AIPP Closes After 75 Years of Serving Photographers

The COVID-19 pandemic hit most of the world hard, and many businesses closed as a result. In Australia, the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) is one such business that announced closure.

Unlike most professions, such as accountants or doctors, or trades professions such as electricians, photographers do not require any accreditation from the Australian government to work in their craft. To work with some specialized equipment such as a drone requires a license, and of course, to shoot on public property requires approval from the local government council. However, generally speaking, anyone can buy a camera and get a registered business number to start working as a photographer. No special accreditation is required.

The AIPP acted as a private entity to offer a semblance of credibility to photographers. Because photography is a freelancer’s profession, it is easier to negotiate things as this sort of pseudo-union or collective agreement than as an individual. Potential members had to apply and have their portfolios reviewed by a panel to earn the right to display their membership. The AIPP, which had been around since 1944, helped inform Australian copyright and privacy laws, as well as provide input to tertiary education. The AIPP helped administer the Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) on state and national levels. Many members of AIPP were leaders of photography both in Australia and on the world stage.

Although the AIPP has now ceased trading and is looking to appoint an administrator to manage the process as required by law, the end is bittersweet. The institution had been in decline for nearly a decade.

The thing to realize, though, despite all this work, is that the institution was a bit of a relic. As a former member myself (although not for several years now), I found my membership was lacking. Membership allowed for various discounts with industry partners, reduced entry fee to the APPA competition, inclusion in the AIPP directory, as well as an invitation to professional and social events. Sounds amazing, right? I think from memory, membership was something like $500 a year, but for that amount, I kind of wanted more than a few coupons and my name in some directory that didn’t get me any work over the few years I was in it. And although it was a membership model based on the merit of a portfolio, in my very humble opinion, some members weren’t quite up to a professional standard. And finally, for that $500 a year, I’m curious where that money went! I mean, the AIPP was run by volunteers. So sure, some of it went towards operational costs such as running and maintaining a website, but where did the rest of it go from the hundreds of members? Surely, there weren’t that many lawyers being hired to negotiate and navigate laws and government institutions.

There is very much a space for professional and community organizations. But these institutions need to make real change and help serve their members. Transparency of ideals, as well as operation, is necessary and members should be informed of what is going on.

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8 Comments
Some Person's picture

Hello Ali, thank you for your boldness in putting your foot forward and sharing your thoughts on this matter. I was a member right up to the end; and whilst I was saddened when I received notice of the institute's closure, it was not surprising. It seemed to me that the organisation was facing an enormous identity crisis whilst running into rough financial circumstances. I don't think a lack of legal accreditation for the profession was the issue - keep in mind that the AMA has nothing to do with medical registration, and it's doing just fine - but it had more to do with contemporary creatives engaged in professional photography (whatever that means) just not getting the kinds of support they would expect from a professional representative peak body. Freelancers and emerging photographers are craving information on current market pricing, rates, and licensing conventions; guidance on public liability and OH&S issues; and timely level-headed advocacy (and educational support) regarding contemporary issues such as digital IP theft, amongst other things. (To keep going with the AMA analogy, AMA publishes regular updates on recommended consultation rates, for better or worse).

The individuals involved with the organisation have been hard working, passionate, and very approachable, with great direct advocacy made on behalf of all Australian photographers regarding COVID-19 trading restrictions - but there remained big gaps in 'return on investment' for financial members. I think that fundamental unresolved structural and cultural problems within the institution (rather than individual persons) were its achilles heel. For example, I didn't receive any statement from them about photojournalist safety during the lockdown protests. The 'institute of photography competitions' vibes that some were getting towards its final days was perhaps too unsavoury, making it feel like members were supporting the organisation instead of the other way round. It remains to be seen whether a new advocacy group will emerge in the near future, but I think 'professional creatives who happen to use photography amongst other forms of media' is such a diverse group nowadays that a monolithic representative institute is probably not the way to go these days.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Hey some person! That's alright! I did my best to offer just my own experiences rather than point fingers. I haven't been a member for a very long time so one way or another this doesn't affect me.

I do agree that it really comes down to who was in service of whom. Since then I've been lucky to find myself in a few other local and international organizations who advocate on behalf of creatives. The different in model is that these are also run by volunteers but don't ask for service fees. Additionally, I've received more direct benefit from them (such as offers of work, a space to share ideas and discuss strategy, as well as very tangible things like free portfolio reviews with partner organizations). All free of charge benefits with none of the politics or bureaucracy.

There is definitely a space for organizations which offer advocacy and support. But the service needs to be for the members, not for the organization or the egos of individuals.

Simon Patterson's picture

I never really understood the AIPP's value.

I'm not sure too many Australian businesses engaged photography services based on whether the photographer was a member or not. The photo competition became a bit of a joke when they awarded non-photos. And the AIPP's annual survey of professional photographers' rates was kept secret to members only, which would have been much better used to educate the wider public on the value of professional photography.

There may have been some value to members for general legal advice or somesuch, I'm not sure. Perhaps networking opportunities were a benefit, although social media has probably diluted that as a purpose for people to join.

I'll be interested to see what ex-members say they will miss, now AIPP has closed.

Ali Choudhry's picture

I honestly agree with everything you have said. But as a former member, I got no networking opportunities that I can recall. But definitely keen to hear other experiences!

Some Person's picture

I never encountered any sort of 'annual survey of professional photographers' rates' as a member. If it existed, then it certainly wasn't well known. I think emerging photographers and graduates would have thrown money at the institute for access to such a thing. As for 'legal support', this came in the form of a handful of contract templates that looked like they had been written before digital cameras were invented. Members were referred to affiliate private legal firms for specific advice.

Russell Hunter's picture

Good article and I am glad this came up on an international forum.

I was a member of the AIPP until the very end. I guess I clung on in some vague hope that ongoing membership would somehow distinguish me from everyone else.

With each passing year I struggled to see what $500 in annual membership fees was providing. Truth be told, and as already previously mentioned, it was little more than access to some affiliate discounts and reduced entry to what already had to be one of the most expensive photography competitions in Australia. I can also honestly say that not one of my clients or jobs was in any way attributable to anything that came from the AIPP. I don't think the little logo stamped on my business cards or website meant anything to anyone.

It's always sad to see these organisations go, as fundamentally you often lose a core group of dedicated and talented individuals at the same time. But in reality, it's a timely reminder of the need to adapt and stay with the times.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Oh mate, I was in Brissie when I was a member. Sad that we share the same feelings about this topic but is what it is.

Jay W's picture

Before social media these guys had a place , but they never adjusted to the times and to be honest couldn't offer anything to support a $500.00 membership. I remember as a wedding photographer I rang up and asked what were the advantages of a $500 membership and was told that you could use our logo on your website.
You didn't have to join of course, but In some ways you were kind of held for ransom as a wedding photographer to pay the membership for advertising as they put out allot of advertising in wedding magazines talking about the benefits of only using AIPP accredited photographers over non accredited members.

Never saw the advantage of them, they would charge a premium, it was a bit of a boys club when I went to one of there events, and judges could enter there own photos in contests and surprisingly would often win (with the Lisa Saad controversy not adding any credibility)

Really a relic from the past that didn't adapt to the times and really didn't offer anything worth the membership, the bigger loss was The Australian Center of Photography at Paddington going late last year