Dale Rothenberg

Dale Rothenberg (b. 1991, Connecticut) is a visual artist currently based in Norway. His current work examines the global and local aspects of tourism through photography, video, text, and the archive. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Piano Performance from Oberlin Conservatory, and his background in music is what led him to the tourism industry. Previously, he has worked in fine art and commercial photography in Northeast Ohio, and has produced publications of his work with Empty Stretch and MOCA Cleveland. He is currently studying towards a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Kunst Musikk Design in Bergen, Norway.

Flags of Convenience

This body of work focuses on various facets of the cruise industry, including the labor laws manipulated by cruise lines, the history and nostalgia of ocean travel, and the environmental impact of cruise ships and their methods of tourism. For years, I have worked as a crew member on various cruise lines. It began as a temporary winter job after college, but I soon found myself strangely attached to ship life. My role as a musician gave me the additional privilege of working across multiple cruise lines in a short amount of time, like a contractor rather than an employee. This has allowed for a broader understanding of the industry than most crew members can see while working for one cruise line.

On the back of the cruise ship Pacific Aria, LIKE NO PLACE ON EARTH is inscribed in all capital letters. This is absolutely true. The hotel-facing side of cruise ships is unreal, almost like a simulation. But equally, below deck, the crew experience is unique. The industry is dependent on inexpensive deckhand labor from the Philippines. The ship’s officers are all Greek, or all Italian, or all Norwegian, etc. The few Americans working on ships are usually in the entertainment department. Yes, there is a crew bar (or two). The crew manifest is incredibly diverse, but one’s nationality usually limits the departments they can work in. Most crew members, regardless of rank, work very long days. There are no days off, only sea days and port days. Sometimes, depending on the itinerary, crew members might not be able to get off the ship for months at a time (for instance, a ship calling at only US ports and a new crew member from the Philippines).

The cruise industry is currently expanding at a dangerous rate. Old ships are being replaced by new ones that are four times as large. Every month, it seems a new 5000-passenger behemoth is floated out from the shipyards of Fincantieri or Meyer Werft. As wealthier nations begin to reject cruise tourism, the burden is shifted to other nations desperate for the money promised to them by the cruise lines and their lobbyists. The combination of these two elements is deeply unsettling. I think it’s time for a raised awareness of the industry and its global consequences, but my goal isn’t to cast it in only negative light. It’s a multi-faceted industry that brings joy to a lot of tourists and provides jobs to a massive global workforce.

To view more of Dale Rothenberg’s work please visit their website.