Archive | May, 2017

The job of a Cruise Photographer

21 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

It’s another sea day! [Sarcastic Yay!] Once again our cruise ship wobbles across the featureless North Sea, while we poor photographers try to create revenue by selling old photos and shooting new ones. However, that’s not to say we would suffer from boredom. Not only is our department graced by the visit of the fleet supervisor, but our schedule is also designed in a way that minimises our rest time without exceeding the daily work limit of eleven hours.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

A hearty breakfast is a great way to start the day. Unfortunately, I rarely get one.

My day starts three hours before my first shift with a “training session” with the crew purser. He is supposed to hand me my ABC credit card, so that ABC Cruises can start paying my salary. In a slight plot twist the purser does not actually hand me the merchandise, but instead asks me to select one out of three dates on which he will host the training. A quick visit in the afternoon would have sufficed for that interaction. But at least I am awake now, so instead of wasting my morning on sleep, I can roll around on my mattress, and occasionally drowse off into a light slumber, only interrupted by my bunk mates’ snoring and episodic messaging on his phone.

Similarly, the one hour break that follows my afternoon shift does not quite suffice to achieve any feeling of rest in me. And thus, after being awake for eight hours I am nearly exhausted enough to perform at my best when we start shooting cruise guests in the restaurant. Luckily, the guests don’t like us anyway, because they want to have a quiet meal instead of posing for pictures. Thus, my general tiredness has little effect on the outcome of my shooting efforts.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is approximately the minimum photo quality that we try to achieve. It’s hard to do when you’re exhausted.

Advertisement for cruise jobs usually states that you have to be flexible and hard working to succeed in the job, and considering that I have two university degrees I would like to think that I fulfill those requirements. But after six hours of uneasy sleep and eight hours of wake time in the sterile belly of a ship, I am not able to achieve seven hours of peak performance. This would be alright, if I was tending a bar, or waitressing a restaurant table, because general service personnel only has to smile, and perform their duties. Cruise photographers, on the other hand, have to be creative, interact with the guests, and entertain the visitors while simultaneously representing company philosophies. Everyone else on this ship either has a set task to perform, or a predefined product to sell. Cruise photographers have neither; we must create our own product, together with its future consumer.

According to our training it is our job to “create memories”, a task made more difficult by the fact that we create those memories in order to sell them, and our costumers know that. After experiencing ten cruises with the same company the guests understand that the photographers are not aboard to entertain them, but to shoot their portraits, and then sell them their own face on photo paper. Surprisingly enough they don’t want that anymore. And while there are psychological arm twisters that help in convincing the guests to comply with our task, I am too tired to successfully apply that psychology after staring at empty walls, and chewing on salty bread rolls for eight hours.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Even guests get tired of this view after two weeks aboard.

Yesterday was the Golden Wedding Jubilee of my parents. I didn’t even remember that circumstance before dinner, but I congratulated them just before midnight, so I am well in the time limit. My sister and I prepared a digital poster for our parents, commemorating the years since their wedding. Unfortunately, they won’t receive that gift before I return from my cruise job, because the internet connection aboard is so bad that I can’t even send a 5 MB attachment. And yes, I have been trying for over a week. It is emblematic for my issue with ABC Cruises that every individual crew member is held to high standards, while the sub-standard management is incapable of tending to individual problems. If you don’t live for your job, you have no place aboard this vessel. In other words, you either enjoy to be permanently exhausted, or you love to be underperforming.

I am fine with feeling sleepy, but I also wonder if this ship really is a good environment for that. Right now I could sit in my back yard, and munch on fresh strawberries. Instead I am forced to deal with the unrealistic expectations of a company that seems fixed on maximising my wake time. My payment better be what I was promised, or I won’t have enough reason to stay for the whole seven-month contract.

