Tag Archives: cruise jobs

Cruise Photography Aftermath

6 Jul Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

It is Thursday, and I have to re-adapt to a world where this (and the time of day) are meaningful information. The first novelty after returning home was the simple fact that the day consists of three meals, and none of them is rushed. And when I require additional sustenance, I can simply grab a snack item or a glass of water from the kitchen. And when I need to sit down, I sit down, and continue working. Things that are so normal for most folks, and are usual even for employees in any sweat shop or burger parlour, these things are virtually impossible during work hours with ABC Cruises.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

Cruise advertisement is usually full of blue skies and greeen lanscapes. The actual job, however, is not.

I am happy to leave ABC Cruises behind, not just my position as cruise photographer, but the entire ordeal of working for a company that puts financial profit above everything else, be it physical health, public perception, or simple integrity. I worked for one of the biggest cruise companies worldwide, and probably the fastest growing one. Their impact on sea tourism is beyond measure, yet they seem to lack the basic ethical responsibilities necessary to take a leading role for the market. The officers are almost exclusively Italian, indicating that it is nearly impossible to acquire a high-ranking position without kissing ass. You can think of that what you like, but I doubt that being a great kisser qualifies anyone to lead the fate of a multi-Billion Dollar company, and particularly that of its hundreds of thousands of employees.

Now, why am I even writing this blog? (Why do you keep reading is the more interesting question, but that’s none I can answer.) My motivations are three-fold: 1) I use writing as a way of stress-relief; 2) I want to warn people who are toying with the thought of becoming a cruise photographer about the actual perils involved in the job; 3) there is a slim chance that someone at ABC Cruises will read this, and improve working conditions for their crew, as well as care for their paying guests.

To date I wrote more than sixty blog posts about my experience as cruise photographer, over eighty pages of text contemplating my existence, and that of my chosen path. It was an interesting ride, but I am glad that it’s over. In order to provide a comprehensive overview over the reasons for my decision to stop working for ABC Cruises I hereby provide you with my complete list of pros and cons for signing off.

Spitsbergen is not actually THAT cold in spring. But tensions aborad the ABC RypMeOff chill most photographers to the bone.

The working climate aboard the ABC RypMeOff was often frosty

Reasons to sign off

  1. The pay is inadequate to my work load and stress, and much lower than promised (I am paid about one quarter of the original figure).
  2. The food is of mediocre quality. Too often the healthy vegetarian choices are limited to options such as rice and fruit, which lack the nutrients and minerals that I need to sustain a healthy body.
  3. Spare time is often scattered throughout the day, due to training sessions, buffet times, drills, laundry visits, and other small jobs that require my attention, and are badly synchronised with one another.
  4. Job time, however, is filled with boredom, as I stand in my photo studio for hours, waiting for hotel guests who don’t even want their photo taken.
  5. Similarly, I am sleep-deprived, because I go to bed after midnight snack time (2 A.M.), but get up around 7 A.M. to enjoy port time, or get ready for work.
  6. Overall, I lack exercise, physically and mentally. I spend six-hour blocks standing in a portrait studio, only interrupted by two short food breaks. My knees hurt really badly as soon as I try to actually bend them. After six weeks my legs joined that club of complainers, because I don’t get to stretch and exercise them often enough.
  7. Internet access is so bad that I rarely get to successfully send an e-mail, particularly when I try to send attachments. It’s also expensive. Which I understand, because otherwise crew would likely abuse the narrow bandwidth provided by the satellite dish; but there are other ways to limit bandwidth that would not make the web experience ridiculously slow and unreliable.
  8. The crew predominantly converses in Italian, Portuguese, or any Balkan language. Barely anyone speaks the Queen’s English, making it difficult to communicate, or at least have a halfway pleasant conversation.
MSC Preciosa 72

Behind all the glamour with ABC Cruises there are rather dirty work practices.

