The Expendable

Photographer Rob Gilley blows off some steam in the tall grass in front of the SURFER Magazine headquarters.

Rob Gilley

Recently cut from the Surfer photography staff, Rob Gilley is now applying a surprising new talent for embittered, sardonic prose to the
blogosphere.

Not long after the hostess shows us to our booth, Brendon nips it in the bud: “We just need to change the way we pay you.”

Uh-oh. I know what this is. This is not good. Not good at all. “Change the way we pay you” is code for “We need to fire you and feel good about it.”

Today it seems that my destiny is Ryan Bingham Up in the Air subterfuge, a disguised Bugs Bunny coin toss: “Hit the road, kid.”

The reason I know this is that I’ve been here before. On both sides of the booth. Just replace Brendon Thomas with Pete Taras or Evan Slater or Chris Mauro or Sam George or Steve Hawk or Jim Savas or Doug Palladini or Matt Warshaw or Paul Holmes or any of the countless editors and publishers who have faced withered budgets, corporate mandates, and contributors gone stale.

It’s a scenario that’s been repeated more times than an NSSA lip tap. I am getting downsized, or more accurately, being put out to pasture.

It’s nasty business, really. An ugly situation. Surf photographers and writers that hang around too long. Outdating their skills. Wearing out their welcome. Acting like that 50-year-old dude at Trestles who gets all the biggest set waves but gets to his feet one knee at a time.

How do you tell somebody that their once unique, state-of-the-art talent is now dime-a-dozen? Does a surf magazine reader really care how good a photographer used to be or how easy he is to work with now? I think not.

Plus, there are only so many 300mm boat shots a surf magazine can use.

So, as the waitress sets the veggie burger down in front of me, and Brendon and Grant Ellis launch into a time-tested you-can-actually-make-more-money-this-way buzz word pep rally (“bean counters” [ding!]), “current economic climate” [ding!]), “budgetary concerns” [ding!]), my mind drifts off.

First, to a Falling Down/Rambo hybrid film clip where my character, with the constricted, spectacled-face of Michael Douglas, and the veiny biceps and torn shirt of Sylvester Stallone, goes absolutely postal at SURFER Magazine headquarters. Just a good ol’ Peckinpah melee where sweat is flying, people are running, and my oversized arms are absorbing the machine gun reports with oiled-downed grace.

Then, to a camouflage-clad, homeless surf photographer at the local coast highway median with a shoddy cardboard sign that reads, “No, I don’t have a Golden Voice but I Will Shoot For Food.”

Then something weird happens. A compressed internal montage of my alleged surf photography “career” flickers by: the exotic destinations visited, the personal waves ridden, the beer swilled—all on SURFER’s dime—and anger is quickly replaced with resignation and a bizarre sense of relief.

In a Bernie Madoff kind of way, I realize that the gig is finally up. The scam has been detected. I’ve been made. It was fun while it lasted.

It’s too bad, though. I still have so much to say. So much repeated history to warn about. So many stories to tell. So much bitterness to impart.

So many boat shots to take.

But then, as Brendon shifts into a discussion about a dollar-for-dollar editorial expense mandate, it hits me: an editorial column. Let me produce a column and it could be a perfect guaranteed-use, dollar-for-dollar appeasement for the bean counters. A backhanded way for an editor to stroke a photojournalist’s ego and ostracize him at the same time.

Suddenly I feel like Tom Curren’s foot finding the board again in the white water. Give me some space in the back of the magazine, or a blog that no one will look at. It’s guaranteed use for the accounting department and Indo Board exile for the Y generation. Pay me a little bit monthly, give me some photo space, and let me rant a little bit.

Just don’t let me talk about myself in the third person.

Look out for Rob’s rants (and photographs) every Monday morning on Surfermag.com