing, because we print all the pictures anyway, and repeaters WILL NOT BUY any photos from us. After the twentieth cruise those portraits are just documenting the aging process, and our passengers genuinely don’t feel the need to pay for that. Our rich guests either take their free photo, or none at all. And the more of the latter they get, the grumpier they become, and the less likely they are to return to this company.

Invergordon via MSC 2-31

Not even death is free, but do we really have to put a price tag on EVERYTHING?

Other passengers are just annoyed with ABC’s very exclusive definition of “all inclusive”. Many guests have the foresight to book food and beverage packages with their cruise, and are then surprised that only one out of eight restaurants caters to their package, while the beverage menu consists to 80% of items that they are asked to pay for. That’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet at an international restaurant, and being told you could only take food from the Macedonian table. You still get a filling meal, but you do wonder why other guests have a selection that is ten times as big as yours. People go on cruises, among other reasons, to feel a little special, only to then find out that they are still very much excluded from the life that they paid for.

And when you do eat at the free buffet, where almost every food item is glazed with butter, you are left to wonder why the beverage menu is so restricted, and the pizza is nearly always hand-warm or cooler. Or why the restaurant manager sends you to the reception to validate you beverage package, while the receptionist sends you to the restaurant manager to do the same. Some people also wonder why we have a “cruise manager” aboard who informs us six times a day about additional opportunities to spend money, but who refuses to employ the speaker system when the ship is trailed by a group of whales. You know, the kind of sight that you actually booked that cruise for.

While our Italian masters insist that guest satisfaction be our highest goal, the actual management of this ship is geared towards extracting the maximum amount of money from our guests. The ABC RypMeOff does not feel so much as the swimming hotel that ABC Cruises is trying to sell us. It’s more like a swimming mall, and vendors are hawking luxury items at every corner. It is an exhausting experience, both for the guests and their wallets, and not even the sight of beautiful Scotland can distract from this industrialisation of vacation. If you have seen Invergordon, you know that is a troublesome statement. If you haven’t, click here to view one of the most beautiful sceneries on earth.

And if you have a business that caters to humans, make it about the people, not about the money. Because the money does not re-book you; a happy guest just might.

Job Motivation II: Entertainment in the peril of others

30 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

First Gala Night. Unrealistic target numbers. Ignorant manager. Casual sexism. Grumpy passengers. Pasta with tomato sauce, three times a day. Defective equipment. Narcicistic coworkers. Blah, blah, shitty job, terrible pay. If you have read any number of my previous blogs, you already know that song. By now I am left with one distinctively positive aspect about my job as cruise photographer – the gift of travelling Northern Europe. That is not enough to make up for all the hardship in the current phase of my life, so the returning question of the day is once more: why do I keep bothering myself with this burden? Today you shall gain an answer that is both personal, yet also applicable to most job situations around the globe.

Fjord Town Geiranger

Northern Europe is beautiful, but the sight does not suffice to keep me aboard.

I don’t have an education as photographer, nor did I ever receive any training as a salesperson (or wanted to be one, for that matter). Thus, my position as photographer aboard the ABC RypMeOff is one of considerable novelty to me. However, I enjoy experiencing new things, and I need my job to be fulfilling and challenging. Those ideas are actually pretty universal; most members of our work force want to be mentally active labourers. All the better, if the work place is frequently spiced up with mental challenges, such as new equipment or coworkers. Without those we tend to dumb down at our job, because repetition not only makes any task easier, but also eliminates processes of critical thinking.

Every intelligent human being wants a job where he or she gets to apply one’s intellect on novel tasks, or frequent interactions with new probates. In my first ever job I flipped film slides, and digitised them in a relatively simple machine. Not only had I internalised all of the working procedures after only two months, I also was graced with an elderly coworker who shared my work space for eight hours every day. Even my lunch breaks I mostly spent with that same person, thus escalating an already tense relationship. After hearing the same stories and jokes for two months I could no longer bear the situation, and provoked a discontinuation of my contract. Intelligent people cannot handle continuous boredom in their work space. And if you are unaware of annoying or boring people in your work environment, you might actually be part of the problem. (Or you work in an awesome place, and I hate you for it.)

piano in the cruise ship atrium

Like any cruise ship the ABC RypMeOff is filled with personal strife, even if it sparkles brightly on the surface.

I consider myself above average intelligence, and you can judge that narcissistic, if you like. But I definitely need more challenge and human turmoil than the regular Joe, and cruise photography offers just that. Every day is filled with problems and argumentation. There are always passengers who are upset, and need to be calmed down. There is always the odd couple who can be convinced to take photos, if you feature creative poses, and a humorous approach. And, of course, I frequently get to work with a different studio set-up, which lets me toy around with lighting and props. Even though I don’t want to be a portrait photographer this creative freedom has become dear to me. And during the rare nights in which I get to shoot photos I feel quite confident and proud of my work.

