Greenock (2) – The mental challenges of the Photo Booth Set-Up

12 May

Back aboard the ABC RypMeOff I prepare for my night of labour. The first task is an attendance of a photo training session. Yes, after he has been defecating on our photographic efforts for two weeks our manager has finally scheduled a practical lesson in the work of cruise photography. In a 90-minute session he shows all ten photographers of our team how to pose the passengers, and how to frame the pictures. I intend to incorporate this lesson into my plans when I shoot portraits in the plaza tonight. However, before we get to shoot anyone there is the issue of setting up the six studios around the ship. And that is where the energy drains from me like money from Britain’s economy.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

This is the set up of our photo studios. A background and two light sources.

Set-up is not actually a difficult task. All we need to do is: go to the locker room, extract all the necessary equipment, distribute it to the studio locations, and assemble it. That plan may sound simple in the ears of an educated child, but it poses a mighty obstacle to the hive mind of a photography team with mixed continental origin.

Firstly, we never arrive at the locker as a team, because everyone has to solve personal tasks of varying importance before manoeuvring one’s body to the locker. Those tasks range from cigarette breaks, to chat-ups of the bar servers, to elaborate discussions of last night’s food mess. However, I enjoy being early, if only to witness the dilemma unfolding in its entirety.

Locating the necessary equipment is not a great obstacle either, because everything has its place in our dusty locker room. That’s not to say you are likely to find said item in that place, but at least an initial effort has been made. The uninitiated might be tempted to just grab the equipment from the locker room, and transport it to its destination, but my “team” has developed a far more extraneous method for acquiring chaos. First of all someone assumes command, in the best case multiple people simultaneously. Said person or persons then takes all the tripods and lights he can grab with both arms, and hands them to someone else, preferably someone who has not been ontroduced to whatever plan has been made. The locker room is subsequently drained of its content, and the necessary equipment for about nine studios is laid out on the floor, for all the passengers to marvel about.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

For legal and technical reasons I cannot show you photos of my “team mates”. It wouldn’t help either – they look like normal people; they just aren’t.

Once enough late-comers have arrived to witness the chaos, the real show can begin. This is usually the time when I ask the self-proclaimed leader where I might carry which lights, so as to start on the actual task of building studios. Unfortunately it is also the time when people start remembering that half of the items are broken, and so they haggle over what tripod and which background can possibly be dragged to their own work station. After approximately five minutes the first photographers have conquered their preferred items from the heap of scrap metal, and attempt to knit me into their work stream. I then load my arms with as many lights and tripods as I can safely carry, and walk off.

My labour of carrying is often guided by frustrated calls from the other pack mules, who are all convinced that I “can take more stuff”. I usually ignore them, much to their dismay. Once during my early days I tried to argue that safety is more important than testing one’s carrying capacity. But arguing with a stressed-out cruise photographer is much like discussing poetry with a watch dog – no matter how your phrase it, your message will be lost in blood. And so I let them scorn me, and amuse myself with the sight of an overladen human mule who can barely hobble fifty metres a minute through our passenger-laden hallways, and who still manages to bounce one thousand dollars worth of equipment into every corner along his way.

But the troubles don’t end there. Not only am I utterly unwilling to risk the structural integrity of my bones for a bunch of lunatics who think everyone should carry sixty pounds of metal and electronics around. My colleagues also formulate a multitude of verbal requests that I cannot even process, because they are muttered in a language that is barely recognizable as English. I don’t even care that Lolek & Bolek speak predominantly Macedonian, or that our South-African quota boy tries to smooth his slurring accent by reducing most words to a single syllable. (Hearing the word “autopole” pronounced without consonants is a real treat.) I am only offended by their attempts to make me feel guilty about their inability to pronounce the Queen’s English. The sound sequence “look in o’ice and see i’ the’y car, and ‘eel a’pao” does not gain meaning by increasing the master volume, nor does repetition of the phrase inject any clarity into it. I have taught Anatomy at a Canadian university; I know what English sounds like, and this is not it.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Plaza is just thirty metres away from the locker room. It still takes half an hour to build a photo location there.

Every day at least one of my male “team members” is left disappointed and frustrated by my lack of cooperation, either because I don’t understand what he wants from me, or because relaying the details of his plan to me would take longer than if he’d do it himself. Similar to the problems that we encountered during the embarkation shootings I am left with two unfavourable options. Either 1) I gobble up the frustration that is spread by my colleagues, leaving them to believe that somehow some of their words make some sort of difference. Or 2) I sit them down and try to discuss our inability to understand each other’s words, hoping that during the next set-up session everyone will attempt to follow a common plan. Since the problem seems to be an unwillingness to cooperate and communicate, I don’ see much purpose in option #2, so I save myself the time, and just focus on my own jobs. That’s life, I guess.

At least I get paid. Oh, please tell me I get paid.

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