Tag Archives: education

Manager Party – photo minds don’t think alike

1 Jun Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is only the second Sea Day of this cruise, and the experience is dragging already. We currently have a load of weird people aboard, and I’m not talking about the rich idiots that pay €5000 for a boat trip to Iceland. No, we are graced, simultaneously, with the presence of the fleet manager, a photography instructor, and the next manager of our department, all of which are desperate to explain to us why everything we do is wrong. So far we did not have to endure special training sessions, but we are threatened every day to have those added to our schedule.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

My primary work place, the Photo Gallery, iactusally looks dull enough. It is not massively improved by the contrasting opinions of four managers, who all believe to be right.

Our next Photo Manager, Ash, appears to be a decent human being. Manager Mihai does his best to portrait his team as a bunch of incompetent, lazy lunatics, but if we can keep a straight face for the next ten days we might a) get rid of Mihai indefinitely, and b) convince Ash of our value as working-class people. Separating fact from fiction may not be simple in this conflict, but for the moment I retain hopes that our next manager will be able to tell the difference between the things he sees, and those that Mihai tells him.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is a terrible portrait. It might look interesting to you, but by ABC standards it is just terrible.

Photo Instructor Vito is a highly paid cruise veteran who was hired by ABC Cruises to improve the output of our department, both in quality and quantity. He tours across all the vessels of this company, holding seminars and practical sessions in which he shows the photographers how to approach the guests, and how to shoot grand portraits. His efforts are somewhat diminished by the fact that both the Photo Manager, and the Fleet Manager have opinions that differ vastly from his. But it seems that Vito genuinely wants to help, which is a novel experience from my side. For the past three days Vito has rarely been sighted, and at first I hoped he intended to earn his money like all the other officers aboard the ABC RypMeOff – by stalking along the corridors with a grave look on his face. Well, he does that, too, but occasionally he also stands in the Photo Gallery, or in one of our studios, points at a person or a picture, and mumbles something to the photo manager. So far the nightly debriefings are our only real contact with Vito, but that is supposed to change soon-ish.

The fleet manager, Kosmos, is a lanky Eastern European with a car salesman smile, and very neat English language skills. Kosmos is the type of character that folks at the mall gather around, to buy from him the latest gossip on non-sticky frying pans. He is also the reason adults lock up their children at night; not for fear of molestation, but because he might rip off their faces in order to steal himself a second facial expression. Kosmos, probably named after the share of this world that his parents believed he was entitled to, actually was employed as a photographer many years ago. I don’t know whether he worked his way up, or was simply dipped into every department aboard, but he definitely has some knowledge about the subject. Now he is one of the most influential officers at ABC Cruises, and the value we feel through having him on board is indescribable.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

For legal reasons I cannot show you a picture of our fleet manager. But his single facial expression is as genuine as my breakfast is wholesome.

Kosmos first showed up three weeks ago, and his infrequent assistance more than warrants the generous payments that ABC Cruises extends towards him (and all other equally useless officers). From the first day onwards he has been nagging me about my attire, probably because I did not purchase my uniform directly from the ABC Uniform Store. First he bothered me every day with a request to wear black socks, which by the way is not even part of the official dress code. When I started to only wear black socks (at least on the days when I knew he would inspect my ankles) Kosmos moved on to criticise the blackness of my socks, because some of them have white stripes, which also disagrees with his imagined uniform code. Every time that car salesman scores a minute with me alone he reminds me that “next time we are in Hamburg” I “will go to the store, and buy a pack of plain black socks.” If any other lunatic with immovable smile was directing me in how to spend my meagre coins, I would likely draw their socks up to their elbows, but in the case of the Fleet Manager my choice of actions are far more restricted.

So, next time we are in Hamburg I will go out, and attempt to buy black socks, and “gala shoes”, whatever on earth that might be. Alas, there still is hope to avoid additional spending. So far we have been in Hamburg four times, and we were never allowed to leave the cruise terminal, because shooting embarkation photos pretty much consumes the entire day of every member of this department. Also, with four different heads trying to run this department there is a great chance that some of them will devour each other before turning on the ill-fed workers.

Tromso, and the greed in cruise photography

23 May Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

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

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

Tromso, Norway. A port view.

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

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

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

Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

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

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

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


For a gallery of cold Tromso, click here.

CRUISE – Sea Day, Safety, and Gala Night

29 Apr Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

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

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

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

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

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

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

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

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

Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

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

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

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