What Does The AIPP Closing Mean?

November 14, 2021

On the road to Ushguli, GeorgiaOn the road to Ushguli, Georgia

On the road to Ushguli, Georgia. Which has nothing to do with the AIPP, but since I'm not travelling at the moment, I'm enjoying my time processing photos from past trips. I also have a photo tour planned for Georgia and Armenia towards the end of 2022, COVID conditions allowing. These towers are wonderful to photograph and are dotted all around the hills. More to come in the not too distant future!

Last week, the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) appointed an administrator, abandoned the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA), froze its Facebook page and closed its doors. The end of an era. What happened?

The following thoughts are mine alone. I have been very closely involved with the AIPP for 40 years, spending time as national treasurer, chairman of the Australian Professional Photography Awards and editor of The Working Pro/AIPP Journal. I was the Australian Professional Photographer of the Year twice, I’ve won the Ilford Trophy for the highest scoring print and I think a couple of years ago, I earned the lowest scoring print as well - with a 68!

For me, there were two primary reasons for membership, both selfish.

The first was for the friends I made. Visiting APPA or a conference once or twice a year was a great opportunity to catch up, share ideas and grow as a photographer. I have met many lifelong friends through the AIPP because of our shared passion for photography. The second was entering the annual awards. Note, I said entering, not attending, not winning, although they too were enjoyable. However, it was the process of putting together my best four photographs every year, thinking about what the judges might say, improving the images to satisfy any criticism. It was this process over 40 years that has guided and established me as a photographer.

And they were professional awards. This isn’t meant to make them sound better than amateur awards – because these days they are not. Rather, professional awards make an assumption that you are producing work for sale or for the satisfaction of a client. It’s a different mindset, but one that is incredibly important. Or used to be.

When I joined the AIPP, it was all about education. We learnt how to take better photographs and how to earn a living. Then the internet and digital photography arrived (around the same time) and professional photography changed forever. The secret stuff we used to do in the darkroom was now available to everyone – including our clients – in Lightroom! The profession and its environment fundamentally changed.

While financially I lament this, artistically I embrace it wholeheartedly – as do many AIPP members. We’re photographers first, business people second and the digital realm has expanded our creative horizons exponentially. I don’t think there has been a better time in history to be involved in photography.

Future image making may rely more on ideas and technology, perhaps the ability to recognise what you like rather than create it. It’s neither better nor worse, just different. And with YouTube and social media, there is perhaps less of a need for a large organisation like the AIPP. And that in a nutshell is why the AIPP has closed.

While there are many of us passionate about the AIPP, we weren’t passionate enough to go back on the Board to help make it work (there were no new nominations for the Board last year). We weren’t passionate enough to enter more prints into APPA this year. And try as hard as they did, our Board couldn’t find the right mix of buttons and switches to keep the AIPP going. They are not to blame. At least they stood up and did as much as they could – my thanks to all the directors and volunteers that made the AIPP what it was.

No doubt you’ll be reading a lot of comments about the AIPP on social media. The ones I like speak of the good times, the friends made, the positives. Reading between the lines, the negative posts generally say more about the person making the comment than the AIPP. Sure, there are some former members who have every right to be disaffected by the AIPP, based on the unethical behaviour of a very few past office bearers. I know this too, from personal experience. However, most criticisms seem rather self-indulgent. I mean, no one forces you to stay a member of an organisation you don’t like. Why not just walk away, rather than poison it for everyone else? 

So, will I miss the AIPP. Certainly. Will I start up a new organisation? No – I think that’s a job for a younger generation, but I’d certainly enjoy being a member. If nothing else, I think COVID has shown how highly valued social contact is.

Will it be a professional-only organisation? Maybe, maybe not. Many people think being professional is ‘better’ than being an amateur, or that a professional standard is higher, but that’s no longer the case. It’s the purpose behind the photography that is different, one being commercial, the other being wonderfully personal. Many of us practice both.

Not all professionals will agree with my sentiments. Mind you, nor will all enthusiasts! But that’s okay because it’s just an opinion and, since we all have this wonderful passion for photography, hopefully we can still be friends!


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