Tag Archives: life

Cruise Bonus Payments

22 Jun Cruise ships in Geiranger, Norway

It’s the very last day of this Norway cruise, and we are still some €17,000 short of our €61,000 goal. Thus, our declared goal for the last sea day was to sell photos like crazy, make every guest personalised offers, talk them into purchasing overprized aluminium prints (starting at €150!), and reeling in those missing 23% of the cruise target. We fell some €2000 short, which is a real downer, but nevertheless a great opportunity to introduce you to the bonus system of ABC Cruises.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Look at all those wallets! As a part of cruise business it’s your job to go after their money like a dog after the saussage.

Every department aboard that sells anything, be it perfume, watches, photos, wine, or tooth brushes, has a target number for every cruise. If, at the end of the cruise, the department meets the sales target, they receive a bonus payment. Depending on the margin by which we surpass the original goal our department receives 2% to 10% of the original target value, which is distributed evenly among all team members. With a target like the present this would mean a bonus of €76 to €380 per person for this two-week cruise. Naturally, you strife to reach that goal.

It actually does not matter how you reach the target value; you just have to show that your total revenue stream for the entire cruise exceeds the number provided. So, if management would allow it, we could sell photos for half the prize, offer digital sale-out packages, and meet the requirements for the bonus payment while making our costumers very happy. However, such business ideas are frowned upon, and since the bonus would hardly make a difference for the manager anyway, he has no convincing reason to entice a conflict with his superiors over the pricing of our products.

Cruise ships in Geiranger, Norway

Geiranger/Hellesylt is a marvelous place. But if you look really closely, you may still spot a variety of commerce.

Anyway, we did not make the target, and neither did any of the other departments. In fact, nobody on this ship has received a bonus payment since we entered the North Sea, because the target values we would have to reach are laughably high. I have already seen the target for the next cruise, and it is €4000 higher than the last one, even though we will have the exact same number of sea and port days, along the exact same coast. I wouldn’t put it past ABC management if they saw how close we got to the target for the current cruise, and immediately re-evaluated their expectations for the upcoming weeks. Would be a shame to lose all that money on mere underlings, wouldn’t it?

Considering that my payment is merely one quarter of what I was previously promised, I cannot conceive any reason for me to keep this job long-term. ABC Cruises seems to be cheating me wherever that possibility opens itself. Yes, I knew that cruises are a tough business. I just didn’t consider that individual people played such a small part in it. Neither the employees nor the paying guests appear to be of prolonged interest to the managers of this company. So, why would I bother?

Cruise Teams: where individuals don’t matter

21 Jun Fjord Town Geiranger

Oh, what joy; we are anchored in Geiranger once again. I know, I complain a lot, and rightfully so. But the sight of this natural wonderland always fills me with joy, even if I have to wait for the 10 A.M. emergency drill to finish before I can grab my gear, and vanish into the thick green woods that creep up the sides of these beautiful mountains.

Photographers are actually among the few crew members who have a decent shot at taking time off during most port visits, to explore the town and surrounding area. We share that privilege with the dancers, musicians, and a few of the officers. So, yeah, cruise photographers are actually fairly high up in the food chain. We even frequently get the opportunity to join the excursions, be it to take pictures of the paying guests, guide tourist groups to their point of extraction, or just become paying tourists ourselves.

Aerial view of the Fjord Town Geiranger, Norway

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

Well, not all that glitters is actually gold, and not every opportunity is a reason for celebration. Oh, come on, you know my blogs, and you knew I was going to turn this rainbow into heavy snow fall. Don’t act so surprised!

Truth is, Mateja and I both inquired, independently, about receiving a more definitive schedule, so that we could offer our help to the excursion department, and become semi-professional lollipop holders. Every excursion has to be joined by one member from the ABC Crew, who will then hold a big round sign on a wooden stick, depicting the number of one tourist group. The lollipop holder is responsible for gathering his group behind him, and making sure everyone who leaves the cruise ship for one of the excursions also finds his or her way back when the day is done. The job is not very demanding, and comes with a free trip to one of the tourist sites of the day, making this position one of the most interesting aboard.