Reasons to remain with ABC Cruises

  1. More trips to Iceland are coming. (With many repetitive Norway cruises in between.)
  2. I could go spot some whales with Stefanie. (But only if I am actually allowed to leave the ship, and spend more than two consecutive hours outside, which there is absolutely no guarantee for.)
  3. Maya Buffet is really tasty, and offers a great choice of unhealthy food items. (But hugely interrupts the flow of the day, because to me it is only available on port days, and only for a narrow time window.)
  4. I learned some interesting things about portrait photography, and would undoubtedly learn more. (But rarely get the opportunity to practice those skills.)
  5. See the world (and watch it through a cubby hole, because we are not allowed to show ourselves aboard the ship when we are not working.)

 

As you can see the list of reasons for staying with ABC Cruises is not only much shorter than the leave-list, it also features hidden obstacles in every positive argument. I am a realistic person, so you would naturally expect a certain degree of negativity, but ABC Cruises really seems to be bent on making you labour and suffer for every positive experience. I just have too many good alternatives to consider any cruise job that is not labelled “musician”. In Germany I could flip burgers full-time, and not only make more money than I did with this multi-Billion-dollar tourism trap, but also have more time for myself, AND spend that time any way I please. The concept of individuality seems so foreign to my former bosses that one wonders if any of them ever was descended from a human being, or whether cruise managers are cultivated in a special lab in Geneva. Given these ludicrous working conditions I made the executive decision to leave ABC Cruises behind.

Invergordon via MSC 2-31

Cruise Photography is dead to me. But maybe it still sounds like a challenging work place to you.

According to our more seasoned colleagues the working conditions aboard this vessel are particularly dreadful, and previous contracts featured better management as well as more spare time. Thus, there is hope that things might improve, if one was to skip ships. Mateja actually has similar doubts about her occupation as I, but she first wants to try a transfer to a different ship before quitting the job completely. I had that option as well, but leaving the ABC RypMeOff was relatively easy for me, compared to other vessels of the same company. Their other ships cruise around the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or make five-day cruises around Japan. That would be interesting to see, but ABC Cruises demands that every employee who terminates their own contract should pay for their own trip home. In Germany that cost is a €50 train ticket. In Japan that would be a €1,000 flight. That means, pulling out early was way cheaper than trying to fumble my way through the peculiarities of a different ship, with a different team and manager.

I have little doubts that this was my last encounter with ABC Cruises, because I put little faith into my application as cruise musician. For the moment, I am just glad to be back home, where I am able to eat and live a healthy life. And photos I take only for pleasure. My own pleasure.

Farewell Cruise Photography

5 Jul low tide at the port of Invergordon, Scotland

I awake from dreamless slumber, knowing about the pleasures that this day holds for me: sweet release from heavily monetised tourism. I try to sneak out of the cabin in order to let the lab technician sleep. However, sneak options are limited, considering that I have to pack up my residual belongings that are scattered throughout this cell, while I also have a pile of laundry that needs to be returned to the Pakistani towel mafia.

First things first – let’s storm the staff mess! Being a clever lad, I bring my camera bag, and fill myself two plastic bags with bred rolls and fruit, and also fill up my water bottle with the apple juice substitute that the buffet personnel provides. Breakfast is as short as ever, for as always the buffet is lacking green vegetables or tasteful marmades. Bread and tea it is, for the last time in a long time.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

Farewell weirdly restircted choice of food items!

While I brush my teeth I simultaneously pack up my last things, and cram them into side pockets of coat and bag. I’d love to stuff them into my suitcase, but the latter was sealed shut by security last night, and reopening it would mean another long security check. And so my last little pile of personal belongings has to go into a shopping bag, and I am once more glad to leave the ship in Hamburg, from where I can take the train home, and don’t have to answer intriguing security questions at an airport.

ABC RypMeOff - crew cabin

Farewell tiny cubby!