Alesund, and the power of friends

20 May Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Tonight I will roam the Photo Gallery again. I spend two out of three days in the gallery, whereas most of the other photographers only get that duty about once or twice a week. While the rest of the team has to stand in their studios and lure in passengers, I merely have to wander around, assist costumers, and apprehend thieves. Yes, thieves! The photos that we take in our department are genuinely great, but also expensive, so many guests try to steal the paper prints from the gallery, or at least snap a picture of their picture on a smart phone. Every one who succeeds in his criminal activity costs us revenue, so my job of Gallery Watch really is one of importance.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Photo Gallery is normally full of passenger portraits, and a few passengers trying to take pictures.

Still, gallery duty is not nearly as exhausting as shooting portraits, so my coworkers start to dislike the fact that I spend considerably more time in the gallery than they do. Already I expend little time socialising my colleagues, mostly limited to the meals and the occasional chat in the hallway, while we are collectively waiting for the daily debriefing with our manager. The only real spare time I have happens in the morning, at a time when they are asleep.

My coworkers finish every work day by smoking cigarettes, and drinking cheep beer in the Crew Disco. There are various reasons why I never join them there; my need for sleep and my inability to breathe in that smoker’s den being the most prominent ones. According to my photographer friend Mateja I am expected to show up there at least once or twice a week, and people have started to spin rumours about potential reasons for my absence. But I am not a disgruntled teenager – I genuinely can’t be bothered to care what my coworkers think of me. Having a smoking parlour in my bathroom is bad enough for my health and attitude. I really don’t need to visit another one; thank you very much. If my colleagues would value my company, they would congregate in a non-smoking part of the ship, or join me in my port visits, as Mateja does. But they only care about their nightly smoking party, a hobby that I do not share, and therefore do not participate in.

My shared non-smoking toilet aboard the cruise ship

My shared bathroom still looks like this, so I still don’t want to increase my time of passive smoking.

Since it appears to be impossible for me to become friends with the majority of my colleagues (not without massively devaluing myself), I have formed social bonds with other crew members. For example, almost every morning I meet the German entertainment couple at breakfast. They play dance music in one of the bars until 1 A.M., so they get to bed around the same time as I do. They both smoke, but barely ever visit the Crew Disco, because getting to bed late means missing day light. And oddly enough they both value the sight of Norway’s scenery higher than a puff among sociopaths.

Until now this cruise adventure has featured short days and drudgingly long work nights. But my job as cruise photographer is markedly gaining value now that we start to visit the postcard section of Norway. And the acquisition of actual friends among the crew makes my work more bearable. After work I regularly visit the late night section of the crew mess. Not because I long for piles of French Fries, but because talking to real people helps me calm down after spending seven hours in the company of problem children.

Anyway, my new German musician friends sent me on a quest for Alesund’s peak. Like many other Norwegian tourist towns Alesund is situated in a fjord, so the view from the ship is already worth the trip. I was advised to hike the stairwell to the greatest cliff on that peninsula, and in retrospect I agree that the view was worth missing lunch at the cruise buffet. For me as a geologist the view adds a particular educational bonus, because I get to reminisce on the processes that formed these mountains, and the abrasive workings of glaciers that grinded them down. But even without that knowledge Alesund looks gorgeous from above. To view my gallery of inspirational Alesund photos click here.

Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Alesund, one of Norway’s post card fjord towns

I do not share many common interests with my cruise friends. However, we have enough overlap to support each other on stressful days, and point out interesting hiking paths or food opportunities. I guess the point of my ramble is this: if you feel stuck at work, get a friend. It doesn’t have to be someone who shares your office. Just a few encouraging words every day will go a long way to preserve your outer calm, and pave the way for a scenic future.

Breaking the cruise rules

19 May yellow fields in Invergordon, Scotland

“No-one is allowed to carry food or drink in hallways.” That message is posted every ten metres along the crew corridors, and is reinforced by our manager at least once a week. However, it creates a mysterious conundrum: if neither food nor drink are allowed to be carried through the hallways, how do they ever reach the cabin?

yellow fields in Invergordon, Scotland

One of my friends once bought a bread in port, and was not allowed to take it aboard. He stood in front of security, and ate the entire bread in one go.