Alas, Manager Ash does not wish for us photographers to join that team, even on days like today, where we are not needed before the ship leaves the harbour. He just flat-out denied our requests, reasoning that demands on the photo department were so variable that he could not possibly arrange for a full schedule more than half a day in advance, which is markedly less than what the lollipop department needs.

Mateja had even organised a private trip, involving her own spare time and money, and merely asking for a leave of five hours, which is pretty much what we get at any given port anyway. She wanted to go canoeing with Fleet Manager Kosmos, who had initiated the brief vacation, and probably got a special deal from the tourist department for that usually booked-out adventure. (I shall not discuss the deeper implications of that arrangement, because most assuredly there are none. Or so I’ve been told.) Manager Ash briskly refused her the favour, even though it would have cost him nothing, and the arrangement even involved Kosmos, who is higher up in the food chain than barely anyone aboard.

Geiranger Waterfalls

Visit the waterfalls of Geiranger, they said. Well, it’s not like you can actually escape them. The bloody things are everywhere!

Apparently there won’t be any excursions for the photographers other than what we are ordered to do. So, as 3rd rank photographers we will never leave this ship except for a trip on foot. I know, joining the excursions is more prestigious than almost any other crew member will ever be allowed to do. But no other department aboard the ABC RypMeOff has to create AND sell their own product. No-one else is subjected to the same stress and management abuse as us photographers, so being subjected to the same restrictions as those plate polishers and cushion cuddlers is a vicious slap in our tired faces. Particularly since photographers on other ABC cruise ships regularly hold those lollipops, and never have to quibble about it.

Until yesterday I pondered whether or not I should approach Ash, and offer him to shoot the first shift of embarkation on the day of my leave, even though it would have meant returning home even later than already planned. It seemed appropriate, considering that the remainders of this team will suffer greatly from the loss of work force, particularly during the demanding embarkation shooting. But learning about his refusal to let Mateja have a glimpse of fun on her labour trip, I immediately reversed my decision.

Whereas in any regular job your boss will make it clear that you are part of the team, and contributing to the company’s success in your own special way; ABC Cruises seems to be stuck on the message that you as an individual are worthless, and can be replaced at a day’s notice. At least that’s what our manager tells us every other day during our nightly debriefing. It saddens me to see that Ash is tumbling down the same dark path that our previous manager used to destroy the team. But at least it solidifies my decision to leave this company as soon as possible.


PS.: I updated the photo gallery for Geiranger. Have a look!

Good Bye ABC Cruises, Part 2

20 Jun

Oh, look it’s another boring sea day! And it’s the second sea day in a row, so the guests are extra-unwilling to enter our makeshift photo studios. No amount of begging helps the fact that the passengers are tired of us, so tonight even the best of our photographers shoot barely any pictures after 9 p.m. Manager Ash took that opportunity to have a merch talk with me, and it seems he wished he had not.

Ash actually ordered me into his office to have an initial talk with me; to set the grounds for my evaluation, and discuss my commitment to this job. Standard protocol. He asked me the price of one of the photo frames, and seemed only slightly perplexed when I told him that I didn’t know the price of every item on our shelves, and instead of studying numbers I would much rather focus on delivering excellent services to our guests. After all, the price tag is on the merchandise. Duh! Costumers might purchase a wooden frame for their 6×8 inches portrait, but are unlikely to build any relationship to a product that is called “Golden Gate”, and costs €7.95. Names and prices are meaningless, if the object does not relate to the costumer’s needs.

Photo Gallery aboard the ABC RypMeOff

You are probably sick of this photo by now. Maybe now you understand the way I feel!

Anyway, we had a very brief discussion about the idiosyncrasy of his evaluation scheme, and after he finished his introductions I asked for a few private minutes with him. He agreed, and sent undermanager Bobo out the door. After expelling a few meaningless speech bubbles that complimented his style of leadership (lol) I returned to the core of my address, and told him straight-out that I was not going to finish this contract.