Finally, the infrequent breaks allow me to listen to the troubles of my coworkers. While most of my male colleagues are just cranky egoists, the ladies tend to have actual problems. Mostly with the men. I don’t bask in their misery, but I enjoy listening. I particularly like to hear about Mateja’s numerous disputes with stress bombs like Henry, the 1st rank photographer who has his head so far up his own rectum that he continuously defecates on other people’s backdrop without even realising it. Or Jennifer’s episodic bitch slams, triggered by some cross remark of her coworkers, or the rant of a passenger who was in a particularly foul mood. I get to listen to everyone’s troubles, and sometimes offer a calming response.

North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

It often helps to find people who have far deeper troubles than yourself. Not to laugh at them, but to realise how good my life is in comparison.

I like to fix things, particularly people and their problems. And there are plenty of people problems aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Not that I could actually help resolve all of them, but they do have an undeniable entertainment value. Sometimes my ship life feels like a soap opera, with the difference that I get paid far less than the pretend best friend on TV.

Our male colleagues in general, and the manager in particular, appear to be incapable of accepting the existence of contrasting opinions, which results in a plethora of social issues every day. As one of many social animals aboard I like to invade other people’s social circles, and involve myself in the many troubles that the crew and passengers enfold themselves in. That does not exactly create a work space of peace and inspiration, but it certainly keeps my mind busy, which has become a real challenge since I stopped taking this job serious. I know that cruise photography is not a career path for me, which creates a motivation vacuum for the remainder of my seven-month contract. The mental perils of my fellow humans are a welcome distraction from the daily drudgery of my job.

There you go, my advice for fulfilment in work: find stressed-out coworkers or costumers, and listen to their blues.

Test papers, and the end of life

29 May Drizzle and trees in Molde Fjord, Norway

Today ends another cruise, and a new one begins. If you ignore the endless ranting of our psychotic manager the last cruise was actually very nice. The working conditions are still horrendous, but the sights along that Norway venture were spectacular. Today the ABC RypMeOff starts to travel to another part of Northern Europe that I have not visited before – Iceland. However, before we can focus on the new scenery our department has to undertake a monthly examination.

low tide at the port of Invergordon, Scotland

I know how to shoot a photo; I just don’t want the sight of people to ruin it.

At the end of every month our manager hands out a test paper to all photographers who have not yet been promoted to rank 1. Supposedly the test is provided by our masters in Geneva, and evaluates our abilities, thus serving as a potential resource to deny us promotions. Every test paper consists of three or four questions, and while every paper is a bit different, there are only about ten different questions total to draw from. Some of the questions ponder general issues of photography, such as “Which f-stop gives more light – f5.6 or f4.5”, or “What is sync speed?” Others are more cruise-oriented, like “How do you prepare for an event?”, or “Where are you safer at sea – in a life raft or a life west?”

One month ago, when I took my first test, I had no idea what its purpose was, and answered “Since I tend to keep my wits about me, I am generally well prepared for any event. But even if events of emergency fail to arise, it is always comforting to carry an extra set of undergarments.” Following my tenuous revelations I was then privately informed about the importance these tests carry, and that the “event” was to be understood as a scheduled photo shooting. It’s always a good sign when the meaning of test and questions have to be explained after you already took it.

Inquiries like those of the relative light-intensity at specific apertures invite a more straight-forward answer, but even here reality bears a weird costume. As Manager Mihai explained: “Of course f4.5 lets more light through the lens … Under normal conditions! But in a dark room they are both the same!” Similarly, a life raft as protective measure is just as useless as a life west “… when you are hit by a meteor.”

I do believe that a meteor impact would cause difficulties beyond eliminating any visual distinction between life raft and life vest. And the probability of any of our guests requesting a photo shooting in a dark room is insignificantly small. Silly me. In my youthful naivety I assumed that the exam paper was supposed to have some practical use! But what, then, is the point of this monthly quiz, if the questions are mere distractions, and the answers don’t matter? It seems to be built on the same premise as those quizzes in Women’s magazines. They are to distract you from the money you spent upfront, and challenge you to provide creative answers for non-sensical questions; i.e. provoke any kind of reaction from the test subject.

Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

Flowers and snow in late May are a much more realistic sight than the background of any of the questions in our monthly photography test.

If such is the case, then our answers should reflect the meaning that we find in this job, while also distracting from our deficient performance as car salesmen. Next month I will be better prepared, with answers that truly rattle the flimsy cage of cruise photography. For next month’s test I will prepare answers like this one:

What is sync speed? – A measure of the relative passage of time between distinctive events, such as the accession of physical and mental work effort, and the monetary gratitude expressed by the company. The speed of account synchronisation is very often judged as “too slow” by cruise photographers, and “too fast” by their employers.

