I bid farewell to PPA (Professional Photographers of America) today. I've been a member close to 15 years, and it doesn't make sense to belong to an organization that (a) is for professional photographers (of which I'm no longer), (b) has no program for members who become disabled, but still want to keep abreast of things, and lastly (c) is in a tailspin.
Unlike an employer with a disability package, PPA has nothing for members who become disabled and can't work any more. They have a "retired" category, but it basically means you shut down everything (website, any residual sales, etc.) and can participate in PPA events. Big deal for the disabled.
I say it is in a tailspin because the last 18 months have been a real eye opener. When you're in the forest, you can't see the grandeur of the forest. At the same time, there could be encroaching danger and because of the dense forest you don't see it until it is too late to outrun it.
I started to notice this a few years ago when I was hit by the car. Being laid up with a broken leg I saw the same people with too much time on their hands constantly on the PPA's internal social media - The Loop. They are giving advice left and right to new members asking questions. If they have so much time on their hands, how can they be a great photographer? Or, were they all like me... laid-up with a broken leg or something else to keep them homebound and on their computer?
I think not.
For some reason, they don't need to work, and they spend all this time telling new members how to run their business. Some would give legal or tax advice. But, the biggest problem was new members repeatedly asking, "How much should I charge for _______?"
That's a stupid question for ANYONE in business to ask. If you don't know how to figure that out, you shouldn't be in business, AND, you won't be for long.
Young people aren't joining in proportion to the number of young people involved in photography. PPA hasn't made itself appealing to many of them. Many people are in the what-is-in-it-for-me mode when looking to invest time and money. While PPA offers the Indemnity trust and educational programs, these young people get their education elsewhere at a lower price. And, many of them don't understand (or care) about indemnification. Other perks like discounts on goods and services can be had elsewhere. (In fact, my PPA recommended insurance was about $100/year more than what I got when I shopped around on my own.)
Because they aren't appealing to the up-and-coming, they are in a tailspin and don't see it.
Or, Maybe they do.
Or, maybe they do see it. PPA affiliates are dropping like flies. We've seen a couple disappear in New York. When I looked in to Utah, they don't have one at ALL. I've heard from friends in other states that they are losing affiliates too.
Old School Arrogance
The real death knell is going to be Old School Arrogance. When I stepped back from the day to day PPA stuff, I was shocked that I hadn't paid attention to this in the past. I like how one colleague put it...
"If a print comp judge has to hang his hat on all the medals he wears around his neck, there's something fundamentally wrong."
While I used to be a Blue-Sky'er (I'm not so much any more), I was often met with resistance when I'd suggest new ideas. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but when you have those old dogs running the program, young pups will look at them and go play elsewhere.
Situations have allowed me to watch International Print Competition and District Competitions the last few years. It's only got worse with the arrogance. Last month's district competition was the icing on the cake. A friend who kept a tally in the room where he was watching said 72% of the images were challenged.
Challenging is what a judge does when he/she doesn't agree with the other judges. I had several rooms going simultaneously. What I heard was a LOT of self-aggrandizing comments. Not directly, but it reminded me of the wine snob you'd see in a comedy. You know the guy who uses big words to make himself sound important to the others in the room. So it is with print comp judges.
I convinced my wife to watch and listen for a while. One image that we both agreed should merit, fell short.
Next, an image came up that was 100% computer generated by an algorithm. That is to say, it took ZERO talent to produce the image. It got challenged. The proponents talked about how pleasing it looked, while an opponent to giving this thing a merit weakly stated that he didn't see much expertise involved in its creation.
It received a merit!!!
My wife said, "There's some corruption going on there."
I questioned what she meant. She explained that if the previous image didn't receive a merit, and this one did, then someone bribed someone, or knows someone.
Thinking of Hanlon's Razor -- Never assume malice when stupid will suffice -- I questioned it... Is there some corruption? Or, is it stupidity?
I honestly can't say, but I'd like to give the judges the benefit of the doubt and say, they simply didn't know that was a 100% computer generated.
That's Not The Biggest Problem
The biggest problem is it isn't about the 12 Elements of a Merit Print any more. It's about grandstanding. Even among the volunteer leadership, it's about grandstanding. Never in my life have I seen so many inflated egos.
So, I Walked Away
So, I walked away being 2 merits shy of a Master Artist Degree and 2 merits shy of a Master Photographer Degree.
Someone may ask why when I was so close. I could stick it out another month, participate in IPC, and get those 4 merits and end up with 2 degrees.
But, I ask you, "Why?"
What good would it do me?
My wife put it this way, "Why would you want recognition from those people?"
(This was in reference to what she heard during some image challenges. The judges' behavior was embarrassing to me. My wife, with a strong background in psychology was really put off by how they were talking.)
I thought about her comments all that night, and decided I would stick it out until IPC 2019 was over. But then, a small miracle occurred. Several of my images I was going to submit disappeared. That was a clear message it wasn't meant to be, so I called PPA and told them I'm quitting.
Learning From Print Comp
An argument you hear often is that you learn a lot from print comp. Well, when I first started, I'd say that was true. The last few years what I learned was many of the judges wouldn't know art if it slapped them in the face - they only know what appeals to them. And, all is fine until the open their mouths and remove all doubt.
I love what one judge said once, "Cubism... maybe that's some form of art or something... I don't know."
And I'm looking to that person to determine if my image deserves a merit?
Not any more.