Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ISAP and sharing

  I was going to write this, the third of my posts about ISAP, as a description of the personalities inside ISAP and its leadership.

  Instead I think I’ll pontificate on one of the biggest (and most disconcerting) mis-perceptions in the aviation photography world:

To share with the members at an ISAP symposium is directly undermining your ability to profit from your aviation photography skills or the contacts you have made in the industry.

So before we go much further let me provide two warnings here – 
  1. In the article that follows, there is profanity.  If it offends you, please read no fucking further. I’m sorry, I am a retired United States Marine, and we use profanity like an editor uses punctuation.
  2. If your feelings are easily hurt, you may want to unfriend me after you find yourself as an anonymous example used in this blog post. If you do, then please go fuck off.  Nobody knows it is you, and while I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts and feelings, if you are going to react in this manner then you don’t understand that it is only by us discussing issues (passionately) that we will be able to build the organization we need as aviation photographers.
  Now for the rest of you who have had to endure my tirades about other photographers, several major camera manufacturers and the unsanctioned lineage of several pilots I have flown with, here goes - 

I can’t share all of my secrets!

Tony Granata works with an aviation photographer at the Great Georgia Airshow
  One of the funniest (at least to me) reasons for people to not participate in ISAP is best stated by the post of an up-and-coming aviation photographer who said to me:

“are you going to stand in front of 300 people and tell them all how to take your limited business?”

My response was simple and do the point –

“Fuck man, if plumbers acted the way we do then all our shitters would be overflowing!”

My point is this - Other industries recognize the need to bring in apprentices and to teach the next generation.  You have to be vulnerable enough to teach your techniques so that the industry as a whole gets smarter and more capable.

Why the heck do we as photographers think any differently?

I can’t share my contacts!

Photographers at the 3G Aviation Media workshop at AWW 2015
  This is usually one of the primary excuses I hear from fellow aviation photographers when they are asked to host a photography event.  If you are such a terrible photographer that your clients and contacts are going to ditch you immediately when you host a gathering of photographers, by all means hold your cards close!  But I’m pretty sure that most of you have built the client-photographer relationship over years of delivering superior results, and your real fear is that the “unwashed masses” will screw it up for you.

  And that is a valid concern, at least where some ISAP members are concerned.

  But don’t your clients host gatherings of schoolkids who want to learn about aviation first-hand?

  Isn’t there a chance some kid will “screw it up” for everyone?  Sure there is, but most of the aviation venues are willing to tolerate this risk to bring a firsthand knowledge of aviation to the next generation.

  Why is it any different when dealing with the next generation of aviation photographers?

  Now let me change my focus from the “learned elite” to the so-called “unwashed masses”.

Stop being such an access whore

He isn't an access whore, but I'll use him anyway!
  Just like the old sign “Your momma ain’t here to clean up after you”, there should be an ISAP equivalent – “ISAP ain’t here to provide you access!”

  In my perception there is a big disconnect with individuals that somehow assume a professional organization exists to provide access to subjects that might otherwise be out of reach to individual members.  ASPE does not provide its members with a list of toilets that need plunging, do they?  (For those of you NOT in the know, ASPE is the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, and their website can be found here  )

  From discussions with several long-time ISAP members, the 2010 Symposium with a field trip to Nellis AFB was a watershed moment.  Descriptions such as “picture 100-150 6-year-olds running around an active flightline” do not paint a favorable image of ISAP’s conduct at Nellis.  These same members lay the blame at the feet of the individuals who joined ISAP specifically to attend the Nellis trip - “They weren’t members, they just paid to play”

In situations like these, everyone loses.  

Establishing the ground rules

  When it comes to discussions about sharing techniques and access to unique aviation subjects, both sides of the equation need to understand and agree upon the ground rules.

El Centro PAO, Kris Haugh lays down the rules
  As the one enjoying access, you should be walking on eggshells.  Your actions directly reflect on your sponsor, and they have likely put a great deal of their photographic reputation on the line to provide you with an opportunity that you could not arrange for yourself.  Did you get that last part?  If not let me say it again – That you COULD NOT arrange for yourself.  If you disagree with me, then why are you at the event?  Why didn’t you arrange your own exclusive shoot?

  Guess what, there is no shame in needing someone to provide access.  Not many of us can show up, unannounced at an aviation venue, and cause them to drop what they are doing and roll out the “red carpet” for us.  

  If you are the one arranging the access you absolutely MUST pre-brief your hosts to understand that the people you are sponsoring ARE NOT YOU.  I know that sounds a bit egotistical, but it is an important distinction.  You are trying assist other photographers that might not otherwise get access to the facility, and your hosts must understand the risks.   At the end of the day, do people blame the teachers for the student who wipes their boogers on the warbird’s windscreen?  I certainly hope not.

Build relationships, not a portfolio

Scott Germain advises fellow ISAP member Craig Swancy about his burrito choice 
 Let me leave you with two thoughts in summary:
  1. Do no harm – Whether you are the access provider or the guest, commit to ensure everyone benefits from the experience. If that means you sacrifice the “perfect setup” as the guest photographer, or miss a chance to be in the “front row” as the host, you have to be willing to do so in order to increase the overall level of photographic execution for ISAP members at the event.  In the end, a little humility goes a LONG way at group photoshoots.
  2. Be vulnerable – This might be tough for a lot of the established photographers in the group, but it is essential to the continued improvement of the aviation photography community.  If the experienced professionals are not prepared to teach many of their techniques to the up-and-coming generations, we condemn them to learning the same way we must have… by personal failure.  This is at BEST an arrogant way of making the newcomers “earn their chops”, and at WORST a dangerous opportunity for them to risk life and limb on an experience we could have saved them from. 

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