I will not become a full-scale cruise photographer. The conditions under which I have to labour at ABC Cruises simply don’t warrant my continuous support. Ever since the departure of Manager Mihai and my messy cabin mate Pancho I have had time to think, and have been compounding a list of reasons to stay or leave this company. Glossing over that list I concluded that cruise photography is definitely not my job.

Ash was surprisingly accepting of my decision, although he did not hesitate to ask for any way of swaying my decision in favour of a prolonged stay with this crazy labour-exploiting company. I tried to look sad and thoughtful, even though internally I am already counting the days until my departure. I could have just told him that “Additional Bollux Coming” is a weird, yet fitting abbreviation of the working motto of ABC Cruises. However, I would like to retain my option for returning to this company as a cruise musician, and I could hardly do that by telling my manager that his company is the worst I have ever worked for, and that no amount of money on this side of the Swiss border could make up for the distress this employment has caused me already.

Sportplatz in Alesund, Norwegen

There are certain things that I will definitely miss about this job. But overall it is just draining me of life and joy.

For the moment only Mateja and Ash know about my decision to leave this sinking ship, and I would like to keep at least the latter in the dark about the details. Especially since I have not made any preparations towards my return to Germany. For now I will make the necessary walk to the human resource manager, and receive the form that requests my early sign-off and evaluation. I have a few more days to ponder on my situation, and find the worst possible timing to leave these bloodsuckers behind. The knowledge that no major obstacles will hinder my official resignation has already taken a huge weight of my shoulders.

When I returned to duty after my prolonged talk with Manager Ash, sour pot Henry asked me what had happened that delayed my return for such a long time. He seemed genuinely interested (and disturbed), so I told him that our discussion concerned far-reaching decisions in the structure of management of this department, but that I was not allowed to say any more about it. That should sow some troubling thoughts.

Coworkers that rock your day

19 Jun Honningsvag, Norway, seaside view

It is difficult to please sour pot Henry, my most perilous coworker, especially for me as a beginning cruise photographer. But sometimes he just sets the bar for acceptance too high to even maintain eye contact. Not only is his South African tongue difficult to understand; he also has the attitude of a Russian diva one minute before the premiere of a solo operetta. And that is not the only reason why professional work with this senior photographer is nearly impossible.

Tonight we shot dinner photos at the restaurants L’Arabesque and La Palmerei (Yacht Club). I am rarely selected for that task, because these two restaurants contain the guests with the deepest pockets. However, tonight Jennifer and I were chosen to shoot alongside Henry in those most prestigious dinner environments, because Manager Ash felt that we needed a change.

La Palmerei is traditionally filled with people that don’t want their pictures taken, so that restaurant is quickly done. However, I found the one table full of willing people, and I shot their portraits, taking a bit of extra care, because the big money spenders expect that. When I turned around James was gone. Since I had never been in that restaurant before I didn’t know where he could have gone, so I continued asking people for photos. Obviously, that was wrong.

Life aboard the ABC RypMeOff is grand

Literally every restaurant aboard looks grand, but some even more so than others.

The couple at the next table assured me (in French) that someone had already asked them. Thus, I retreated, looked for James, and found him at the entrance to the restaurant. Where he told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to watch out for the other photographers, and keep eye contact, so as to be aware of their status of operation. How I was supposed to accomplish that, considering that I had my back to the other tables, and my eyes on the guests, he did not reveal to me. I brushed that aside; maybe it’s a feat of South African photo witches.

Two hours later we shot portraits in the same restaurant. While James was happily chatting with the couple at the very first table, I continued my walk along the row of dinner tables, and asked, and was refused by, most of the other guests. When he finally finished his babbling session James approached one of the couples that had already refused me, and got rebuked. Just like I did two hours earlier. That’s not actually problematic, because the guests understand that most photographers have front-sided eyes. However, said incident was not a brush-over for Henry, who then stalked up to me, telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to keep eye contact with the other photographers, so as to make them aware of my status of operation

Same situation, swapped roles. And still everything is my fault. Such is the magical view of sour pot Henry. Whatever goes must be causally related to the lack of willingness and/or ability of the 3rd rank photographers.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

Sometimes we have four photo booths that are merely five metres apart, which does not neccessarily make things easier.