The only acceptable way of transporting beverages and food items aboard the ABC RypMeOff is in sealed bottles and other containers. Said containers are to be carried in closed bags, which is why half of the crew constantly has a paper dangling from their arm, if they are moving between shifts. Those are the rules aboard our swimming hotel. So, whatever, let’s just pretend we are all too incompetent to carry a bottle of water without spilling its content over our guests.

Similarly, food is only allowed to exist in your cabin, if it is sealed. The masters mean “sealed by its maker”, so once you open a package of biscuits, you better finish them all. That would put all the weightwatchers aboard into deep trouble, if the cruise meals were not making them fat and unhappy already.

Fruits and vegetables are not allowed to visit our cabins at all. Again, those are the rules of society. Because some people keep mouldy peaches until fruit flies darken the sky, the rest of us are not allowed to store fruits at all. Every day I feel a bit more constrained by the plethora of rules aboard this vessel. A frustrating majority of those regulations are attempts to overcompensate for sleights of previous crew members. Filipinos and Asians in particular used to brew hot curry in their cabin, and toss the leftovers under the bunk bed. And because they had no concept of hygiene we now have to suffer that silly no-food rule, regardless of how inedible some of the mess food actually is.

Breakfast buffet for cruise crew

We wouldn’t need to bunker food, if the meals in the mess were tasty or healthy. Unfortunately they are neither.

Today the company added a novelty item to our lunch buffet in the Staff Mess: the green banana. Now, everyone knows that the perfectly ripe banana is brown like the average inmate of a US prison. But since such degree of ripeness requires the investment of time, and since ABC Cruises rarely spends any of that on its crew, I don’t expect to find ripe bananas aboard this vessel. But these green sticks are really taking the piss. I saw one of the crew members trying their teeth on it, and after initial struggle over the tough peel, and resentment over the stale-tasting interior he actually managed to consume it with a straight face. His taste buds have probably been sufficiently dulled by the amply supplied green apples that the company graced us with in these past weeks.

Once more I am happy that my dress pants have relatively deep pockets, which allows me to store two green bananas on the left, and a few bread roles on the right. Nobody else really seems to care about the ABC Code of Law, so I don’t see why I should. Back in my cabin the bananas go into the cupboard, where they will fester for a week. Room inspections are usually announced one week in advance, so in case of an emergency I would have enough warning to hide the green sticks somewhere in the common area. And thus I eat bread, and catch up on my writing. Yes, in my cabin. Take that, ABC Cruises!

CRUISE – Handling stress in coworkers

18 May

We are in Hamburg, and you know what that means: we shoot embarkation photos. Lolek, and Bolek, and me. And Henry, if he can be asked to stop rambling, and start contributing. By now you know what scheme the events will follow: I get shooed around the canvas, and due to being held to impossible standards I get verbally abused every half hour. That’s life as a rookie photographer. It’s no longer news, so instead of continuing to whine I will discuss my thoughts on work stress and human intervention.

Hamburg town hall

This is my third port day in Hamburg, but once again no photographer has time to leave the cruise ship.

Embarkation shootings follow a very repetitive scheme. The incoming passengers line up, we ask them to pose for a photo in front of a canvas, we shoot, and the crowd slowly moves on. I am supposed to “crowd control” the passengers, i.e. keep them in line, and push them in front of the canvas. And whatever I do, my Macedonian colleagues usually perceive it as wrong, because approximately every ninety passengers we get a rude Italian couple that just stalks right through the photo studio, dragging at least a dozen other passengers behind them. And although that happens to every photographer who “crowd-controls”, it only is worthy of comment when I do it. And even when my “team mates” make me switch positions with them, the problem remains: whatever I do is wrong, even if I do the same as everyone else.

This type of harassment of coworkers fits snugly into the definition of “bullying”. If this happened in any regular office job, you would go to your boss, and ask for an open discussion with your colleagues. Unfortunately, that option is off the table, because our boss is a lunatic. We all avoid talking to Manager Mihai, because we rarely receive answers that are less than offensive. Constructive criticism is not part of his repertoire, so asking him to mitigate a dispute is like asking a ferret to pick a chicken.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography: embarkation shootings usually get two teams of photographers, because picturing 4000 passengers takes a lot of time.

