There comes a time in every budding photographer's life, and for you, that time just might be now, when the promise of an incredible opportunity comes along — an opportunity that seems like just the thing you've been waiting for: a chance to travel to someplace tropical and live that insta-influencer dream life.
"Now hiring," they say in a playful but not too cartoony bubble font, "photographers in search of adventure!" The exclamation point and background image of a smiling, bikini-clad, surfer girl artfully overlaid with the Buenos Aires Instagram story filter provide just enough detached enthusiasm to let you know it's legit and you would be crazy not to throw your hat in the ring. "To apply, hit the link in our bio!"
"Ok!" you exclaim to your life that suddenly feels emptier and less worthwhile, because, well, there's no filter on the four stark walls of your apartment, and there's definitely no surfer girl. "I think I will!"
So, hit the link you do, distilling your experience, passions, and ambitions into three to five short-form responses that hopefully shed some light on how cool and worthy you are. "Purpose fuels passion" and "sunset is our favorite color" are just a couple of the witticisms you double-tap-loved on their feed, so your muster all your swagger, think back to all the inspirational pillows you've ever read, and drop some neo-philosophical magic in their wetsuited laps. Thumbs firing at full speed, you type and erase, type and erase, selecting just the right words to prove you are in fact cool and worthy enough live "that insta life" on a beach somewhere in Bali, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or Portugal.
The waiting is the hard part. Never mind that you'd never heard of them 20 minutes ago or that you've got plenty of work and a full life where you already live. These people are promising beach bonfires, all you can eat BBQ nights, and sunrise yoga! You fold yourself back into the life you've enthusiastically lived up until now, but the color has drained just a little from all the things you'd enjoyed. Things aren't quite Oslo or Lagos anymore. Maybe more of a Melbourne. At best.
"Congratulations," the headline reads, dinging in your inbox 24-36 hours later, "we want to know more about you!" This is it. You can already hear the acoustic guitars playing "Closing Time." You click to learn more about this unparalleled opportunity:
My name is Steve and I'm the head of photography with Euphoria Surf Camps. We are currently looking for a Photographer to work at the Costa Rica or Nicaragua camp from August for 3-6 months or more, is this something you could be interested in?
We are looking for fun, motivated and hard working team members to create a great atmosphere within the camp. Your duties would include Shooting Guests surfing Monday to Saturday/ Creating quality content for our social media platform / Controlling Photo sales every evening in both camps. We will supply you with all camera gear needed including 600mm lens so you do not wear your own gear.
As a part of our team you will receive Accommodation / Food / Drink and opportunity to surf everyday / commission on photo sales.
If this appeals to you please send through the following:
Brief paragraph explaining why you would like to work with us
Examples of your photographic work (Instagram is fine) or CV
Dates you can arrive and stay until?
We do require a minimum of 6 month stay and if you are a hard worker we will cover your Visa cost.
Look forward to hearing from you
You read the email again just to be sure. This "job" that you've already started fantasizing about, this "job" that pulled the saturation slider of your current life to the left by at least 10 points, isn't a "job" at all. It's six days a week of hard work in trade for food, beverages, housing, the possibility of commission, and maybe — if someone you've never met deems you to be a hard enough worker — covered visa costs. You run the calculations in your head, trying to find a way you can abscond to the surfer commune you now suspect this to be and still pay your student loans, your phone bill, and your credit card debt on time. It's just not possible. It doesn't add up. You feel like the remaindered rug you bought at Anthropologie last season has been pulled out from under you.
Maybe there's been some mistake. Maybe you read the email wrong. You reply:
Thanks for getting back to me! I'll send along all the requested information, but first I wanted to find out what the position pays.
Then, 20 minutes later, Steve replies:
We pay in accomadation [sic] food and commission on sales.
This gatekeeper to your sunshine-filled future hasn't even bothered to spell-check his abrupt reply.
This will not stand.
Ok. That's not something I can do.
You furiously reply, wondering why you even bothered, wondering if he will surmise just how insulting his "job" offer really is.
Two days later, you learn that, no, he hasn't caught the tone of your irritation at all. Your inbox dings:
My name is Steve and I'm the head of photography for Euphoria Surf Camps. We are currently looking for a Photographer to work at the Costa Rica or Nicaragua camp from August for 3-6 months or more, is this something you could be interested in?
We are looking for fun, motivated and hard working team members to create a great atmosphere within the camp. Your duties would include…
It's a friggin' copy-paste. Did he even read your terse reply? He hasn't learned anything from your previous lack of interest. He's still hiring and he still wants your CV and Instagram portfolio.
Armed with a newfound sense of expectation and more than a little fire in your belly, you shoot off a reply. Something that will show him the error of his ways. Something that will make him see you're the answer to all his staffing problems.
As I told you with the Costa Rica camp position, I simply can't agree to work for six months with zero guaranteed compensation. The idea that you ask anyone to do so is particularly galling to me. Six days of work per week in exchange for food and housing while you make money off of the products of your workers isn't an "opportunity," it's slavery. I don't care if commission is a possibility, it would have to be a commission equal to or greater than the equivalent of minimum wage for every hour worked in order to be considered "work" and not the systemic abuse of your "employees".
I was perfectly happy to keep these opinions to myself, but since you emailed back with an additional "opportunity" to work for free, I felt it best to speak my mind. If you have any respect for your workers past, present, and future, you should change your system to one that includes wages or a stipend at the very least. Photographers are regularly approached with these predatory offers to work for free while companies like yours make money on their work product. It's appalling. As photographers, we have things like student debt, medical expenses, financial goals, and monthly financial obligations. To expect a photographer to forego those responsibilities for six months with the dangled carrot of possible commission and coverage of the cost of their visa is offensive.
I welcome you to change your business model. Please let me know if you would like my assistance in doing so.
That'll show him. You put a lot of thought and more than a couple of thumb cramps into that articulate response. You're flying high. You're a regular AOC.
You roll your eyes, sated at least to have given him something to ponder. Those poor unsuspecting photographers. They dream so big about adventurous travel gigs, and this is what they get in return. Maybe Steve will see reason after all. Maybe your suffering and disappointment will benefit future generations.
The inbox dings.
Thank you for your feed back, [sic] was very eye opening. [sic] We have no need to change our buisness [sic] plan as it has worked perfectly fine for the last 15 years but again thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my email in such detail.
This is actually the first email we have had in this manner so we don’t feel we are “dangaling a carrot” [sic] just yet as all of our photographers are very happy and earn good comission [sic] with food and board up to the value of €2000 per person so we feel this is a more then [sic] fare [sic] deal.
I hope your photography career progresses and you are open minded [sic] to many offers you may or may not get.
Is he saying that the value of the room and board is €2000, or that a photographer can earn €2000 in six months of work? That's like €11 a day! Also, "offers you may or may not get"? The gall. The insult. This has gone too far.
Author's Note: This is a satirized version of an actual exchange with an actual surf camp. Names have been changed to avoid petty retaliation, but otherwise, all emails depicted here are word-for-word as they were sent and received — startling typos, misspellings, and all. The more I investigated this situation, the more I found l that this is common practice at these camps, not just for the photography side of things but for the surf instructors as well. These companies are making money on the backs of unpaid workers. Do with that information what you will, or, as I read on a pillow one time: "Be the change you want to see in the world."