He repeated the same offensive hypocrisy a few minutes later in the atrium, where we both shot portraits, me on the stairs, and he in the studio right behind me. As usual during the busy hours I was bothered by people walking up and down the stairs while I was trying to shoot the people standing on the stairs. Thus, I often had to wait a few extra seconds to get a clean shot. Somehow, Henry’s calls of “faster, Goemon, faster!” did not improve the situation. Posing people in that noisy and crowded place is difficult enough. Frequent calls from the back, pointing out the obvious problem of the situation, are not actually helping.

At the same time Henry took some seven minutes to finish one photo session with one particular couple. That is quite a long time, considering that we are supposed to keep people in our studios for no longer than three minutes, and he infrequently found it necessary to interrupt my own shootings with calls to “shoot faster, faster”.

Honningsvag, Norway, seaside view

Honningsvag is not always draped in mist. But often I wish my mind was.

I’m beginning to see why Manager Mihai found it necessary to lock Henry away in his private studio in the Yacht Club. I just hope that our new manager Ash will draw similar conclusions, because I don’t see any way of rehabilitating this psychotic poo-brain, and transforming him into a cooperative member of a service-based society.

If your office has a “special” coworker, who is residing in a room far from anyone else, maybe take it as a warning. Some evils are only dangerous when stirred.

Repetition kills

18 Jun piano in the cruise ship atrium

Every cruise along Norway’s coast has to feature a visit to Honningsvag, and every one of those visits features a stay over night in their harbour. Fortunately, I have fallen into disgrace with the manager, and therefore am not sent out to the excursion to the North Cape. Instead, while all the senior photographers are out in the field, complaining about terrible weather and photo-unwilling passengers, I stand in the empty gallery, to look at portraits, and reminisce about the terrible music choices of our cruise manager.

I’m not even talking about Folk Boy, and his exhausting repertoire of ten songs total, which he repeats for three sets in a row. No, my concern rather focuses on the twenty-odd pop songs that some lunatic plucked from the Portuguese charts, and is now blasting through the speakers all cruise day long.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

The live music aboard is mostly quite good, but the garbage that drips from the speaker system is purely annoying.

Being a songwriter myself, and an educated one at that, I have my squibs with badly written songs, and repetitive music. So, we are not off to a positive start anyway. But hearing the same stupid songs every day, for nearly two months – that has to get on the nerves of everyone who does not enjoy that particular selection of music. Listening to Norwegian college radio would be better than this horrible, mind-numbing phonic terrorism.

Example: Peniston’s “Finally”, with its slurred-out rhymes is barely even a song, and certainly not improved by its monotonous disco beat, rivalling any humping back yard squirrel in its annoyance and persistency. I don’t care how well you represent a subculture of R&B punkers – if you end your monotonous “song” with a thirty-second repetition of “Yea-eah”, without even the slightest change in volume, intonation, or timing, I have to question the intellect of a) the person who selected your music for the sixty-minute-repeat loop, and b) anyone who refuses to complain about said loop.

Isafjordur, Iceland

The only way to keep my mind together is by remembering the great outdoors.

At times like these I actually look forward to my twenty minutes in the exercise room. Normally the Spanish music channel that we receive via satellite is not something I would listen to willingly, but it certainly beats the quality of the music selection aboard. “eRTe eLLe, chinque due chinque” is a slogan that will ring in my head for years to come, and that won’t easily relate to happy memories. But at least the representatives of foreign commercial radio understand that no person alive can listen to one hour of bad pop music on repeat without stumbling brain-dead into the nearest speaker.

There you have it. Even Spanish pop radio hosts make better DJs than our audio-visually impaired cruise manager. I think I will add “music entertainment” to the list of arguments that speak (quite strongly) against an ongoing employment with ABC Cruises.


PS.: I updated the photo gallery of Honningsvag with new images from the city, and its surrounding mountains. Have a look.