Option #2 is this: I talk to my coworkers, and ask them to extend their criticism to other photographers, or stop picking on me. In order to do so I would need to pull them aside for an hour, which I cannot find the time for. In the morning I get up early, while they stay asleep. (Yes, even on port days.) During work hours they are totally stressed out, and the manager forbids us to speak to each other anyway. The meal breaks are about thirty minutes long, which is enough time for everyone to gobble up some pasta with ill-defined meat bits, and type a few messages on their not-so-smart phones. After work I am tired enough to fall asleep, while my coworkers go to party in the smoker’s den. Since that place is loud and smelly it does not appeal to me as a place for an honest discussion of work ethics.

And before you inquire about free time – we don’t have much of that. Nine to ten work hours a day (plus two hours preparation and clean-up) leave little time to spare. On port days I go outside to conjure up motivation for the job; on sea days I launder clothes and try to catch up on sleep. That is literally the life of a cruise photographer – work, and eat, and sleep. No wonder everyone is so stressed out all the time! Maybe by the end of my contract I will also become a verbally aggressive workaholic. I think I’d rather quit the job, though.

It is difficult to understand what makes their positions so stress-inducing. After all, I have to fulfill nearly the same tasks that my coworkers do; and despite having fewer years of experience I approach my work with the same professional attitude as they do. My coworkers just take this whole situation way more serious. On embarkation days in particular they are very vigorous, and utilize a wide variety of gestures and multilingual phrases to pose unwilling passengers in front of the photo canvas. They spend a great deal of energy on maximising their performance, and at least half of them require energy drinks AND a pint of coffee to push through the embarkation shooting. In turn, they expect me to also jump about like a crazed frog, and are massively disappointed when I refuse to do so. My coworkers are constantly on the edge; they think I am underperforming, and therefore try to push me towards being more Rodeo Clown, and less professional photographer. Since none of us really has time to think while at work, they can’t develop a comprehensive concept of how to teach me their way of “cruise photography”. And so they just build up anger, and release it in episodic bursts.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Maybe people with more facial hair are just more relaxed. Most of my male coworkers are pretty rancid, though.

One of my best friends aboard is Mateja, a young Lithuanian photographer who started her first photo contract just three days before me. The same hostility that makes my job so difficult is also extended towards her, and every other day we have a brief talk between breaks regarding these issues. Mateja is a wonderfully energetic photographer, and you can just see the passengers brightening up in her presence. But barely a day passes on which she doesn’t complain to me about being bullied. Every other day I have to reassure her that this job is worth keeping, that her coworkers are not being particularly mean, and that they are not targeting her directly. The stress level of our “team members” is just so high that they cannot be argued or reasoned with as long as they remain on the cruise ship.

In my experience it won’t be possible to maintain that kind of mental exertion over weeks or months. So Mateja and I intend to sit it out, ignore the unintended harassment, and stay strong for ourselves. We both had to spend valuable resources to gain this position, and we won’t let those ignorant egomaniacs destroy our efforts. Neither of us is willing to become a photo bully, so instead of socialising with our coworkers in a dusty smoker’s bar, we sleep one hour longer, and channel positive energies for the next day.

I cannot see a way to calm down our coworkers, so instead of submerging myself in pointless argumentation I will continue to ignore them. Short-term it may anger them more, realizing that I am not actually listening when they try to “teach” me. But in the long run they should be able to see beyond my mistakes, and focus on a more organised approach to their own jobs, and the world around it.

CRUISE – Rules are enforced, or obsolete

17 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

It is “$$ALE$$ DAY”! (Don’t blame me – that title is actually written on our daily schedule.) Today ends another cruise. Technically it ends tomorrow, but this is the last day we see most of our current passengers, before they all disembark tomorrow morning, and immediately get replaced by a new load of Italians, Germans, Spanish, and other cruise veterans. So, today we try to sell whatever is not glued to the walls of the Photo Gallery, in the vain hope that it will please the masters, and grant us a pay bonus. I am awfully content with my position as makeshift counter clerk, considering that the whole consumer mentality of this cruise business goes against everything I believe in. It’s just part of the job, and I always try to excel at my duties. That’s just German, I guess. My actual troubles are of a more human nature.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The job and attire give me the look of a car salesman.