Which f-stop gives more light? – No F has ever been reported to stop for the sole purpose of giving light, for such charity is not in its nature. In a cruel twist of latent irony the common f-stop is terminally enlightened by any meteor it encounters directly, be it in the dark room, or any other space where photo managers fail to acknowledge the existence of reality.

After tonight’s written examination I am gathering new hopes that ABC Cruises will soon reach the clarity of mind that allows it to envision my full potential as a member of their prosperous slave force. And I am proud to not have inserted a single mark of punctuation into that sentence. That alone should make you understand that I am perturbed beyond reason, and ready to yell at any official ABC representative for ignoring the mental deficiencies that dominate this department. This idiotic test and its non-existent solution prove once more that the ignorance and the mechanic subjugation that this department are built on are exaggerated by our manager, but are in themselves merely part of a systemic effort to minimise critical discussion, while maximising the amount of symbolic grounds for evaluation.

And I don’t even get paid!

Photo Management and Schadenfreude

28 May North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

It’s another sea day, and my messy cell mate is off to work the morning shift. I had to haul a pile of his clothing across the cabin to make space for my laptop, but at least our “shared” desk no longer is a beach of crumbs, and talcum powder. Thus, I actually have time and space to continue my writing. [Spoiler Alert! During my contract as cruise photographer I never had much, if any, spare time, so all these well-written blog posts had to be edited and published after my return to the main land. I should have used my time to work on that manuscript with my former supervisor, but instead I usually focused on gathering thoughts for my blog. If you don’t tell him, neither will I.]

Every night the photographers aboard the ABC RypMeOff build photo booths across the ship, and try to shoot loads of passenger portraits. Our management always provides us with a target number that we should aim for, and we usually miss that target by a considerable margin. Even though we really try to argue and convince passengers to have their pictures taken at their dining room tables and in photo booths, most of them simply have enough of those photos already, and rather shoo us away. So last night our team brought back approximately forty photos per person and dining room, while our target was roughly five times that number, leaving our manager to grumble about our apparent deficiencies. We know that the numbers aren’t good, but our manager can’t resist the urge to rub it in, so last night he sent us to bed with yet another one of his berating speeches. The photo manager has always questioned our engagement in the job, and bragged about his own potential, but last night he delivered a whole new package of idiosyncrasy.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

Apparently there is always someone taking photos aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Even if nobody wants their photos taken anyway.

According to manager Mihai we do not involve ourselves, even try to avoid work. That would also explain the low number of portraits that we shot along this cruise: there is barely a night in which we exceeded one third of the targeted number. Manager Mihai went through great lengths to point out that Bolek consistently shoots more photos than any of the rank-1 photographers, despite missing at least five years of their experience. He then went on saying that Bolek shot a shameful thirteen pictures last night, which massively undermines his whole argument, but nether the less – Bolek is the most involved shooter on this ship, and he is really shitty. [I’m not sure what I was supposed to gain from that statement, but we have learned not to argue with Mihai’s “logic”, because it only brews up additional anger.]

Somehow Mihai never mentioned my name in his angry tirade. Which is just as well, because I only shot three evenings out of eleven, which somewhat skews his “statistical comparison”. One might also mention that some locations see relatively little traffic to begin with, making it impossible to compare anyone’s efforts. Additionally, passengers tend to avoid any location where they were shot before, and long port days see relatively greater degrees of tiredness among the already unwilling passengers than the boring and uneventful sea days. None of that really matters, because any attempt at explaining reality to Mihai just stirs up more trouble.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Shooting grumpy passengers is actually stressful enough, but our manager thinks he should add some trouble of his own.

According to the “most amazing photo manager” we are “too lazy” to work, “do not involve ourselves”, and spend too much time “f#@&ing around” while on the job. In essence, we do not make any effort to shoot pictures, and are, therefore, a “shame as photographers”. The experienced rank-1 photographers should “never been promoted”, and soil the rank they embody. As little as I like my coworkers, I do hope that some of them are secretly submissive masochists, so that the humiliation at least fulfills their hidden fetishes.

However, Mihai’s daily task of berating and shaming his team did not end there. He finished with an empty promise, and a bold one at that. During the next cruise, on the last gala evening, he will shoot one restaurant all by himself, only accompanied by his assistant manager (probably to record his victorious campaign, and to tell the world of the miracles he witnessed). Since Mihai is more engaged than the rest of us, he will shoot EVERYONE who sits in the dining room at that time. He is also going to shoot portraits in one location of our choosing. Obviously, he will “make 600 pictures, easy”, which constitutes about twice our normal target, and ten times of what the passengers allow us to shoot.

