Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Where It All Started

In reality a sloshing dev tank is not a huge problem, a sloshing bleach tank however can cause untold misery. By this stage I am assuming that you are already confused so let me enlighten you. This is the first post on a blog about the experiences of a cruise ship photographer. Wow, what a job! I hear you cry; getting paid to travel the world and photograph people in exotic locations. Well yes, that is technically true. However, cruise ship photography is in reality a hard graft; long hours, difficult to obtain commission targets and sloshing dev tanks!

You see, many ships, even in this modern technological age of digital photography, still use chemical based processing for their prints. Cruise ships need to print a lot of photos, and chemical based processing is still the fastest method to produce photographs. Those of you who have ever had a pint of beer, or indeed any other beverage, aboard a ship might start to get the idea. Ships roll, which means all liquid on board rolls. If the ship rolls too much, a liquid can roll out of its container. In a photographic lab if the bleach rolls out into the developer tank, it is game over, replace all the liquids in all the tanks. Now this is not like pouring another pint of beer, it involves mathematics, rubber gloves, cleaning of contaminated tanks and is an entirely unpleasant experience. But enough for the moment about sloshing dev tanks, let us go back in time. Way, way back to a time when images were captured on celluloid. We are going back to late 1991 and my first ship.

She was called the Pacific Star and if ever a cruise ship was misnamed this was it. In reality she was a converted ferry that used to take Brits to big warehouses in France where they could stock up on very cheap booze, in other words a cross channel ferry. When I joined her, she was in everything but name, a gambling ship; a one day cruise ship that left San Diego at 9am, was in international waters by 10.30 am, docked in Mexico for 3 hours at 2pm then returned to San Diego by 10pm. And I took photos on it. To be fair, because it was a high intensity ship we had pretty good equipment. A minilab in 1991 was unheard of on a ship this size, and in many respects it spoilt me. However the wonders that we had in technology were more than compensated by the sheer, bloody hard work required to get through each day.

I would get up, every morning at 6am go to the dockside and set up a surprisingly heavy embarkation board. The embarkation board was the height of an adult and we would photograph the arriving guests standing next to it. I seem to remember that the design included palm trees, which San Diego had, and parrots which it also had but only in the zoo. The passengers would start to embark at 7am, stopping next to our embarkation board to have a photo taken. It took me only a few days to realise that in my career as a cruise ship photographer I was going to hear a lot of constantly repeated comments, the two most popular on the Pacific Star being:

“Do we have to pay for this?” and
“No you can’t take my photo, I am wanted by the FBI”
My reply to the latter, was more often than not, “How did you get past immigration then?”

Once the passengers were aboard, one of us (for there were two) and assuming the dev tank was not sloshing too much, would process the films and print the photos. If it was sloshing, it was usually more to do with the Captain’s handling skills than the ocean. The other would run up to the open decks and take more photos. By 10.30am the photo gallery was open and the photos on sale, by 2pm we were closed and taking more photos in Mexico. A quick Corona beer in the cruise terminal and back to the ship to process films and print again.

The photo gallery reopened at 5pm and stayed open until 10pm. Then it was ashore for pizza (the ship’s food was indescribable) then to bed. The next day the same schedule was repeated, and every day for the next six months.

Needless to say it was exhausting and unless you can call having a pizza in San Diego glamorous, it patently wasn't that either. But it was a start, the start of my addiction to working as a cruise ship photographer - a job that did eventually take me beyond San Diego and Mexico and onto many amazing experiences, meeting many amazing people and refilling many a sloshed dev tank.