My ignorant cabin mate, (my “buddy”, as he is referred to by ABC regulations) has purchased a new torture instrument – the vaporizer. For the past few days he has been entertaining me not only with his rancid cigarette smell in the bathroom, but also with the stench from his small electronic pipe. Last night he went farther than usual, happily vaporizing away in his bed. Since I sleep on the upper bench, and the elemental laws of physics cannot be ignored even on cruise ships, I was nicely enveloped in his grand puff, kept awake by a sour-bitter smell of burning herbs. Knowing that an immediate complaint would not eliminate the cloud of nicotine vapour, I took a long walk around the crew corridors, taking deep breaths, and looking for a decent bathroom.

The contract of my cabin mate Pancho terminates in two weeks, at the end of this very cruise to Norway. In the recent past I have kept telling myself “only two more weeks”, just to prevent myself from strangling Pancho in his smallclothes. However, this time he has gone too far, and I can no longer avoid talking to him. Although my store duties don’t require much intellect, it is genuinely advantageous to sleep for more than four hours every night. It doesn’t help that my hours of slumber are kept short by a “buddy” who snores more often than not, smokes in my bathroom, and now also stinks up my bed.

When I confront him with the effects of his deeds he seems genuinely surprised. I don’t even doubt that reaction. He appears to be the kind of person who is startled by simple occurrences, such as smoke rising, or apples falling. Pancho is not an idiot, but he often is wrapped up in his own world of misconceptions and dreams. In many ways he represents the perfect crew member of ABC Cruises – he does not complain publicly, performs his task with invisible reluctance, and spends a good part of his salary on snacks and liquor aboard the cruise ship, guaranteeing that at least part of his pay remains in the family.

My shared non-smoking toilet aboard the cruise ship

The toilet in our shared smoking parlour (bathroom) usually smelled the way it looked.

On the other hand regular rules are meaningless to Pancho. Crew members have always been smoking in the bathrooms, and the Security personnel has always been complicit in this. The issue is not likely to be resolved by me, because it is far greater than I am. Before taking new crew aboard ABC Cruises sends out a 20-page rule book, which provides a guidance for what life aboard should look like. It provides a virtual safety net for new crew members, as it lays out all the rules that the crew must abide by. However, what the book does not tell you is that “some rules can be bent; others can be broken”. For example, security personnel smoke in their cabin, even though smoking aboard is prohibited anywhere but in the disco or the casino. This disconnection between rule and reality destroys any guiding effect of this document; rendering it just another deception of the company that now runs my life.

I am not a confrontational person; I try to avoid conflict whenever possible. That also means, if I do complain, I want to be taken serious. I don’t see that happening on a cruise ship where the captain personally scrutinises my facial hair, while security does not care about elementary health concerns like smoking indoors.

Pancho and I have come to an agreement – I will try to be quieter when I get dressed for breakfast, and he will not vaporize herbs when I try to sleep. Resolving this incident took another forty minutes of sleep time that I barely have. Luckily tomorrow is embarkation day. One reason why I love embarkation shootings, despite the stress it induces: I’m constantly moving around, so there’s no chance of me falling asleep on the job.

CRUISE – Community wins

16 May Exterminate!

As I read through the blogs of these past two weeks I cannot avoid noticing a certain negativity attached to them. The life of a cruise photographer is filled with trouble and strive, and most of my colleagues seem to stay in it only for the money. But cruise life is not the ghastly black-and-white picture that you may see painted in my writings. Otherwise I would have left some time ago. So today, instead of disputing additional perils, I shall focus on one of the things that keep me here: the cruise photo community.

Old and new industry at Dublin, Ireland

Cruises offer a variety of positive angles, one being the beautiful view.