In anticipation of said events I invented the term “Schadenvorfreude”. It describes the fun feeling that something terrible is going to happen to a bad person. Such as the physical assault charge that Mihal will face when he tries to drag unwilling passengers into his studio. Or his humiliation upon realising that it is physically impossible to shoot three-hundred passengers in half an hour. I slept well last night, embracing myself in my moral superiority, and the warm feeling of Schadenvorfreude. Too bad that one week from now Mihai won’t remember any of his empty promises. And none of us is likely to remind him, since most of us would rather go to bed an hour earlier than listen to his incoherent rambles regarding his imagined superpowers.

Drizzle and trees in Molde Fjord, Norway

Always remember Molde. The lone tree in a magically misty forest. It helps pass the time during any obstructive manager meeting.

On the plus side, tomorrow a new manager will come aboard, and if nothing extraordinarily weird happens, he will replace Manager Mihai at the end of the next cruise. (From past blog posts you already know that the bar for “extraordinarily weird” is very high.) All of the suffering may see its end, even without my terminal resignation.

Salary of cruise crew

27 May Central Park in Bergen, Norway

Every labour has its price. At the end of the day you would hope that the price on your own health was matched or exceeded by a monetary compensation from your employer. With big international corporations that is not always (barely ever) the case, so today, one month after I started this job as cruise photographer, we really should talk about money.

Central Park in Bergen, Norway

Bergen is full of parks and great architecture. It’s also a rich city, but of that money I saw little.

Tonight I shot pictures in the Atrium, together with Marina, one of my few semi-normal coworkers in this otherwise lunacy-driven department. In between waves of unwilling passengers we had some time to chat about work. The central question of our conversation was “why are you here”, which Marina translated into “who lied to you?” A valiant observation, as I might add. Luca lied to me; he is the agent who recruited me to this vessel. He promised me fair working conditions, and a salary of roughly $1000 per cruise; with one cruise lasting about one week. I won’t comment on Luca’s interpretation of “fair working conditions”, because there already is a sweep of blogs dealing with that strangulation of reality. Instead, I will comment to some extent on the money.

$1000 per week, multiplied with four weeks per month makes approximately $4000 a month, a more than fair salary for a first-world citizen. However, my true salary appears to be one quarter of that, or so everyone else on the team claims. Not that I really could tell at this point, because I have not been paid yet. So far I only had expenses.

Before even being considered for the job I had to provide several certificates that guaranteed I was healthy (€95), knew the difference between safety and danger (€740), and was able to point towards the nearest exit (€50). Since not everybody can certify these things, I had to travel to certain educational institutions (€94), find accommodation in their vicinity (€304), and have the certificates ratified by a peculiar German government agency (€25). Travelling internationally also bears health risks, so I had to be vaccinated against yellow fever and a few other plagues (€124).

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Just as any job aboard that of the cruise photographer somes with a uniform code.

Uniforms are not free either. Luckily, I was given an outline of the dress code for cruise photographers, and spent one day in Berlin (€12) to purchase code-abiding clothes in various second-hand shops (€118). Aboard the vessel I realised that I was not quite done purchasing things, and had to add a department-branded polo shirt (€8), tie (€2), and bow tie (€2), followed by a request to purchase black socks (€9) and dress shoes (€18). The last two items will only become relevant in a few days, but I shall add them to the list anyway. Finally, to date I invested €20 into an unjustifiably slow internet connection, because there is no other way to communicate with the outside world. At least not if you want to use your port time to, you know, see the port, instead of stealing free WiFi at a willing Internet Café.

So far it cost me €1401 to start and keep my job as cruise photographer, while the only personal investment ABC Cruises has made was the flight and cab ride that brought me to the ship. That’s right, cruise companies don’t pay upfront for personal expenses. You either pay for that stuff on your own, or you don’t get the job. It’s not surprising then that not more people are clambering to get a job aboard – you have to be really invested to be considered for a position, and for the first two months almost your entire payment goes towards covering your upfront investments.

Now, I did not know this before I started, and my calculations came to a much more positive conclusion. Luca actually said my pay would be around $4000 a month, which I was naïve enough to believe. “Hold on, stupid,” I hear you screaming, “surely you signed a contract of employment, stating your financial agreement with ABC Cruises!” Yes, I did, and said paper claims that the wages amount to $994. However the contract does not state the time frame during which this money is to be considered. Thus, the statement agrees with Luca’s claim of “about one thousand dollars per cruise”, while also adhering to the reality of roughly $1000 per month. I should probably be thankful that the time frame does not encompass a whole year, otherwise the job would never start paying for itself.

Just imagine the pure evil behind this treachery – your new boss provides you with a very lucrative pay week, and asks you to invest two weeks worth of salary upfront. Then it turns out he meant “pay month”, which effectively quarters your earnings. And you can’t even leave the job, because you made upfront investments that your employer was too cheap to pay for.

Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

Just as tourists get ripped off at the North Cape cruise crew are used and abused by their employer.

Fortunately, I never buy anything on credit, so I don’t HAVE to pay off those initial investments, although I would prefer not to make a loss on this adventure. Our crew members from Indonesia, Brazil, or Macedonia rarely have that luxury. Once they are aboard, they need to finish their seven-month contract in order to make it worthwhile. On top of that they often have to pay a few hundred dollars to cruise agencies in order to get invited for an interview. That probably explains why the ABC RypMeOff is overrun with disgruntled men and women from 2nd-World countries. Both the job and the pay are terrible, but the overall income still is far better than anything they would ever get back home.

What about me, then? I could easily make the same amount of money if I was flipping burgers, which also strikes against my belief system, but at the very least grants a better work atmosphere, AND shorter work days. A few weeks back I was also jesting about applying as cruise musician. In the past few days that option has become far more attractive, and will undergo serious consideration as soon as I return home.

But before that I have to finish this contract, one way or another. Since my grand discussion with the human resource manager two weeks ago I have not received any more complains about my personality or visual appearance. That means getting fired is off the table for the moment. Still, I don’t easily quit a project that I started; that is not in my stubborn nature. Either I find considerable reason to leave this hazardous occupation, or I finish this grossly underpaid contract. Now that I know the truth about my salary the phrase “at least I get paid” is no longer a viable excuse for the terrible treatment I endure aboard this vessel. Time will tell if we can find a reliable replacement.

 

PS.: We also visited Bergen, and it was nice. Click here to view pretty pictures.

Geiranger, a change in perspective

26 May Aerial view of the Fjord Town Geiranger, Norway

Yesterday I wrote about the magical mists in the forests of Molde Fjord, and how memories like those keep me awake in my dull and gloomy work hours aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Today’s port of Geiranger toppled that majestic experience with a sight so terrific that even our mentally derailed manager momentarily lost his anger. We have seen some beautiful places in these past weeks, but nothing compares to the grandeur of the fjord town of Geiranger.

Fjord Town Geiranger

Geiranger looks like a rock giant just dropped a bunch of houses on a mountain side.

In the morning we shot passenger pictures on the gangway. Even that was a magical experience – every photo is beautiful with the amazing background of nearly vertical rock faces, lush green forests, and literally hundreds of waterfalls. Of course, the shooting ended in a debacle, since the manager ordered we should stay until noon, while our higher ranking photographers decided we should leave our posts forty minutes early. While our superior team members slowly waddled along the two-hundred metres of gangway, rambling in Portuguese, Mateja and I simply decided to run ahead, and make use of the time we were given by lunching at the buffet. Half an hour later we met the same two ramblers on our way out, complaining that they had gotten in trouble for leaving early, while we were simply gone from sight. Other than the disgruntled team mates (which we already are used to) there was no late fallout for the two of us. Maybe this is the new strategy for avoiding trouble: run from your own responsibility, and let the manager catch someone else.

Anyway, the day literally cleared up when I started my three-hour hike through the fjord town of Geiranger. The environment is so peaceful that even the cruise tourists either ignored me, or smiled and waved. That is a fair improvement over their usual reactions – avoidance or glares of hatred. It probably is the sense of isolation and age that makes peace palpable in Geiranger. The only ways of reaching this town are via ship or through a long and winding road trip. Thus, it is not overrun by tourists, and has not developed any manufacturing industry either. It’s just a big Northern village, dropped into a valley of brown rock and green pasture. Sunny weather, fresh air, cute houses, and an overabundance of nature make people happy, and so our great fjord visit increased the mood of all those passengers that our department depends on.

Aerial view of the Fjord Town Geiranger, Norway

Old woods on older mountains, with a side of waterfalls and sheep pastures. That’s Geiranger in a nutshell.

In the afternoon I even received my first assignment of responsibility: a few of us were sent up to the viewing deck, and shot passengers while the cruise ship slowly made its way out of port. The scenery along the fjord is marvellous, and I stayed out for about half an hour longer than my coworkers, just enjoying the view. I still hate my job as a beggar. Particularly if there are four of us on deck, and we repeatedly run into passengers who already said “No” to two other photographers. But as long as the company surrounds us with greenery and waterfalls, I won’t object to go begging on the viewing deck.

For your own view on the fjord beauty click here.

