75 and out: the end of the AIPP
After 75 years, the AIPP is no more. Its demise was met with two very strong emotions. One was sadness. The other, though, was anger. The latter is unusual. Candide McDonald investigates the ending that triggered these diametrically opposite reactions.
Needed, but never perfect
John Swainston served as both AIPP President (2018-2019) and Treasurer (2017-2018). His connection to the AIPP began in 1979, when it was the craft collective, IAP, and the only way to gain professional recognition. In 1982, his company was asked to become a sponsor. “We eventually did and never regretted it. For 40-odd years I attended many of the conventions, conferences, and dinners, and made some outstanding friendships that continue to this day. I learned the craft from the AIPP’s generous leaders and fellow members,” he says. The AIPP met many challenges, he notes, such as the arrival of digital in the mid-1990s and the launch of cameras in mobile phones. “In the end, though, the failure was of lack of cashflow; the cause of most business failures,” he states.
From Hilary Wardhaugh’s perspective, one of its fundamental problems was failing to keep up with the gender equality movement that film direction (as well as business in general) had embraced. “When I joined the AIPP, I had heard it was known as a boys’ club, but I felt it necessary as a professional to be part of the professional organisation. When digital became popular there were a lot more women coming into the industry. In hindsight, the AIPP should have embraced this trend and set gender targets to ensure all leadership groups and committees were at least gender equitable.”
Its closing did not surprise Wardhaugh. “It had been gasping for breath over the last decade,” she says. Its problems were many, she notes. “I feel the AIPP rated the annual awards too highly,” she adds. “It was the main revenue earner, so I can see why. However, only a small percentage of members actually entered the awards. Many of the photographers winning AIPP awards don’t even work as professional photographers, so surely the titles being handed out with these awards are contradictory. I think more focus should have been on professional development, mentoring, and advocacy.” She says disbanding its mentoring program was a mistake, there was a lack of gender, cultural, regional, and business diversity in leadership and the Board, there was a lack of diversity in Honours recipients, and a lack of succession planning within the Honours Committee.
Jacqui Dean joined the AIPP in 1993. “For me, being a member of the AIPP was about joining an association that advanced the reputation of Australian photography and photographers. There was a sense of camaraderie and support being part of a broad photographic family. It was about a shared approach of looking at the world with a keen and curious eye and having an unwavering passion for our industry and art form,” she says. She entered its awards with enthusiasm and won several, including Commercial Photographer of the Year and the Val Foreman Award in 1996. “My work was featured in a Nikon sponsored article in Panorama, the inflight magazine for Ansett, and our business took off,” she notes. “I wanted to give back to the AIPP so joined the NSW committee and gradually worked my way up. I was invited to join the National Board in 2002. I was National Treasurer – a huge responsibility – and became President in 2006, and then Chairman in 2008. My tenure on the AIPP Board ended in 2010.”
When Dean left the Board in 2010, the organisation was in a strong financial position, she says, with a membership base of around 4,000 photographers. “Our national office costs and the whole organisations overheads were affordable. We had long-term partnerships with industry-leading sponsors who supported and championed the Institute.” She believes that the AIPP’s problems were based on massive changes in the industry, but also some key management changes were instrumental in its decline. The dismissal of Tony Hewitt and Peter Eastway from their APPA roles in 2018 was a particularly unpopular move. “There was uproar amongst the ranks and members left in droves,” she recalls. “Tony and Peter had given years of dedication to the Institute, and were well respected for their talent, skills, and integrity. The last thing to do if you are trying to inspire the membership is to dismiss its visionaries and heroes.”
The dinosaur phenomenon
“The AIPP faced a relevance issue from the early 2000s,” Swainston adds. “It also had an intrinsically very high-cost base largely caused by an increasing focus on awards.” Its awards remained stubbornly print-based. “Publishers had closed their print facilities. The physical movement of judges generated high fixed costs, calling for ever-greater sponsorship, while the number of working photographers able to afford the print cost was declining. At the same time, a push for increased membership forced succeeding Boards to accept a broader sweep of photographers. For those professionals with established practices and solid, regular clients, the activity of the AIPP, with the exception of standards and copyright work, as well as advice on commercial contracts, there was little of appeal to justify membership fees. The divide was set and became extremely animated around 2013 to 2015 and again in 2018.” The AIPP was nearly liquidated in 2018, he adds, and closed its national office in May that year, but it never regained enough income to function properly.
For William Long, who served as a National Vice President and State President in Queensland, much of the AIPP’s problems were due to a lack of definition in the organisation’s structure. This began early on and worsened as the industry changed. One result was a “social media war” between members and non-members, that did irreparable harm. “When I joined 30 years ago, the focus was protecting copyright – a joint initiative between the ACMP [Australian Commercial and Media Photographers]and AIPP. When it engaged an executive officer, his brief, written by the Board at the time, included various KPIs that were not very well thought out and too simplistic. One, for example, was to increase membership – but without defining the kind of members. There has always been an issue with defining exactly what a professional photographer is, and that has changed hugely in the last 30 years. While it was very important to get the accredited professional photographer in theory, I think it underestimated the reaction by non-members.” Non-members became a hostile group and were vocal on social media. This was poorly handled by the AIPP, Long states. “Action needed to be swift and decisive, and wasn’t.”