Good Bye ABC Cruises, Part 1

17 Jun The port of Reykjavik at night

After over six weeks aboard the ABC RypMeOff I have gathered sufficient experience to form a coherent picture of this weird life as a cruise photographer. So, as I serve yet another seven-hour shift in a makeshift photo studio I decide to use some of my downtime constructively, and create a list with pros and cons for this job. This is not be whining about the difficulties surrounding my situation, but rather a critical analysis of my position as photographer for ABC Cruises. The fact that I have time to write this list while performing my duties already tells you something about how well this job occupies my time.

Alesund, one of Norway's card fjord towns

Cruise jobs certainly have their benefits. But overall my job is very unsatisfying.

Let’s start with something positive. – I love to serve. I really do. One of the best parts of my job is being helpful to passengers and crew. Be it in finding their way around the ship, assisting with the set-up of their own camera, or simply making them smile in a moment of distress – I cherish every positive moment that I create with the people around me. As a social animal there is hardly anything better than surrounding yourself with happy people; and this job often allows me to do so.

There is already talk behind the counter that I would be suitable to become a photo host, due to my ability to relate to people, and brighten their day. The Photo Host stands behind the counter of the Photo Gallery all day and night, and interacts with the costumers, particularly the unsatisfied ones. It’s his or her job to turn frowny faces upside-down, and then charge a random fee by selling some odd photo product. I can do that. I have done that. And I could easily do such for seven days a week, except that one has to be with the company for at least the second contract to receive Photo Host training. There is no way that I will last that long, not under the current conditions.

Instead of being helpful, or at the very least useful, I am plagued by hours of boredom. Every night we are ordered to build at least one photo studio in the Plaza, often enough two studios. Ever since I joined this ship there has not been a single night in which the Plaza studios returned more than sixty photos, which is less than one quarter of what is produced by any of the other studios. Out here in the Plaza most of the passengers belong to one of two kinds of people: people visiting the casino for a smoke, and those running from the theatre to the dinner restaurant. Neither one of these groups wants to have their picture taken, making this location the least profitable in the entire ship, including our random walks across the deck (“mobile studios”).

 As a result, I am bored out of my mittens. I mean, it’s nice to be paid for nothing, but I actually have to look attentive for seven hours straight, in case one of the managers spies on me from around the corner. I don’t know if you ever had to look attentively at the cheap replica of a Greek pillar for more than half an hour, but let me tell you that this task is neither easy nor emotionally satisfying.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography can be fun. But when you have nothing to do, and still need to look productive, life starts to drain from you.

Really, most of my job consists of standing around, doing barely more than breathing, and even that is difficult with the smoker’s casino just around the corner. Since I don’t get any physical exercise during my work hours my knees have started to bother me greatly. That is also a result from a previous injury, one that cleft my left knee cap in twain, but the current pains mostly result from a severe lack of exercise, and from standing around on two legs for hours without pause. Hiking up the ragged serpentines of a Norwegian fjord is healthier than this job.

I will extend this list another day, for now I am happy to receive word from the manager that we are packing up for the night. Just another half-hour of returning equipment, one hour of meeting, then dinner, shower, and bed time. I feel drained. This is definitely not the job of my future.

Longyearbyen & Pyramiden – a graphic report

16 Jun Ghost town Pyramiden in the Nort Sea

Much of my last blog was consumed by a report on our team building activity in Longyearbyen, one that did not actually build any kind of team. However, since Spitsbergen is a pretty nice place on earth, I will break my usual cycle of complaint, and dedicate this blog to a description of a scenic part of Norway.

Longyearbyen has much of that typical mining town charm: lots of packed dirt with stubbles of brown grass, interspersed with big, grey factory buildings, and overly rectangular living quarters. The latter are mostly built for tourists and the small businesses that feed on tourists. The higher grounds feature rows of small wooden houses and big wooden compounds, mostly painted in bright earthen colours. The paint job probably keeps the suicide rate at an acceptable minimum.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Along the scenic coast line, speckled with ponds and tiny rivers, we find various patches of snow covering the ground. This is quite a sight, considering that it is already mid-June. Both sides of the asphalt road show meandering streams of brownish water and rocky mud, which I suspect will transform into huge patches of rocky grass once the snows have melted completely. The many ducks that seem to nest on the side of the road are already looking forward to the extended meal plan that the excruciatingly short growth season will provide.

