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AIPP crisis re-visited

At the height of the AIPP crisis late 2017/early last year, we prepared a story revealing a little of the background to the dissatisfaction among some long-term members. But it was a volatile time, and not wanting to add any fuel to the fire, we decided to ‘spike’ it. Now that the dust has settled, we  feel it’s reasonable to share it with Inside Imaging readers,  for the record: 

FEBRUARY 28, 2018: If there is any one single sentence which explains why the AIPP board has taken the ‘nuclear option’ in resigning en masse, shutting down the head office and making all staff positions redundant, it is probably this one from AIPP Treasurer John Swainston: ‘Our obligations as directors outweighed considerations about what happens in the future.’

Current AIPP president John Swainston. Photo Louise Bagger/Facebook.

The dramatic drop in revenue as members chose to not renew in significant numbers, combined with the overheads of running the AIPP office and the looming commitments to the Lenscape event, put the volunteer directors in danger of breaching company director rules. This could have seen them in court.

‘Members not renewing made a large dent in monthly cashflow. We had a hard look at the business, examining it as if we were closing the doors tomorrow, and it didn’t look good. If we didn’t take action we would have most likely run out of money some time in the second quarter,’ John told (Imaging Insider).

‘We had employees relying on us, obligations to sponsors – so we had to do something much more severe.’

‘The good news is there will be money left at the end of it,’ he added.

There has been a level of unhappiness with the AIPP’s direction for some time now. It was back in April last year we first reported on this: ‘…But a number of members do not approve of the direction the AIPP has taken,’ we wrote. ”Some “Old Guard” members view it as adopting a financially-motivated, corporatised character, and taking on too many new members who don’t qualify as what they see as “real professionals”. [They believe] the AIPP which was built on volunteering and a sense of community is fading away.’

But things really came to a head around six weeks ago. It’s complicated – even when abridged – so bear with me:

The AIPP had identified an opportunity to take the APPA model and offer it to amateur photographers. The ‘amateur APPAs’ were to have been launched at Lenscape.

Part of the rationale for this was that the AIPP had a surplus of qualified judges, so not all of them them were having an opportunity to play a judging role at the APPAs.

The plan was to invite AIPP-trained judges to be involved in this new initiative, assessing amateur photographers work via digital display. This would be for a fee, which was to provide a revenue stream for the participating judges, with the AIPP taking a small commission. Tony Hewitt was invited to head this new initiative. However, that would have precluded him, under the terms the AIPP had outlined, from playing the prestigious role he had played for several years, heading up the APPA print awards.

As it happens (this is the abridged version!) Tony is neither heading the National APPAs (although he is still booked in as MC for the awards night) nor has he taken up the new opportunity.

‘With the benefit of hindsight we probably should have continued the conversation with Tony, although there has been continuous dialogue behind the scenes. The team that signed up for this actually did need a leader,’ said John.

There was (more than) an inference from the AIPP critics that Tony Hewitt was (more than) nudged out of the role. This seems to have created a rallying point for AIPP members, as well as recently lapsed and former members, who remain unhappy with the AIPP.

It’s hugely simplistic to render a whole raft of issues down to this one small vignette, but the drying up of the subscription revenue pipeline following the airing of this grievance seems to have pushed things into the red zone.

‘A very large number of members were hesitating in rejoining this year. It got out of hand. It was alarming,’ said John.

(It’s well worth noting that there has been a large uptick in member renewals and new members joining since the Board released its letter to members this morning.)

He said the decisive action by the board provides a future in which there should be funds available for the AIPP to continue, although without a physical head office and with vastly reduced resources.

He sees the discontinuity created by the Board’s decision also providing an opportunity for renewal. He felt a bullying culture had developed in the AIPP.

‘A greater issue which has developed over a much longer period of time is a bullying culture,’ he said. ‘There are so many people who have served at national or state level who have been battered by the members.

‘Six to 10 percent (of members) have gone through awful experiences at hands of other members,’ he said.

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