One of my first photography gigs...
I have read a lot of interviews with photographers, and the question is always asked. How did you get into photography? Many times, the answer is ‘my parents were artists’, ‘I knew from the minute I picked up the camera age five’… and so on. Childhood encounters. But mine is a bit different.
Sure, I took pics as a child. I loved Photography in high school - even commuted 45 minutes from a different school so I could hang out in the darkroom. I worked at photo labs, camera stores and got an assisting job in a Greek/Italian/Croatian wedding studio by walking in the door with a handful of prints. Literally.
But then I went overseas...
Working in a bar in Richmond, London, I made friends with a guy who was Photographer for H&M or Mango or something like that. The more I chatted with him, the more I wanted to do what he did. I asked how he got into it. One thing led to another, and next thing I know, I’m working on an Italian cruise liner as a photographer.
The glamorous part of the job was that we visited Venice, Bari, Dubrovnik, Rhodes, Santorini, Corfu and Piraeus (Athens) weekly - and, unlike other staff, we could get off and explore every port. The less glam side of it was that three of us lived cramped in a two bed cabin for a few months, we pestered the guests for photos every waking minute, then had to stand in the gallery and try to sell them in between functions.
A mild ‘up’ was the fact we were staff and not the crew. The crew weren’t allowed above sea level; staff could be in passenger areas so long as they were not getting in a passengers way. We could have a drink or two in one of the lounges, as long as we sat at tables towards the back and not near the bar. We weren’t to ride in the elevators. And for goodness sake, we had to be below water by midnight. I tell you what, our past midnight feast runs up the elevators to the only open restaurant on the pool deck were an adrenalin rush. Never would you want to get caught by the Captain. Thankfully, we had a few security guards on our side.
To be honest, I should have known what it was going to be like. The first week, I felt ‘off’ from all the metal surrounding me. The Captain put us through training for fires. He locked us in a room, let off smoke bombs and told us to find our way out. The choking! OMG.
I was also a minority. It was an Italian cruise liner. Most passengers were Italian, Greek, French or Dutch. The staff and crew were European or Phillipino. I didn’t speak any language spoken on board - the nearest I could get was Brazilian Portuguese. It got me by. I could understand them (sometimes) but rarely could they understand me. It made not understanding ‘no, I don’t want a photo’ very easy. It made selling and the questions that come with it, just slightly difficult. The hardest part though was making friends. English as a second language can be difficult and be tiring to speak for a lot of people. I know - having lived in Brazil and learning Portuguese, I got tired and restless quickly for having to constantly concentrate and think while ‘chatting’. It’s easy for people to hang with their own. I made just a few friends. But we had fun.
Cabin parties. Drinking sessions in the crew bar. Sneaky food runs up to Pool deck. Dancing in the nightclub. And running ashore away from the hordes to have a sneaky local lunch.
Seven day work weeks. Morning and night shifts. Lots of hours. Leftover guest food. Grumpy Captains that complain the music is too loud in the gym during the day. Inside cabins. Bunk beds. One locker for all your personal belongings.
Worth it? I think so. If I had a ship that was English speaking, I could have lasted longer. It’s a great way of discovering parts of the world - especially if you get the opportunity to relocate with the change of seasons. Unfortunately, we’d had enough by the time relocation to the Caribbean came, so quit just a month or so shy of discovering a new side of the world. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll do that as a guest. Haven’t done that yet.