The huskies, however, do not quite care about the greenery. They just sit in their fenced-off dog compound, staring out at the dwindling sled path, and day-dreaming about a close encounter with the lopsided birds that waddle back to their nests, not even ten metres from the husky home.

Svalbard Husky Station

Svalbard Husky Station

There really isn’t much here beside mining halls, painted houses, and a rough-edged landscape, but the little that shows produces a very idyllic life North of the polar circle.

Our way back South takes the ABC RypMeOff past white glaciers and the dark-brown canyons that they cut into the Scandinavian shield. The caps of most of the mountains are shrouded by a heavy grey mist, leaving the observer to wonder what kind of mysteries Spitsbergen might hold. I mean, beside the rich streams of coal and minerals.

One such mystery is the ghost town of Pyramiden. Once a prosperous Russian mining town, Pyramiden now lies bare and bold at the bottom of a kilometre-long train track that leads uphill, and into the mountain. Even the sharp Norwegian breeze cannot deter most of the passengers from crowding the open deck, trying to catch a glimpse of the former glory of Russian coal mines, driven deep into the slopes of grey-brown rock.

Ghost town Pyramiden in the Nort Sea

Ghost town Pyramiden in the Nort Sea is surrounded by misty rocks and glaciers.

When a young American couple asks me to snap a picture with their private camera, I hesitate only briefly. Afterall, they already booked and paid for a whole 100-picture package, so we are not going to lose any revenue, if I take a few photos with their camera. Our manager would be furious, if he knew of my transgression, but the tentacles of his numerous spies are unlikely to extend through the chilling fogs of Pyramiden, so I simply ignore protocol, and take a minute to make two of our best costumers happy.

As it turns out, our manager is actually aboard a small motorized rescue boat, attending a small excursion to one of the glaciers that dips into the North Sea. Some unlucky members of the crew sawed a hole into said glacier, and extracted a block of blue ice that they will soon bring aboard. None of the passengers know it yet, but during our sea day tomorrow the block of blue ice will be propped up on open deck, and some idiot from the photo department will shoot portraits in front of it. I can barely contain my excitement over this fabulous opportunity to capitalise from a rather ordinary natural occurrence. On sale now: dignity and a small piece of nature.

You can view my updated photo gallery of Longyearbyen and Pyramiden here.

Longyearbyen, and the dead spirit of team leadership

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

This morning from 9 to 10 o’clock my schedule says “team outing”, which I actually judged to be a rather pointless exercise. The one lesbian in our team already is very open about her sexuality, and none of the other guys would become any more interesting, if they had disputable sexual affinities. As it turned out that was not actually what Ash meant by “outing”; he had something even more boring in mind.

It was a cold day out here in Longyearbyen, a mining town in the district of Svalbard, at the Western coast of Spitsbergen. This was probably the coldest weather and shortest night that we will encounter during our cruise along Norway’s coast. Since there is not truly that much to be seen in Longyearbyen, our manager Ash selected this particular day to set up a teambuilding event, hoping to form a cohesive photo team from the sketchy remnants that Mihai handed him. It didn’t work. For so many reasons that it takes a whole blog to explain.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Let’s start with the involvement of “team members” who did not want to participate in the first place. Marina in particular is so perturbed by the tensions within this department that any interaction between her and much of the rest of the gang is just another match tossed towards an already simmering flame. Our current photo lab technician revealed some of the history of those tensions to me, and I can’t quite see why Marina is still putting up with it all. In her place I would probably have skipped ships a long time ago. Yet, Ash called, so we all answered.

The whole expedition wasn’t really well planned out either. We just met in the crew bar at 9 o’clock, and left the ship together, hoping that the spirit of team’s future will pay us a visit, and bestow its magical powers upon sour pot Henry, who continues to be a real pain in the bum whenever he is asked for even the lightest flake of cooperation.