Most cruise passengers are repeating costumers. A cruise can be an exciting adventure or a relaxing form of luxury travel. Either way you get to explore a big boat with thousands of passengers, and you visit a new town every other day, without the troubles of packing, checking in, or confining yourself to a smelly car seat for five hours. The cruise is a great way to travel, and I access this fine experience for free! That already is a marvellous point to get a job aboard.

Today we are anchored in Southampton, England. And although this is my second visit to this town (and I was not impressed the first time around), I still have a nice long walk around town. Four other members of our department are shooting passenger portraits on the gangway this morning, so I feel obliged to enjoy the spare time that they don’t have. One day we will be in a port where I shoot Gangway, and they have the time off; I would be disappointed if they spent that time asleep.

In a way, these are the challenges that bind us together as a team. No matter why we chose this job, or what our communication problems may be, we all are plagued by the same crappy manager, work with the same photo-shy passengers and outdated equipment. I know; those are terrible reasons to form a team. People should be bound together by their common interests, not by common enemies. But what worked for the Avengers also seems to project well into the realm of cruise photography. It is due to our common challenges that the members of the photo department cooperate, teach each other, and slowly seem to form a semi-coherent team. We all have to work hard for it, and we never get credited for our efforts, except by each other. But every day we collaborate a bit better, and we generally excel at our duty. We need one another, and our common efforts make this department a place that the passengers fondly remember.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography is a rough job, but in a way those many challenges bind us together.

As a team we overcome various cruise challenges such as unwilling passengers, hostile managers, and stressful schedules. We all work towards a common goal: creating photographic memories, mostly for passengers that don’t even know yet that they want those memories. Only together we succeed. As team members we feel that our efforts are valued, and our labour is worth more than just a flimsy paycheque. As in life, so in work – community wins.

PS.: I updated the Southampton photo gallery with some fresh images of British architecture from between the great wars. Click here to view.

Cruise Musicians – what a bore

15 May Goemon5 - The Fire Within CD cover

During the last embarkation in Hamburg we picked up a bunch of new musicians, among them one German couple who plays party music, and even one Folk man, with guitar, and tambourine, and harmonica. Being a folk musician myself his set-up actually got me really excited, but after listening to him for nearly one week I am now ready to push him overboard.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

Every evening there are some five musical acts playing aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Some are much better than others.

The Folk Boy seems to have monopolized the stage next to the Photo Gallery, so I needlessly have to audit the daily demonstrations of his rather limited repertoire. Sometimes I have the urge to just walk over before he starts playing, and tell him: “it won’t be easy. In fact, it will be pretty hard.” But I doubt that he is intelligent enough to catch my drift, and still would not leave that particularly bad song bound in his notebook.

Years ago my friend Marc announced that he wanted to become a cruise musician, and that the company required him to learn a repertoire of at least one hundred songs, in order to even apply for the position. I don’t recall which company he had in mind, but ABC Cruises seems to reject such scrutiny; Folk Boy repeats almost his exact set list three times every evening. And every single song is taken from the lists of top ten popular songs from the past three decades. Annual Top Ten Pop charts, mind you – we wouldn’t want to include a song that anyone could enjoy as refreshingly new.

I never liked commercial radio, because it only plays the charts, instead of exploring interesting music alternatives. Folk Boy is worse than radio, because he is not only playing the charts, but playing all of it in the same Rock’n’Roll voice. On first listening it sounds interesting and new, but after two tracks his Rock’n’Pop album becomes rather repetitive. Neither the tambourine taps, nor the harmonica riffs, and not even the great guitar solos can mask the fact that his music is tremendously boring. Same style, same songs, three hours. Kill me already!

Goemon5 - The Fire Within CD cover

There are more songs on my debut album “The Fire Within” than ABC’s Folk Boy has in his entire repertoire.

There are more songs on my solo album than in his standardised set list. (Fourteen beautiful songs, available now on almost any electronic music platform.) Not to mention my variation in vocalisation, and originality in style and musicianship. On top of that I can play another eighty or so cover songs and traditionals. On banjo, guitar, and ukulele. That should be plenty for an ABC Cruise musician. Once I get fired as photographer I can immediately reapply, as cruise musician. Playing three sets each night is a challenge, but if I play it soft, I should be able to manage. Most of the time the musicians only provide background music anyway, so I would not need to exhaust myself with a concert-level performance.