Victory celebrations are cut short by my mandatory visit to the main office. Even though I am third in line it takes nearly an hour until I finally get to exchange my signed paperwork against my passport and sign-off note. It’s not that complicated a process, but it actually takes some fifty minutes until someone finally feels responsible for the growing line-up of crew members that block the hallway nearly halfway down the length of the corridor. Most of these people have a flight to catch, and it would be in the best interest of ABC personnel to move things along fairly quickly, but apparently nobody planned for this grand departure. In order to maintain order and happiness we decide to stage a hallway party, loudly celebrating our victory over fraudulent job advertisement by yodeling Irish drinking songs and stomping the appropriate rhythm into the metal floor. Since few of my crew members appears to have any positive relationship with rhythmic movement, we quickly have a scene at hand that looks like a friendly gathering, and sounds like a war zone. The terminal result is astonishing, and after nearly an hour of pointless waiting we all get processed fairly quickly.

My last conversation to any regular crew occurs on the gangway, where I meet one of the tourist managers, a mid-aged woman from Germany, whose accent is so thick that I expect her to wear a dirndl made from sausage and pretzels underneath her creased uniform. One of the Brazilian girls actually knuckles into our conversation, and says that she finds it funny to hear us talk in English, when in fact we are both German. The rebuke of my new manager friend includes words like “respect”, and “disgrace”, which are also words that I always thought of employing when talking about those Portuguese and Spanish conversations onboard, but always refrained from, because most of ABC personnel would just refuse comprehension.

I don’t care anymore. All the officers converse mostly in Italian. Most of the managers talk Rumanian. And the crew rarely speaks anything but Macedonian or Purtuguese, which pretty much excludes me from most conversations aboard. A bloody disgrace, if you recall that we are an international tourist hotel, and supposedly converse in English with the majority of our guests. As usual it is up to the Germans to teach the rest of the crew respect. And it’s up to the crew to refuse that lesson.

A good book and nurishing food . great travel combination

A good book and nurishing food . great travel combination

While I sit on a cold bench on the lowest level of Hamburg Central Station, a stiff breeze fluffing my hair, I feel the warmth of freedom and homeland slowly filling my lungs, and spreading out to my hands that grab another muffin from my stuffed photo bag. The two pears and a bag full of chocolate buns are the last physical reminder of this photo adventure. Most of the remaining baggage is emotional, so at this point it would be worthwhile to address everyone’s concerns about me deciding to leave a lucrative job. But I’m not going to; that’s a subject for tomorrow.

Today I celebrate my freedom. With a long train ride home. A good book in one hand, and the other in my bag, searching for more food that I retained from the ABC Staff Mess. Over the past two months I have tried myself on an almost regular job. But no matter how much certain individuals have tried to make my life aboard more comfortable, this adventure was cut short by the daily trudge, the corruption, and the general work attitude of ABC Cruises that values profit over people. This is not a healthy work environment; it’s not a job that I could embrace full time, and certainly not something that makes me happy. Considering what tiny value the company attributed to me, I made the executive decision to leave this job behind.

Mountains of Alesund, Norway

These views are something I will miss. But I am just not willing to pay the ABC Cruise Price for it.

I am German, Academic, Artist, skilled with my hands and my mind. I have other options to acquire money than by grinding my way through a tourist-powered mill, and I pity the people who don’t have my options. My search for employment continues, and if I ever return to the business of cruises, it will be as musician. Tomorrow I will wrap up this whole two-month ordeal with a blog post concerning my deeper considerations of staying or leaving, so that others might benefit from my process of thought. Or just laugh about it. Whatever you prefer.

But today: we celebrate. I’ll make a big Hullabaloo upon returning to my homestead. (My parents have no idea I am on my way home five months early.) I will play with the family dog, eat green vegetables, look out the window, take a nap when I feel sleepy, sit down where other people can see me, and not be bothered by any cruise officer insisting that I should not behave like a human being.

So long people, see you tomorrow for the final summary!

