Farewell PPA - Pt. 2

July 4, 2019


There are a lot of fakers within PPA.  A few years ago I was having dinner with a vendor representative.  We were talking about the speakers at PPA conventions.  The rep said something to the effect, "Brent, don't let them (referring to some of the speakers) fool you.  We know who bounces checks and have their credit cards declined on a regular basis.  They may fill the room when they speak, but they don't have the money to pay their bills."

Business wise, these speakers aren't vetted.  They are only looked at to see if they can draw a crowd and fill the room.  When being asked to speak at a non-PPA photography group, the person vetting me said, "We don't want another PPA Platform Dancer." 

I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said, "PPA Platform Dancer".

Having sat in presentations where so-called marketing tips were given, I'd shake my head and think, "This sounds like an Amway or any other MLM scheme."   Not all of them, mind you, but those who were talking about how much money they made when they implemented their program.

Hence, I stopped attending those presentations and would only attend technique-oriented presentations.  The sales and marketing ones were usually full-of-dung.

In All Fairness

In all fairness, if you attend a PPA convention to learn about photography (not marketing or sales), you'll learn some good stuff.  However, still choose your instructors carefully.  Just because they are a good artists doesn't mean they are a good instructor.  On the other hand, I've learned a lot from mediocre photographers who knew how to teach.


I've belonged to a few professional organizations in my various career paths.  PPA is the first that falls way short in the ethics department.  When you have public school teachers, "working" as photographers and being hired by students and their family members, you have a conflict of interest.  Yet, PPA has no intention of ridding their ranks of such members.  (Public school teachers is just one example.  There are other so-called professionals within PPA performing conflict-of-interest work.  When I brought it up to a PPA officer years ago I was told (in reference to the school teacher situation) that it was a matter for the school board and not PPA.

There are also members taking advantage of other members.  I got suckered in to one.  It was a promise to review my print comp images and provide critique... at a cost.  I paid my money, sent my images, and what I heard back was the guy was busy and he'd get to it at his own schedule.

I never heard back.  The guy was a past PPA president!!!

While this is related to ethics, I wish PPA had a policy of disclaimers when it comes to their education program.  I'm not sure how they would implement this, but it would be kind of interesting if a speaker/instructor had to reveal their tax returns.  In turn, as part of their speaker bio it might read one of two ways...

John Doe is a studio owner whose studio does $1.5 million dollars in business each year.
- or -
John Doe is a photographer who produces some great images and occasionally makes a buck or two doing it.

But, that will never happen because egos in the photography industry are off the charts.  Arrogance clouds judgement and many would rather hide behind their vibrato than let the real truth surface.

Again, there are some serious ethics issues.

Follow the Money

Make no doubt about it, PPA is a big money making machine.  Members pay over $300/year to join.  With over 30,000 members, that's $9,000,000/year income from dues.  Add to that income from print competitions, conventions, vendor members and advertisers, and you're talking some big bucks.

While PPA is a quasi non-profit organization, there's little disclosure to members as to how their money is spent.  I guess if someone wants to fly to Atlanta to attend the annual meeting there would be some reports passed around, but for membership in general, they are kept in the dark about the finances of PPA.

With headquarters located in the prestigious Peachtree Center, employees of PPA enjoy frequent boondoggles and free breakfasts as part of their perks for working there.  While happy employees are key to a successful business, I don't think many members question how their dues are spent.  How much goes to rent at Peachtree Center?  How much does CEO David Trust get paid?  With approximately 50 named staff members, and who knows how many people manning the call center and other support positions, PPA is a BIG business... and very successful from a profit standpoint.  How successful?  Good question.

When it comes to affiliate dues, about all an affiliate gets out of PPA is the privilege of awarding merits to speakers and the affiliate president.  In exchange, PPA provides very little incentive (actually none) for its members to join affiliates - state or local.  So, add to the $9 million, all the dues from state and local affiliates.  While the additional affiliate dues pales in comparison to the actual member dues, it's my guess that is why they don't give much attention to the affiliates.

Now, you have to remember that a LOT of the work done at PPA is done by volunteers.  You have an entire elected board and volunteer committees that do much of the grunt work.

Interesting business model when you think about it.

Missing It?

Am I going to miss it?

I'm already missing the ability to do photography.  (Part of my illness makes it impossible to do the type of photography I love to do.)  I love learning more, and not only do I miss taking pictures, I will miss going to workshops and classes to further my knowledge of photography.

What I'm not going to miss is the arrogance of some of the PPA members.  It's my belief that such arrogance will eventually be the undoing of PPA... as sad as that may be.

Knowing what I know now, would I have joined PPA way back when I did?

Good question.  I might have for the indemnity trust, but first I would have shopped around to see if I could get similar coverage from a business insurance policy.  One thing I would not have done is participate in print comp.  I really only did it to stroke my ego... and that's why most participants do it.  When you lose your health and ability to work you realize it was a huge waste of time and money.

What Changes Would I Make?

If I had the energy and health to stick around, knowing what I've learned since becoming disabled, what changes would I make in PPA?

  1. Full disclosure of PPA finances printed in an annual report and published in Professional Photographer Magazine that would include the salaries of paid staff.  -- OR -- I would turn PPA in to a full for-profit corporation and take it public.
  2. Revamp how print competition is done.  First, I'd automate the judging so that judges would vote from their computers wherever they are at.  They wouldn't be allowed to speak to each other.  Second, each judgement would be based on a single element of the 12 elements.  For example, a judge would see an image popup on their screen along with the text, "On a scale from 1-10, how does this image rate for impact?"  Those individual components would computed for a final score.  Third, I would publish the weights for each of the 12 elements.  None of this crap where an otherwise perfect image gets a 78 because a judge didn't like the title.  Third, I'd make it an on-going, 365-days/year event.  Because judges could work from the privacy of their own computer, whenever they want, once enough judges have weighted in on an image, the score would be presented to the maker.  Finally, I would implement a hold-their-feet-to-the-fire policy on print critiques.  If a the judge making the critique goes so far as to say, "This image would have scored an 80 if the maker would have.... ", and the maker makes that change, then the judge has to justify awarding the maker the merit.
  3. Have a print comp philosophy that merit image in 1940 would still be a merit image in 2019.  I think this would avoid the trend to award merits to... well... trendy work, while not awarding classical work because it isn't trendy enough.  (Wow, have I seen that a lot in the last few years of print comp.)
  4. PPA volunteer leaders have to be fully vetted as photographers AND business people.  For the first, require they have one of the PPA Master Degrees.  For the second, require their tax returns be reviewed to see if they really run a sound business.
  5. I'd make affiliate membership an incitement to join affiliates.  Have reduced dues for affiliate members.  (After all, PPA charges affiliates to be members.)

Oh, Well

This will probably never get read by anyone else.  I just needed to vent.

PPA will go on doing what it has always done.  Perhaps the old timers will die off and a new generation will take over, HOWEVER, the rising generation is not known for volunteering to help... with anything.  And, the average age at my PPA affiliate is probably 65 years old.  That should tell you something.

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