So there it is. Out of audiovisual necessity I have birthed plan B for my cruise career. I will be a cruise musician. Now I just need to get myself fired.

CRUISE – Irish Cobh, and facial hair

14 May Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This morning I had a lovely chat with the human resource manager (HR) of the ABC RypMeOff. It would seem that I angered the captain once too often, and manager Mihai angrily sent me to the HR, so that perhaps he “can make [me] understand the groom”. Arguably I do understand the groom (and the groove, but that is a different story). And whenever I try to enhance Mihai’s understanding, he silences my attempted explanation. Thus, I went to HR, and chatted with him instead.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This was the state of my hair when I worked as a cruise photographer.

The whole story started about a week ago, when I was standing all alone in the Plaza, waiting for unwilling passengers to not have their pictures taken. A middle-aged lad stopped some six metres away from me, and photographed me with his mobile phone. When I asked whether I could now photograph him in turn, he only replied with the word “inspector”, waving an orange-framed ID card in front of my face. Events escaladed from there.

Our photo manager received various angry phone calls from the captain, who complained about the strange figure with the obscenely long facial hair, and the way too short pants. I had the tailor fix the pants problem (once I managed to track him down), but my facial hair won’t pass as easily.

Before I agreed to take the photography job with ABC I messaged my manning agent, and inquired about the limitations of the ABC “groom policies”. I sent him one of my advertisement photos, and asked whether this appearance would meet the company standards. As it turns out the masters of ABC Cruses can be quite the sticklers when it comes to hair, even forbidding more than shoulder-long hair for female crew. In order to avoid unpleasant surprises I inquired about details, and after only two weeks I received an official reply.

According to the manning agent I needed to go through three major changes, some of them more easily met than others. 1) Cut my hair so that it would not meet my shoulders. – I opted for a 5-mm cut, because it is easy to care for. 2) A clean shave, apart from selected areas of the face. – That is already a chore, because I now have to shave every other day. But as long as it keeps people happy, I shall oblige. 3) The moustache “must not touch the upper lip”, and all “facial hair must me constrained to the plane of the face”. – This is the point where the monkey meets his banana, and realizes that it’s rotten.

Goemon5 in Calgary, via Alyssa Hanke

Around 2015 Goemon5 still had lucious hair, and paid little attention to his moustache. Photo credit: Alyssa Hanke.

In retrospect the last demand leaves considerable space for interpretation, but for the moment I felt safe enough. During my last trip to Berlin I had to visit six different shops before I found a hair gel that was thick enough to replace my dwindling supply of moustache wax. It is far from ideal, but under the given circumstances it is a good working solution. The “hair dress” keeps my moustache in line, and my goatee pointy. It comes with a commitment of about fifteen minutes for facial hair styling every day, but the visual results seem worth the effort. At the very least I can groom my beard into a two-dimensional framework that edges along the official guide lines.

However, none of this is good enough for Captain Hitler (not a name I made up), who strongly demands that my facial hair be trimmed down to meet company policies. And therefore, this very morning, when I could have been wandering through lovely Corb, I had a long discussion with HR in an attempt to diffuse the situation. I told him about the official e-mail, about my commitment to the beard, and the constant struggle with the captain. I also mentioned, not quite in passing, that I had been growing this moustache for twenty years, the goatee for six. The army didn’t get my moustache, the university didn’t get it, and ABC Cruises won’t take it from me either.

I feel that this entire conflict has grown out of proportion. But should it come to a showdown between the clean-shaven (and bold) captain, and my extravagant facial hair, the captain will not win. If I am confronted with the choice between moustache and this job, “beard” will be my preferred option.


The moustache always wins. Probably not the girls, but certainly the Weird Face Competition.