Almost free of cruise jobs

4 Jul Jurassic Park - A Fallen Kingdom

Even on our very last day the managers won’t give us time to breathe between photos. Granted, with four photographers leaving the ship there is a distinctive pressure on this department. We can’t uphold regular services with one quarter of the team packing their bags. Still, security will stop offering pre-checks around midnight, so we actually need to get packing very soon, if we don’t want to spend the next day in port, waiting for two of the security lads to come around checking our bags.

Since I already booked a train ride home, I am bound to a certain schedule, so the lack of diligence displayed by Manager Ash is unnerving me. Around 21:30 o’clock he finally judges that I bugged him often enough, and with a confused look on his face he sits me down to explain the ratings in his evaluation sheet. I don’t actually care what it says, because I will never return to this company as a phototgrapher. However, in order to maintain my hiring options with other departments I have to give him the impression of being deeply involved in the process.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Oh, how I will miss this tristesse, the daily idiocy and chaucinism of the cruise …

With great delay I am released to return to my tiny cabin, where I pack up the photo gear that still needs to be returned and catalogued. Since I am a well-organised person, I simultaneously pack up my own luggage, despite being unable to pack some of the practical gear, such as my pyjama, or any of the food supplies. Those will all have to go into my carry-on luggage, not just because I still need that stuff, but because deep frowns will crease the faces of security personnel, if they find food, and several of the other items in my suitcase. Please recall that opened food packages or even fruit are not allowed in personal possession.

Anyway, about a quarter to midnight I manage to drag my suitcase down to the security hall, where personnel opens and deep-checks every bag we bring. Apparently they have plenty of comrades ready to work on my luggage, because I am one of very few crew members left. Most of the other departments gave their crew members considerably more time to pack & check than our photo manager. But I won’t hold that against him. Just note that once again the photo department draws the shortest straws possible.

After about ten minutes of searching I am released, which means I spend until half past midnight re-packing my suitcase. (The security goofs literally peaked into the tip of every shoe.) My family load of undergarment, shoes, and uniform pieces barely fits into this case, especially with all the add-ons that I had to purchase aboard. Finally all the hours that I spent on the lavatory pay off. Playing Tetris on my old Game Boy was an excellent preparation for this task. In any case, security is somewhat happy, and tapes my suitcase shut with some of the most sticky tape imaginable. The world would be free of mosquitoes, if you applied even one role of this guff to an African village.

View from deck of the ABC RypMeOff

I thought about pulling a “civilian prank” on my last day at work, and just launge on deck with the passengers. I did not have time for it, though.

And off we go – civilian Goemon is back on track, ready to take a last sleep in his funky old cabin, dreaming of freedom, and peace in our time. The ladies that are leaving our department are off to the Crew Disco, for a last night of smoking and drinking. I for my part am happy to never again having to fake interest in that smoke-filled mouse hole that all the sleep-deprived addicts seem to be so crazy about.

Stavanger, and a quality rain

3 Jul Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Life aboard has become much more enjoyable, now that I stopped caring about how the managers perceive my work attitude. Admittedly, their interest in me has also dropped dramatically, once they realised that this was my final cruise. They rarely bother me with their flatulent demands anymore, and even the South-African nut-job Henry has lost interest in “helping me” to fit in with the job.

Thus, I am more relaxed than usual when we arrive in Stavanger this morning. Even though it is raining quite heavily I have set out to enjoy my stay in this picturesque Norwegian town. After all, this is the final port along my journey as a cruise photographer. I told our managers that I hope to return to ABC Cruises in the foreseeable future, but as usual I concealed the greater truth from them. I simply don’t want them to write me a bad report, because I want to maintain the option of returning as a cruise musician. However, I have no intention whatsoever to return to this laughably stupid work as cruise photographer. The discussions I had during these past few days have only added to my conviction.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is a nice enough place to work at, but after two months I am really sick of this sight.

