Friday, January 4, 2019

The Great Yellow Vest Deception

A few days ago, some comments were traded on social media that led to the Vice President of the International Society for Aviation Photography (ISAP) publically asking me "what about the yellow vest offends your sensibilities?"  What a great question - assuming that it is the vest which offends me instead of the conduct of those wearing the yellow vests.
ISAP photographers at NAF El Centro behind the "Line of Death"


   So let me step back and relate what ISAP purports as the reason for wearing the vests - an attempt to "increase professionalism and standardization" in the aviation photography community.  I'll be honest, I'm all for that, in principle, and I even share some of the ISAP President's personal proscriptions, such as wearing long pants on the flightline instead of the ubiquitous cargo shorts.  However, when you take a piece of safety equipment and make it part of your standard dress code, there can be second order effects that you have not thought of, along with the inevitable good-natured joking.  Imagine if you will, the laughter that would ensue if the 3G Aviation Media workshop photographers suddenly showed up in bright blue 3G-branded hard hats at every event - whether protective headgear was a requirement or not!  Joking aside, it has become an issue when people assume that the reflective vest is a required part of the aviation photographer's dress code. 

   One well-meaning PAO went so far as to require reflective vests during a night shoot on a closed ramp.  Rather than look at the risks to the photographers that the vests would mitigate - they said "ISAP wears them all of the time, can't you?"  I'm sure all of the photographers reading this are imagining what their long exposures would look like with a mass of photographers surrounding the aircraft all wearing yellow vests with reflective tape - yes, I can hear the screams all the way over here.  Thankfully some back and forth discussion about risks and the best way to mitigate them WHILE still getting good photographs led to the requirement for vests being dropped.  All of that discussion aside, there are certainly times that vests are a prudent part of a photoshoot, such as uncontrolled flightlines, military exercise embeds, and other points where photographers are IN THE MIDDLE of the action, not partitioned off to one side behind an orange snow fence.
A good use of vests for photographer safety - photo provided courtesy of Rich Cooper, COAP
   So, the question becomes, what is the "professionalism and standardization" that ISAP uses their reflective vests for, if not for photographer safety.  In my opinion, it is nothing more than branding, an attempt to get the ISAP name in front of aviation photographers.  THAT IS OKAY - but let's be honest about why your members are wearing the vests while standing outside of a military base, on top of a hay bale, or inside a roped-off photographer's pit at an airshow (or other area where the risk of unobserved photographers is nil).  But even more troubling is the observation by many non-ISAP photographers at these events of unprofessional conduct by the vest-wearers of ISAP.  So rather than ensuring a professional image for ISAP, in some cases these vests are actually highlighting unprofessional conduct by the organization's members - in effect the vests are making ISAP even more of a target for its detractors.  ISAP, if your custom yellow vests aren't enhancing your photographers' safety or the image of your organization, let's just put the vests back in the camera bag, where they belong.