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The West is ahead of the rest

Western Australia’s energetic professional photographers wasted no time filling the AIPP-shaped hole by launching a new association, Pro Photography WA, just six months after the Institute’s demise.

More than a year has passed since the AIPP went into voluntary administration. And only now have former members on the East Coast taken the preliminary steps to consider forming a new national industry body. A process which has proved challenging, and is slowly moving towards its goal.

In this time WA photographers have, to their credit, already built a new association governed by a constitution and led by a committee; launched a website; run several events; attracted nine sponsors; pulled in more than 60 members; and formulated big future plans.

It’s characteristic of the WA photographic community to adopt a proactive attitude and go full steam ahead. The WA AIPP branch was by necessity fiercely independent, and the local WA photo industry has no shortage of brilliant world-class photographers, businesses, and events. A contributing factor to WA’s over-achieving is probably its isolation from the rest of Australia, encouraging the WA photo industry to work together to foster a strong community and support each other.

‘The big separation of distance (from WA to the populated East Coast of Australia) certainly generates a real family feel to the photographic community here,’ Pro Photography WA president and commercial photographer, Mark Brierley, told Inside Imaging. ‘It’s almost like a big country town – everyone knows each other and is really supportive. Because we feel a little like we’re out here on our own.’

This community spirit was on show at one of the last AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) events, with about 50 WA members travelling thousands of kilometres to attend.

‘That was something to be really proud of: making WA have a big presence there, meeting other photographers from across Australia and making friendships,’ Mark said. ‘And then with Covid and the borders closing, we stuck together even more.’

When the AIPP went into voluntary administration in late 2021, key figures in the WA branch almost immediately began discussions about how to salvage the community they built. The new group has been able to work with the Institute’s strengths and avoid its weaknesses.

‘We wanted to keep offering support to the industry to make sure [former AIPP] members aren’t alone and fill that void,’ Mark said. ‘We started by having conversations among pro photographers to establish that there was a desire for something to be created.

‘We held what we called Town Hall Meetings to find out exactly what everyone wants and at minimal cost. We have no paid staff, no rented offices, and committee members don’t receive any benefits at all.’

The most popular WA AIPP event was ‘The Decathlon’, which Pro Photography WA continues under a new name, 10 Cubed – 10 speakers with 10 images speaking for 10 minutes.

The inaugural event ran in October 2022 and was a huge success, Mark said, serving as the first runs on the board for the fledgling Association. The strong turnout of attendees keen to hear from the 10 local speakers, who ranged from older experienced photographers to emerging talent, showed the interest expressed in the Town Hall Meetings was real.

Beyond events, including an upcoming revival of the WA State Awards later this year, Pro Photography WA also aims to assist students.

‘A couple of our members are lecturers at North Metro TAFE. A goal is also to look after the students after they complete their Advanced Diploma (of Visual Arts). They will do two years and then it’s like, ‘off you go’; you’re left to your own device. It’s about making sure they have access to mentoring, possible assistant work, and access to members.’

Mark explains how the founding committee, along with other contributors, worked tirelessly to get the Association off the ground. He made special mention of former AIPP president, Des Birt, along with Alan Wallace and Kelly Barker, who brought their unique skillset to fast-track the Association’s formation.

‘We drew on everyone’s skills and qualities. Des, who is on our committee, created the website for us. So we pay virtually nothing for the year. Our treasurer, Alan, he was vital in setting us up with legal documentation, getting us incorporated, setting up the bank account. If it wasn’t for those two, we’d be six months behind. We were so fortunate to have those two on board to streamline everything for us.

‘I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the people on the committee. I knew how dedicated they were – it’s the only reason I wanted to come on board. And it’s really growing well, with lots of members keen to do more for the industry. We’re really happy with the committee members, general membership and the sponsors.’

Pro Photography WA’s nine sponsors, includes local labs and retailers like Camera Electronic, Fitzgerald Photo, Perth Pro Lab, and Team Digital, as well as larger brands such as Nikon, Sony, and Ilford. Then there is Photographic Insurance Solutions and Success Legal.

‘The support here in WA – they’re really looking after us and are wanting us to succeed. It’s a close knit community’.

The $64,000 question

One of the longest discussions during the Town Hall Meetings involved deciding who could qualify for membership, and how to make this assessment. It’s essentially coming to a satisfactory answer to the contentious question: define professional photographer.

A few decades ago the definition wouldn’t cause much fuss. A professional photographer makes their full-time living from photography. And this accurately described most professionals, whether they operated in the commercial, editorial, wedding, family portrait, schools, fashion, stock, photojournalism, or other sectors.

But the industry is now made up primarily of casual or part-time photographers, who vastly outnumber full-time workers. The barriers to entry have crumbled. It only takes a website, social media account, a flash looking camera, and basic editing skills to be perceived as a ‘professional photographer’ to the layperson.

Some full-time working professionals, particularly established photographers with decades of experience, feel this has tarnished professional photography. It’s a valid observation. There is no shortage of horror stories in the media about inexperienced photographers causing harm to their clients. And an industry association could help differentiate the full-time working professionals from others.

But the new generation of professional photographers also includes immensely talented photographers who provide a professional service, yet remain working on a part-time or casual basis. They have just as much right to be welcomed to an industry association as the full-timers. So where does an industry body representing the interests of professional photographers draw the line?

This debate flared up in a Facebook group of former AIPP members, who are attempting to form a new national body. Over the years many long-time members left the Institute, feeling it abandoned them after membership opened up to more semi-pro photographers.

The WA photographers decided to open ‘Ordinary Membership’ up to all professionals.

The pre-requisites for joining are straightforward:
– Submit a portfolio of 20 images that are of professional quality and demonstrate competency. This can be a selection of 20 images, or a website/social media feed with images that meet the criteria;
– Completing a business requirement check list that meets 50 points. There are 15 options to choose from. For example an ABN, Diploma certificate, previous AIPP membership, and Public Liability Insurance are each worth 20 points; a website, active social media pages, police clearance and client reference are each worth 10 points.

Joining attracts a $50 joining, as well as a $200 annual subscription fee. Benefits include event discounts, invitations to member-only events, sponsor discounts, and voting rights at the AGM.

Membership is also open to students and retired photographers at a slight discount – a $50 joining fee and $50 annual subscription.

Pro Photography WA will soon launch Accredited Member level. It will cost an additional $200 for two years, with re-accreditation required after the two years lapse.

‘We have people that are photographing at a professional level but might be part-time and not making much income from it. It’s such a varied equation when it comes to being a professional photographer and we can see some might not benefit from an Accredited membership. Whereas others like myself, full-time working photographers, can see the value in it. It’s about saying “yes, I’m vetted and accredited and hold myself to a high standard, I’m doing everything above board with insurances, ABN, and tax, and continue with professional development”.’

With 60 members signed up in just over six months, membership is growing steadily. The goal is to have around 200 members by the end of the year, and Mark is confident this is achievable. With a packed upcoming event schedule, steady sponsorship, low overheads, and a driven committee with a strong vision, Pro Photography WA might have just unlocked a winning formula.

Professional photographers currently working on a new National Association build might benefit by taking note. Click here to visit the website.

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