Molde Fjord – almost a day off

25 May Drizzle and trees in Molde Fjord, Norway

Today we were supposed to suffer our weekly emergency drill, but our masters eliminated that idea over night. Luckily, I did not rely on the drill to wake me up, and went for a late breakfast instead, which is now followed directly by six hours of spare time in Molde. My ten-hour work day will be spent exclusively in the Photo Gallery, so I won’t have to retain any energy or conscience for work tonight. This is as close to a day off as I will ever get aboard this vessel, so instead of morning about my lost time I will share some positive thoughts, and explain why I am keeping the job as photographer with ABC Cruises, at least for the moment.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

I’m starting to hate the Photo Gallery. It’s still better than begging for photos, though.

Cruise photography involves a lot of hassle. The work hours are long and stressful, the majority of my coworkers are cranky sociopaths, our managers are delusional slavers, and the food is of such questionable quality that not even seagulls dare circle our vessel. Had I known of the perils involved, I may not have taken this job. I knew that the work hours would be long, but I was not informed that my coworkers were a group of uncoordinated self-centered knit-wits, and that professionalism is as much a conundrum to them as are most other words in the English language. But now I am here, and since I spent some $1500 to acquire the certificates required to serve on a cruise ship, I am eager to stay, at least until the hassle pays off.

Remaining aboard is a challenge for body and soul, so I have to channel positive energy to survive this adventure. The most obvious advantage about joining this cruise business is the availability of beautiful port towns. Our passengers pay at least €900 to go on this two-week trip around Norway, while the crew gets the whole tour for free. Today clouds of rain cover the sky, so our tourist visit to Molde Fjord is tarnished by wet clothes and cold fingers. (It still is early spring in Norway.) Still, the lush evergreen forest, the misty mountain sides, and the view of huge ragged rocks in the long and quiet fjord are more beautiful than any sight of the Central European mainland. Beyond the last line of houses I follow a trail that leads into the woods, and already twenty metres along the path I am surrounded by nothing but greenery, and the sweet drizzle of falling water, intermixed with the occasional bird calling from the tops of majestic trees.

Drizzle and trees in Molde Fjord, Norway

During my first visit to Molde it drizzled all day long. The view was still worth the hike and the cold.

The woods beyond the town of Molde are not just a welcome change from the hectic turmoil aboard the ABC RypMeOff. These forests resonate with a silent magic that fills me with a new will to live, and to succeed on this trip through the gruesome depths of human greed. So I drink in the feelings of wilderness and solitude that I so dearly miss aboard, and I fill myself with that earthen connectivity that vibes through the tree tops like the literal band of May.

In a day or two I will be standing in the bowels of the cruise ship, begging passengers to take a photo that they will never view or purchase. And in the half-hour breaks between restaurant times and theatre shows, when I stand alone in a grey hallway, waiting for my manager to peak around the corner, and check up on me, then, instead of questioning my existence I will look back on this image of a lush green forest. No matter how boring and monotonous my work nights will be, I can always flee to the knowledge that these woods will remain, and will await me on my next cruise. The entire summer will be filled with cruises around Norway and Scotland, enabling me to visit a place like this every week.

This Northern paradise is not something I expected to find, particularly not after the stress-burdened job that I fulfill every day. Thus, I will hold it particularly dear, knowing that these woods will remain for generations to come, and will be here to be enjoyed, for the simple price of me clinging on to my job.

If you would like to envision the same misty Molde, click here to view my photo gallery.

The native language bias

24 May Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

It’s another one of those sea days, with eleven hours of work lying ahead. I am lucky to start my work at half past noon, leaving the morning to ponder on the meaning of my existence. As an added bonus I wake up just before 9 o’clock, thus having enough time to rush into the Staff Mess, and bag a few bread rolls for breakfast. I do try to return to sleep, but after an hour of rolling around I decide to just pack my laptop and head for the crew bar. Staying in the cabin is out of question, because my cabin mate will start his first shift when I do, and he attempts to sleep until ten minutes before work begins.

Crew Bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Crew Bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff is a desolate place. At least there are two TVs, tuned to different channels, mounted on opposing walls.

The crew bar lies nearly desolate in the mists of late morning. Three figures lumber their way through the depths of the internet-ready computers, shrouded in the fog of late alcohol and early work. They are accompanied by the catatonic babble of an Italian morning TV show. Since nobody is actually watching I manage to reduce the volume of the TV to a manageable level. After about ten minutes the three zombie waiters leave the bar, and I turn the telly off. Now that is a great start!

Apparently yesterday some terrorist exploded at a concert in Manchester, and I realize once more how far removed I am from the happenings of the outside world. It is rather difficult to follow even the most poignant global news, if every TV on the ship is tuned into Italian or Portuguese channels, your cabin mate sleeps all day, and every second of internet usage costs you money that you barely have. And so, instead of chasing after the latest global gossip, I continue writing my blog, because I generally have precious little time to do so.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

A cruise ship is a lonely place, if you have nobody to talk to.