HR patiently listened to my reasoning, and explained that he was here to help in any way he could. And I believe him. We watched the ABC grooming video, and re-read the grooming policy. We compared those with the email, with the state of my beautiful face, and with Captain Hitler’s demands. And the beard won. Hooray! HR promised me that everything would be alright for now, and that he would deal with any future demands from the captain personally.

Today I have made one more powerful friend aboard the ABC RypMeOff, and have defended my unique facial hair against the darkness of ABC policies. It has been another victory, for all the bearded bards aboard.

Sadly, that means I won’t get disembarked any time soon, and may even have to finish this stressful contract. Well, let’s see what other trouble we can stir up. There’s gotta be a way to get me fired. In the meantime, I will enjoy a lovely walk through the scenic town of Cobh, Ireland. For some scenic photos click here.

CRUISE – The Dublin Drill

13 May Old and new industry at Dublin, Ireland

In the morning the whole “team” attends to costumers in the photo gallery, because we won’t arrive in the port of Dublin before noon. Most of the passengers sleep in, preparing for a long night in Ireland, leaving the photographers to silently stare at each other for three hours. (Recall that management forbids us to talk to each other when even a hint of costumer is around.) But that is not to say ABC Cruises would do anything to increase our moods. Au contraire – our masters found a sure way to escalate the situation.

Every cruise that we embark on has to feature one drill, a day on which we all wait patiently for a crew alert to be announced, so that we can walk to our safety positions and pretend that we are in control of ourselves, and of the evacuation procedures. Drills can only be held in port, and no crew member is allowed to leave the ship before the drill has ended. And considering that we will only be in Dublin once during these five months of North Sea cruises our masters agreed that today should be the day of drilling. And that said drill should not occur until two hours after arriving in port, thus maximising frustration, because most crew will have to go back to work by the time the drill is done.

Breakwater of the port of Dublin, Ireland

The big port of Dublin is a beautiful sight, even if you don’t get to see the city.

So we arrived in Ireland’s iconic capital, and get to see its port through the windows of the ship. And once happiness about the view has spread across all decks we are allowed to resume our work of begging and shooting. Obviously we mostly photograph an empty canvas, because who in their right mind would stay aboard, if they have the opportunity to visit Dublin?!

As usual our work day ends around half past midnight, culminating in yet another tirade from the photo manager; another scenic depiction of his rotting leadership skills and lacking talents in communication. Starting today he will collect formal notes of complaint, and file them away for us. The reasons for starting his collection of terrible handwriting remain unknown, but apparently they have something to do with the other departments complaining to him about the members of the photo department. Bolek was awarded the very first of those notes, and got to sign it in front of everyone. Apparently he has failed to punch his time card according to schedule, a crime for which prosecution is immanent. I almost feel left out, but the photo manager quickly produced another complaint notification, and it is mine!

Old and new industry at Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is filled with indutry, and the mixture of generations is part of its charm.

My first personal complaint letter charges me with two crimes against humanity. Both are quite personal, yet none names an accusing party. The first charge concerns my “groom”, an issue raised most recently by the captain himself. Manager Mihai sends me to the manager of human resources (HR), first thing tomorrow morning, to discuss my general attitude towards the company’s groom policy. Maybe HR will “make [me] understand” what Mihai has been preaching and complaining about for the past two weeks.

The second complaint against my person regards my “unwillingness to help other members of the team”. While it is no big secret that I am a loner, and unwilling to socialise with a bunch of smoking, drinking knitwits, it should also be known that I am generally eager to help and assist. However, that eagerness is cut short by the inability of my “team members” to act in a way that represents coordination, or at least communicate their demands in an internationally comprehensible form.

In other words – my coworkers are incapable of telling me what to do, and yet they complain about me not doing what they want. Now there is a formal record of these baseless accusations against my person. If I can manage to accumulate enough of them I might manage to get fired, and leave this lousy excuse of a work place behind.

So there we have it – two weeks on the job, and I am ready to leave. Shitty food, crappy management, lousy work schedule, uncommunicative team. Welcome to ABC Cruises!


PS.: Regardless of the pressure I managed to shoot some nice pictures of Dublin’s port. Click here to view the photos.

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

12 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

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.