For example, a few days ago our managers discovered the topic of Image Counts. Well, more likely the topic was pressed upon them by the fleet managers, but nevertheless it is now a subject of great dispute. Image counts are now officially a measure of success. The overall image count per passenger is rather poor in our team, compared to that of other ships in the fleet. One reason might be that nobody in this team gives a shit anymore. The company treats us so poorly that even the veteran shooters have stopped spending any real effort in attracting passengers once they reached two hundred photos, which is pretty much the minimum requested by the bosses.

This is just another kink in the penetrable armour of missing logic that surrounds ABC Cruises. Quantity over quality. I think Stavanger knows this already, and instead of greeting us with real quality weather, it gives us a quantity downpour. That is a bit disappointing, considering that even our passengers have barely twelve hours to inhale the beauty of our last Norwegian stop. But I guess Norwegian flowers need water, too, and so I endure the cold wetness of my socks without complaining.

Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Tightly packed houses and overgrowth in Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger rewards me with some of the most beautiful parks and cemeteries in my memory. The lush green meadows are lined with rows of flowering shrubs and stout brown trees, which stands in stark contrast to the crowded rows of picketed houses. The inner city, in particular, shows little sign of greenery aside from the odd moss that infests the walls and cobblestone roads. The white houses stand back to back, with their front door on the sidewalk, and barely enough space between them to see the sky when you lean out the window. No wonder Norwegians are such a happy people – you can’t enjoy greenery without visiting the park. And because all the other townsfolk live with the same perilous lack of greenery in their non-existent back yard, people are bound to meet, socialise, and promise each other to not commit suicide over the extensive length of the dark winter. Since half the parks seem to be cemeteries this should also level people’s expectations towards death.

Anyway, even on a cold and rainy day Norway features plenty of fancy houses, cute ducks, and green lawns. If you don’t believe me: I got photographic evidence. Look at my photo album of Stavanger!

Bergen, and the hardship of pasta

2 Jul Aerial view of part of the port in Bergen, Norway

I just have to give a shout-out to Marcio, our Human Resource Manager, who takes every complaint serious, and tries to resolve it in a professional manner. (The fact that such behaviour is noteworthy provides should actually be enough of a reminder of how terribly distressing life is aboard the ABC RypMeOff.) A month ago I wrote Marcio a short essay in tightly-lettered words on the back of a complaint form (the front was too short), discussing six points in which the chef of the staff mess fails to deliver nutrition and quality, and naming a few possible fixes. After two weeks we had a meeting with the head chef, and ever since then it’s been pasta time.

You know me as a constant complainer, so you’re not even surprised about the length of my letter. However, Marcio was not prepared for my onslaught of words, so he went through great lengths of political yarn to find a solution. My main concern was the general lack of vegan meal options at the buffet, as well as in the crew mess. Half the meal options contain meat, most of the rest is fried in butter, just to add that extra level of salt and cholesterol. On top of that there are rarely ever fresh and ripe fruit available. The head chef tried to comment on my perceived misery, but did not quite persuade with his arguments.

Aerial view of part of the port in Bergen, Norway

Bergen is a nice place. If you like fish, you will love it here.

Firstly, both the ingredients and the recipes for the various kitchens aboard are prescribed by cruise management in Geneva. The head chef just passes on the orders, but apparently is not allowed to change any of the routines. That means we are stuck with the salty, fatty menu that ABC Cruises provides; it won’t change in the foreseeable future. I guess the people that prepare our meals have about as much experience as chefs as I have as a photographer, meaning that upon applying for the job they had enough confidence to microwave a lasagne, but not enough to eat it.

Upon hearing about my perils of finding a decent meal aboard this vessel the head chef granted me the gift of making special requests to the staff in the crew mess, who would then grab me a meal right from one of the kitchens that supply the restaurants. I only utilised that possibility once, because the restaurant times don’t align with my schedule, making it all but impossible to acquire a meal from there within the half hour dinner break I am given. A bloody pointless solution, isn’t it?!