The crew on this ship originates from a few dozen countries, and although the official language aboard the ABC RypMeOff is English, most people continue to talk in foreign tongues. From my Eastern European colleagues, to the Brazilian bar tenders, Filipino laundry personnel, and Italian officers – at least half of the crew prefers speaking in their first language. That starts with watching Brazilian news for breakfast, continues through the conversations at work, and ends in the nightly gym visit, where the TV exclusively plays Portuguese summer hits, and the occasional music video from the 80s Pop charts.

Unsurprisingly, English skills are dearly lacking from most of the personnel aboard. Not a day goes by without me having to resort to charades and spelling competitions in order to communicate to one of the working hands I depend on. It is frustrating and time-consuming to labour through anyone’s bad language skills, but it is particularly annoying when I see that person turning to his colleague and discussing my problems in Farsi, and after several minutes condensing the entire conversation to the words “Is OK”. Maybe if you didn’t spend your entire work day talking in your mother tongue, you would actually be able to communicate with me directly!

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

Even the shop personnel in the cities we visit usually speaks better English than much of the crew aboard the ABC RypMeOff.

I know that my English is better than that of some of our Bristish guests, and I understand that not everybody gets the opportunity to study at a Canadian university, especially if they are straining for a career in mopping floors. But the blatant unwillingness of this crew to assimilate even the smallest specks of English is really taking the piss. Barely any of the officers speak English well enough to hold a conversation, and the lower-ranking crew members fail accordingly in their own feeble attempts to communicate. Since every department predominantly hires new personnel from their own home country, the situation has no internal drive to improve. Most Photo Managers are Rumanian, and almost only Rumanian photographers appear to ever make it into the management program. There is no way of changing this country-based recruitment bias without making vast changes to the cruise company itself, so it is not likely to ever happen.

However, ABC Cruises could take at least one simple step towards improving the language skills of all crew: remove non-English TV. By allowing the kitchen personnel to chose Portuguese breakfast TV for the Staff Mess you exclude everyone else who eats there from understanding the program. Yes, it would be beneficial for me to improve my Portuguese language skills, but the need for that is far smaller than that of all other staff to learn proper English. Crew should not have to learn Italian to communicate with their officers, Rumanian to advance in the Photo Department, and Farsi to get their laundry done. First and foremost we should all be able to form complete sentences in English. That can only be achieved by challenging everyone to speak that one language, and by removing the needless use of all others. And the simplest way to do that is by eliminating non-English TV channels from the menu.

The people I share this boat with have stopped asking whether my cruise experience differs from what I expected. Maybe that’s because they know that with every day the broken expectations keep accumulating. I have to get up before nine o’clock to avail myself of breakfast. I have to pack up my equipment, and arrange it in the crew bar, in order to be able to write. I have to battle Italians and Brazilians for access to English TV and/or silence. This is definitely not what I expected. And that’s not even counting the terrible management, the less than average food, and my blatantly profit-oriented job description.

Maybe I will learn some Spanish curse words, just to properly complain about the food aboard.

Tromso, and the greed in cruise photography

23 May Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

The Norwegian town of Tromso has a beautiful botanical garden, which is just starting to bloom. Mind you, we have reached the end of May, making it a bit weird to see flowers erupting that, over in Central Europe, already lost their last petals six weeks ago. The garden must be quite a sight once all the snow has retreated, so I am already looking forward to our return to Tromso, which is scheduled for early June.

I was actually supposed to spend the first three port hours on the gangway, dressed up in some ridiculous templar costume, and posing for photos with our cruise passengers. Fortunately, the port of Tromso was engulfed in light drizzle and wind, so our manager decided to cancel that shooting. Sometimes the photo manager almost appears humane in nature. Then you recall that eight hours ago he called you and all of your team mates “a shame for photography”, and you decide to wipe him from your memory, and discover Tromso instead.

Tromso, Norway. A port view.

Tromso in early spring is still cold, but already pretty.

In the botanical garden I met a German couple who recognized me as one of the cruise photographers aboard the ABC RypMeOff. First the man and I nerded out about the rock outcrops and the geological exhibition just uphill from the botanical garden. But within three minutes the conversation steered unstoppably towards my position as cruise photographer, and the perils that the job entails. It is the very first cruise for this couple, and even though they only have been aboard for four days, they have long since realized that the photo department is more focused on selling pictures than on providing any kind of service. And when they realized that the Photo Gallery was solely focused on making money, they immediately zipped up their wallet.

So, the secret is out. Cruise Photography is a business, just like anything else aboard. Our passengers refuse to become costumers, because they feel the greed that blatantly surrounds every photographer aboard this vessel. And I mean EVERY photographer, including myself. Before the start of this particular cruise our fleet supervisor personally instructed us to push for great numbers, both in photos taken, and in merchandise sold. “These passengers have paid up to €5000 for this two-week Norway cruise. They have the money, so let’s find a way to take it from them.” That instruction leaves little ambiguity as to what the primary objective of this department actually is. We are to create revenue, and drain every last dollar from those pesky passengers.

Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

In May the botanical garden in Tromso is still a hodgepodge of rocks and shrubbery.

It is only fitting that our manager starts our work day with a training session, in which he explains the company philosophies. The official training slides of ABC Cruises proclaim that the “external guest comes to enjoy himself, and spend money”. The added commentary of our fleet supervisor leaves little ambiguity as to which of those two passenger goals we should assist with.

When I signed up for this job I knew that my position was part of a business plan. Every company makes money by selling a product, and I am happy to assist with that effort, as long as all parties agree willingly to the deal at hand. However, photographers with ABC Cruises are pushed to sell, not to assist, which puts the complicity of our costumers into question. Greed is the primary value that drives this company, and German tourists appear to be allergic to it, which explains the disaster of the North Cape excursions. You can’t fool the Germans. And you can’t convince me to try.

 

For a gallery of cold Tromso, click here.

North Cape Photo Excursion

22 May North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

I have been to the North Cape, and back. For free, because I work here. Like most of the previous stops along this journey as photographer for ABC Cruises the Nordkap excursion was an interesting experience, in more than one way.

The North Cape adventure itself is already a swirling enterprise. Whoever came up with the business plan for that tourist trap deserves a medal. The set up literally consists of a big building with three restaurants and an atrium, standing on an otherwise deserted cliff along the Northernmost coast of Norway. Outside of the building are a few concrete pillars and a globe monument. Apart from the rocky cliffs and the vast ocean beyond there is absolutely nothing to see there, and those few features are available to the same extent, and with better weather in any other town along Norway’s coast. And still, people pay actual money to hop on a bus, and spend ninety minutes at the North Cape, up to $100 each.

Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

The Globe Monument at the North Cape doesn’t look like much. Still it draws in thousands of tourists evey day.

Obviously, I was only allowed aboard the excursion so I could take photos of the unwilling passengers. The result was somewhat underwhelming, as I produced approximately five shots at the first stop, and forty at the second. And that is already counting the photos where people just looked vaguely in my direction.

The first stop was a Sami village, where about two hundred tourists were struggling to take a photo of a Sami aboriginal, and his valiant reindeer. Last night we had a preparation meeting in which our manager advised us in our approach on the Sami shooting. “On first stop, you will see this Babalu. [Babalu is his general term for any male humanoid.] You can take one hundred, two hundred pictures easy.” Instead of the targeted 100 photos I shot five, which really puts me behind on the numbers. We were given ten minutes total at that stop, and I was simply unable to organize the crowd in that time frame. Given the high expectations of our manager, and my complete inability to come anywhere near them, this first stop put me in a lot of distress.

More sparkling was the second stop, the actual North Cape, and associated Globe Monument. Again, every tourist wanted to have their picture taken at the globe, which is a great set-up for me as a photographer. However, nobody wanted to have their photo taken by me, which is rather problematic for the official ABC Photographer.

North Cape near Honningsvag, Norway

The North Cape offers a great view on ocean and rock, but there really isn’t much else, even in late May.

It is no secret that passengers who have been on more than ten cruises with this company are quite annoyed by the omnipresent photographers. Now it seems that they have found an unsubtle way to fight back, and annoy us in turn. They all gathered around that Globe Monument, smiling in three or four directions, handing their own portable cameras to other passengers, and asking them to shoot. In due time every one of those five hundred tourists that were milling around the monument got their picture taken, and very few of them smiled into my camera. Out of the forty-odd photos that I shot merely one quarter belongs to people that actually wanted to be shot by me. All the other pictures come from people who accidentally looked in my direction. I only shot those out of necessity – the lower my numbers are, the greater my trouble with our delusional manager will be.

At least part of this set-up is born from blatant hatred against the photographers. And who would blame them for it? Why would anyone pay $20 for a single photo, when the only exciting aspect of it is a three-meter tall steel globe? That question only loses in subtlety when you realize that the latest generation of smart phones has photo qualities that are barely distinguishable from our professional SLR efforts, at least not for the average tourists. And thus, our cruise passengers have made it a sport to either stand in our way, or at the very least show us how very superfluous and irrelevant our job has become.

It is rather fitting that the first excursion that I was allowed to join was one to the North Cape. I doubt that any other place along this cruise will be more of a tourist trap than the steel globe on frozen rock. I only had about ten minutes to myself on this trip, for the remaining time I was under constant stress to perform. In those ten minutes I still managed to exhaust all the photo opportunities on that barren rock, so there is no reason for me to return there. And my low performance might just convince our manager to never send me on any photo mission again.

Click here to infuse yourself with some photos of beautiful Honningsvag.