This lack of definition contributed to a sponsorship power shift, Long adds. “The AIPP went from sponsors sponsoring events to sponsoring the Association. This was a major error. The Association was then getting 40% of its total income from sponsors and there was a feeling that it had to look after its sponsors. This is wrong. You have to look after the members first because the sponsors are not going to be there forever and are only there because it’s in their interests. I spent five years in a sponsorship relationship with the AIPP myself so I understand it can be a win-win, people taking the money and running, or the sponsors getting what they want rather than the association listening to the needs of the members.” The AIPP had not foreseen a danger while trying to remedy a problem without enough attention to detail. It had once been the leader of events. Events had been a rarity and valuable to the AIPP for income. “Now, every man and his dog have an event,” Long noted. “There is much less relevance in putting them on, and this has been very costly for the AIPP.”
A nimbler sibling
While the AIPP struggled to retain its relevance, sibling organisations like the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) still exist. It not only understands what is needed; it is driven by what is needed. Gino Demeer, President of the NZIPP, explains: “Professional photography is mostly a solo endeavour. Photography organisations offer a sense of community that simply can’t be achieved solely online. The NZIPP has been around for 83 years and the reason it exists is not really all that different today. It started with a bunch of photographers wanting to talk shop. These days it offers a lot more: it’s about cultivating friendships, collaboration, and the sharing of knowledge between members, alongside setting standards in technical, creative, and business practice. Advocacy also plays a large role. Organisations like ours are able to carry a bigger voice and are in a position to effect change, which ultimately benefits the whole industry,” he says.
The NZIPP has not been vanquished by change. One of the reasons for this, Demeer notes, is its small size, making change easier. He adds: “Professional photography organisations are also hugely dependent on engagement. In an online world, it can be hard to stand out. So, for us, having a large group of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the industry has been key. And because all of our volunteers are members as well as photographers, we have been able to be innovative and adapt really quickly.”
The end of an era?
If the AIPP failed to keep up with change, if its relevance came into question, did it have to die? Do professional photographers still need an organisation? Dean values the original doctrine of the AIPP, which was to raise the standard of professional photography in Australia through critical judging. “Thanks to Peter Foeden, Val Foreman, Ian Hawthorn, and Brian Brake, photography advanced in leaps and bounds.” And over the years, she adds, the AIPP far exceeded its original vision. “It offered opportunities for education, networking, collaboration, business skills, and mentoring. Through the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA), photographers strove for excellence and experienced the value of serious critique from experienced and knowledgeable judges. APPA also gave photographers the opportunity for promotion, exposure, and reward.” The value of organisations as a whole has not diminished, she says. “They allow us to have a collective voice, to advocate, to connect. They provide support, camaraderie, education, experience, and champion talent. I think these tenets still have value. But, we have to embrace change. It is up to the next generation of pro photographers to decide what they want, and what has value for them, but I do hope they experience the support and opportunities that come from being a part of an organisation dedicated to their profession and passion.”
Swainston notes: “Photographers who want to run a professional business and make an annual wage above average need a professional body to ensure standards and promote such business. The latter is something the AIPP did not have the budget for, ever. Most members of the public had no idea what the AIPP was or what it stood for,” he says. “The closest to achieving a public profile occurred in the early years of the AIPP’s predecessor, the ACMP, when the annual Fuji ACMP Australian Photographers Collection book featured actual ads, with half the photographs featured having been shot for clients. The ACMP also did outstanding copyright work that markedly improved photographers’ rights – a benefit that remains to this day.”
For all of its problems, Wardhaugh sees the end of the AIPP as a rectifiable tragedy. “So much has been lost with the demise of the Institute,” she says. “What happens to the history? What happens to the logo? The term ‘accredited professional photographer’? What happens to the infrastructure? What happens to the Constitution? The term ‘professional photographer’ has changed enormously in the last 20 years. I do think a representative body is a good thing, but it needs to be proactive to change. It needs to embrace all aspects of photography for it to succeed. It needs to listen to its members. I’m sure someone could run it as a for-profit business. Subscribers could pay to get benefits from suppliers and to ensure excellent SEO and for it to actively promote photographers to the marketplace. Awards competitions should be outsourced, especially as the photography competition business is thriving. Some people will mourn the loss of the AIPP more than others. I, for one, feel sad that it couldn’t keep up with change.”
For Swainston, the industry will have to change before an association like the AIPP can be viable in Australia again. “Nothing will take away from the friendships formed over decades. In another decade or two, most current practitioners will be into another phase of life, or out of the industry. Fifty years ago, the profession of photography was for a lifetime. It paid a wage that was above average for many, including wedding photographers. Today, average photographer business cycles are seven years or less, and average income from photography for the vast majority is well below minimum wage rates. Over 80% of photographers who claim to be professionals have another primary source of income. Whether a future national organisation will re-emerge will entirely depend on the number of people that can practise as full-time photographers and pay sufficient dues for someone to organise them to make a difference to standards, contracts, relevance, and visibility. For now, at any rate, there are not enough left.”
Jacqui Dean – deanphotographics.com.au
Gino Demeer – nzipp.org.nz/our-people
William Long – longshots.com.au
John Swainston – johnswainston.com
Hilary Wardhaugh – www.hwp.com.au
Get more stories like this delivered
free to your inbox. Sign up here.