Instead, ever since that meeting with Marcio I have been eating pasta and tomato sauce, for nearly every lunch and dinner aboard. That particular menu item is readily available, because the kitchen can cook it up in about five minutes, so it is a very reliable alternative to the beefy sausages and buttered potato cream that the mess usually provides. Since this food source is nutritious as well as delicious, literally half the photo team has joined me on my quest. There it is, the culinary delight of the cruise photographer: pasta, with tomato sauce.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The restaurants of the ABC RypMeOff all look very fancy, but the food in the staff mess is far less glorious.

But why did I even have to write a complaint for this? Why can’t ABC Cruises just offer decent food three times a day? This all feeds into the main problem with employment aboard the ABC RypMeOff. [Here we go again. Stuff your ears everyone; Goemon found a reason to rant.] My overall criticism with ABC Cruises is not that life aboard is so difficult. I certainly had demanding job positions before I started working for this company. Rather, this job is needlessly difficult. It would not take much to improve on the food situation, yet nobody seems to care enough to even complain about it. The manager could offer words of advice and reassurance, instead of calling the entire team an “embarrassment for cruise photography”. Security could improve comfort by enforcing the smoking ban, instead of smoking in their own cabins. ABC Cruises could order the chefs to heat the dishes at the buffet to anything above room temperature, instead of asking its crew to meet every complaint with a smile. Just imagine how many passengers are not even complaining anymore, because they know from experience that the company does not give a penguin’s poop about customer concerns!

Anyway, pasta is cool, ABC Cruises sucks, and Bergen is a cool Nordish town. Here, have a look yourself in the updated photo gallery!

Geiranger, Tender Boarding, and Assembly Line Photography

1 Jul Moss-covered houses in Geiranger fjord, Norway

Oh, Geiranger. What a beautiful sight. All those mountains, waterfalls, and cloudy peaks, green meadows, and moss-covered houses. Truly this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. On my fourth visit to Geiranger fjord I am still amazed by this view. Normally I get bored very easily, so my prolonged interest in this hikeable paradise is worthy of mention. Unfortunately, our visit today is cut even shorter than usual, so I will take this opportunity to rant about tenders.

Moss-covered houses in Geiranger fjord, Norway

Even towns that explicitly live off the fine commercial art of cruise tourism often don’t have a harbour that is big enough to support more than one of those huge cruise ships. Geiranger, in particular, has the capacity to receive the gangway of only one cruise monster. Since the ABC RypMeOff is the second ship the port is harbouring today, we have to stay half a mile off shore. Instead of simply walking off the cruise vessel passengers have to board the little tender boats. Those are then lowered to the water, and drive us into the harbour where we celebrate our luck of not having sunk to the bottom of the fjord.

Tender access is a bit more adventurous than the regular gangway, because we get to drive around the port for a while, and thus actually get to see a bit more of the raging waterfalls that make this place so special. However, it also steals another hour from our day. The tender boats are only supposed to leave when they are crammed full with passengers, so including the double security checks you may spend some twenty minutes from your arrival at the terminal to actually heading out into the fjord. Obviously, passengers take priority over crew members, but to make things ludicrously worse there is a three-hour moratorium for crew, meaning that for the first three hours after anchoring we are not allowed to leave the ship, even though the passengers are mostly gone after an hour. It’s another one of those cases where the captain makes sombre plans based upon experience and circumstance, but fails to acknowledge that any situation is subjected to change. I said this before, but it certainly bears repeating: crew does not matter to the management of ABC Cruises. Requests for change are irrelevant, if uttered by paid employees.

Hotels surrounded by scenery. That's Norway.

This is a pretty nice environment to work in.

Fortunately, I am on duty this morning, and my duty requires that I leave the ship early. Lolek’s wife and I dress up in some ridiculous costume, and Rob shoots us with his camera when we pose for pictures with the passengers. Since we are anchored in Norway our costumes were tastefully designed after the fashion of the Norse. While Lolek’s wife wears the traditional garment of the Nordic elk herder, I myself am clothed in a wild leather outfit that reminisces the trading Vikings of days long past.