Yet, we left the ship together, and walked through the lonely streets of Longyearbyen for half an hour; without any notable incident of team psychosis along the way. At various times during the trip various people vanished into various houses to look at souvenirs, rattan chairs, or a photo exhibition. However, all good things must end, and at some point a bunch of photographers entered a coffee shop, and several others followed them. A selective few of us were standing outside, having no demand for coffee in any shape or form, and after waiting for several minutes we simply moved on. Ten minutes later Marina decided that she had sufficiently rebuilt her team spirits, and turned back towards the ship. The two of us remaining wished her well, and had a lovely walk along the coast of Spitsbergen, scavenging every photo opportunity we could find.

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

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

As it turns out, that was not the type of team building that Ash had in mind. When we regrouped in the photo lab for the nightly meeting our new manager conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that our absence destroyed his carefully laid out plans to reunite the photo team. Apparently that particular coffee house was the center piece of his contrivance, and everyone except for the three of us waited inside the coffee shop to celebrate the day. Well, they managed without us.

And according to Mateja the coffee did not quite build anyone’s ability to work well with others. Instead, Ash told everyone to order a beverage, and when the bill came around asked everyone to pay their own cup of brown team spirit. Suddenly the general mood in the room came a lot closer to the winter breeze that encircled the house, especially since one cup of any beverage costs a minimum of €10, if consumed in a fancy coffee house in Northernmost Norway. Overall, everyone either dislikes Ash a bit more after today’s splendid adventure, or ignores that experience as just another stupid occurrence around the ABC RypMeOff.

In summary, if you want to build your team, and you are a wealthy manager with ten times the salary of even your best-paid underlings, maybe pay for the coffee that you invite them to. Or at the very least explain your silly plot before everyone orders his day’s salary worth of beverage, at an event he does not want to participate in.

Somehow I got the feeling that Ash may rethink his decision to “organise” one of these “team building events” during every single cruise to come.


PS.: Svalbard is still worth some photos. Click here to view my gallery: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1970727829604581.1073741926.100000021481485&type=1&l=4e1aa26cf4

House Rules

15 Jun

Here comes another Sea Day! And it’s Mediterranean Night, so the guests dress up in white, and we get another opportunity to harass them into taking pictures. Once again we walk our rounds during the dinner sessions, and shoot couples and singles, so that tomorrow, maybe, we may sell loads of happy memories. Tonight’s dinner portraits actually come with a mindful twist that should have the passengers jumping for joy, but will undoubtedly be exploited for quite the opposite mood change.

Tomorrow the swimming hotel guests will find a voucher in their cabin that entitles them to one free photo from the Mediterranean Dinner. That’s one €10-photo print per person; a gracious gift that is actually spelled out in most of our passengers’ travel details, yet still bestows a warm feeling of cheap luxury in most of them. At least in those passengers who take that photo.

Obviously, a significant portion of our guests is already sick and tired of cruise photos, and signals us with hand, feet, and swiftly drawn firearms that they do not wish to be present on any more cruise photos until the four speed boats of the apocalypse draw their corpses away. Thus, we do not shoot them. Still, they turn up the day after, wishing to procure their free photo. Again and again, we have to explain to them that one cannot receive a free photo from the Mediterranean Night, if one did not allow a photo to be taken during the Mediterranean Night. They then whine and protest for several minutes, after which they stomp away in frustration, chanting that they won’t ever book a trip with ABC Cruises again. And indeed, with some of these folks it takes up to ten months until they are spotted at the counter of the photo gallery once more, demanding to receive the free photo that they did not allow to be shot in the first place.

Life aboard the ABC RypMeOff is grand

Life aboard the ABC RypMeOff is grand,and so are the prices.

Some of these pedantic pessimists go through great lengths of explanation, swearing that we did not actually come around during their appointed dinner time. That is why we now have to shoot the table numbers that are propped up in the center of each and every table in the restaurant. Just so we can prove to them passengers that they are full of horse manure, and have no right to occupy our precious time with nagging commentary and requests. If we shot your table number, it means we were there, and you were not.