Nah, just kidding. Both costumes were bought at a British Halloween store for ₤9 each. The lady’s choice is a cheap attempt at a farmers dress from the early 1800s, while my statute outlines are cursed with some failed crusader mail made from cheaply painted plastic. My own moustache is a better costume than this bad excuse of a cleaning cloth. Alas, ABC Cruises does not have a budget for costumes.

Together we stand around the harbour, at the single access point through which all the passengers have to pass on their way to Geiranger. Whenever a tender sheds its humanoid load onto the planks of the port we ready our wits, waiting for the passengers to funnel through the security check. They usually approach us single-file, like the cattle in a slaughter house, giving us ample time to smile and wave, preparing them for the assault that is about to happen. As soon as they reach us, we both sling our arms around one shoulder of the next passenger in line, smile into the camera, and Rob takes the picture. It doesn’t actually matter that half our victims don’t smile, and the other half looks anywhere but towards the camera. Image counts matter, costumer satisfaction does not. That is one of the few key lessons that management really pressed upon in these past few weeks.

Buskers in Geiranger fjord, Norway

We are not the only ones working the peer. These Norwegian buskers were awesome, too.

Be that as it may, we make really good progress with our three-person approach, and very few of the passengers seem to mind. Since the set-up of each picture is identical Rob never needs to change any settings, and we never stop any passenger for more than two seconds. That work is as easy (and monotonous) as it gets for a cruise photographer, so we procure a great number of photos with rather short bursts of action.

Overall, I am quite happy with our performance. We get fresh air, sunshine, plenty of smiles, and a guaranteed pat on the back for our great service to the company. The only downside of the morning is the constant whining from Lolek’s wife. “How long do we have to be out here?” “Can we go back now?” and “I am tired” are her most frequent concerns of the hour, none of which is bound to improve the mood of onlookers or coworkers. It is the bane we live with, the one complainer that every team needs to level the general mood and expectations of everyone else. Not a day goes by without Lolek’s wife leaning against a gray corner, collapsing into a heap of misery, and complaining about the work she signed up for. After nearly two weeks she still does not understand that no whining will ever free her of labour.

Two days ago we had the task of shooting passengers on deck until 10 A.M. Even five minutes to ten she was still coming up to me, asking if we could go now, humming the old mantra of cruise photographers: “nobody wants to take pictures!” I’m not sure why she consistently asked me, considering that I myself am quite new to the job. I don’t know what that says about her intellect, but five minutes is certainly not a stretch of time I would risk a warning for. And my advice to her was always the same: “Gal, just walk the deck for a few more minutes, and enjoy the view. If anyone asks, you can still claim to have done your duty, even though you were actually just having a walk.” How is the boss ever going to trust you, if you can’t fulfill the simplest of tasks without taking offence in your personal situation?

Predatory salesmen aboard the ABC RypMeOff

ABC Cruises breeds gruesomly agressive shop keepers. – Just kidding, these are friends of mine, being funny.

I don’t even know why it bothers me so. I will be gone in a week, and the rest of the department (plus four newbies!) will have their chance to explore the gruesome depths of her melancholy. Who knows – maybe the manager will finally grasp the hardship that Lolek’s wife has to undergo, and free her from this life of trouble and strife. Miracles happen.

By the way, it seems that I “forgot” to punch out after work, again. Seeing that I wasted the first three hours of the day on work, I did not return to the ship just to punch my time card, especially with those bloody tender boats in between. Instead, I stayed ashore, and only boarded the tender about half an hour before my evening shift started. Saved myself over an hour of waiting time, all for the cost of signing a sheet that corrects my time stamp “error”.

Also, here is the final update to my photo gallery of Geiranger Fjord. Have a look!

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.