And our time is valuable indeed. Especially in nights when I walk the photo gallery, looking for picture thieves. Since management is not watching the gallery closely, we can actually have one fifteen-minute break every few hours, instead of once per evening, as is common in the mobile photo studios. That is plenty of time to find a bathroom, sit down on a comfortable toilet seat for ten minutes, and solve funky mind puzzles on my smart phone. Alternatively, I could sit on one of the service stairs, but the environment is much less grand, and also bears the risk that some manager might spot me, and report me for carrying a phone during my shift. Rule breaks like this one do not result in disciplinary action, but often enough they do conclude in a long conversation during the nightly manager meeting. As I mentioned before, personal time is valuable aboard the ABC RypMeOff, so we have learned to avoid obvious rule breaks.

Almost every positive crew experience aboard the ABC RypMeOff involves a workaround, featuring obvious rule transgressions and/or inconveniences. But that’s just how it goes out, here on the North Sea. The rules are shit, so we create our own ones.

Exploitation of Labour done right

14 Jun Botanical garden in Tromso, Norway

The management of the photo department is a horror story in and of itself, featuring heavy schedules, pointless exercises, unrealistic targets, and unlimited bullying. However, the situation has drastically improved since Manager Mihai has been replaced by the capable Ash Ketchum. That the schedule now features names such as Bebbby, Bobo, or Chaplin expresses his humorous approach to work, and slightly lightens our dull routine. Everyone has genuinely more fun at work. Well, everyone except for our South African exchange bully Grumpy Henry, but that’s a subject for a different day.

The printed schedule still features lovely chains of mistakes, such as “Team See your schedule and see what you can make most of this … Give your 101%”, a phrase that is just about as quizzically meaningless as any South Asian manager can make it. Our work force still features a great heap of exploitation every day, but at least we no longer suffer from it. There is no yelling during the late night meetings, and for the first time in six weeks I feel like my work is actually valuable.

Yes, if I intend to keep this unattractive position as cruise photographer, I need to improve the quality and quantity of my pictures. But instead of merely telling me that my “photos are shit”, as Mihai did, Ash talks to me every day about how to make the most out of any photo opportunity.

Cruise Photography can be a lonely job. Just like lakes in Tromso.

Cruise Photography can be a lonely job. Just like lakes in Tromso.

Today we are anchored in Tromso, a town so typically Norwegian that I expect to have my brunch delivered by a tall, blond polar bear on skis. Instead, I am ordered to dress up as a stereotypical crusader (Manager Mihai purchased this costume as a cheap Viking replacement), and pose for pictures with the passengers. This job is actually more difficult than I first imagined, because even though the cruise guests are relatively fresh to our nagging photo booth stunt, they already start to detest our efforts at snapping their pictures.

It’s no use that my friend Mateja wears the other costume (The Maiden Fair), and gets shots with every other guest that stumbles across the gangway towards Tromso; without any apparent effort. There is just something magical about that woman – she usually captures even the grumpiest clients, and reels them in for her photo op. All I can do is smile widely at those passengers, cheerfully offering my arm to hold, and face them towards the camera for a quick flash of Marina’s strobes. For two and a half hours we trample across the cold concrete of the grey gangway, always smiling, always cheering, always dragging the unwilling hotel guests toward their unwanted photo opportunity. This part of my weekly routine is no more fun than it was under the previous manager. But at least Ash drops by, checks the quality of our pictures, and brightens our mood with a few ill-placed jokes.

Six weeks into the job I am still whoring myself out to the tourist masses, in a manner that depicts the gruesome depths of cruise commerce. My labour is still exploited to its apparent legal maximum. But at least my new manager makes me feel valued and appreciated. Under Ash’s reign I have become an important cog in a capitalist mechanism.

Meanwhile, Tromso is as scenic as ever. Have a look yourself, in the updated photo gallery: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1691745024169531.1073741898.100000021481485&type=1&l=238ba3696f