Before coronavirus there was greater possibility. That can be applied to life in general and narrowly to working as a ‘new normal photographer’.
Things were never exactly easy but you could try to generate leads yourself, be proactive, get out there. You’d have occasional hits and many more misses but things could work out, if you were lucky. Your network of contacts could suddenly present an opportunity. You might even have a project fall in your lap by total fluke (buy my book).
Now, that all feels less possible.
I have seen press photographers out there working hard throughout lockdown. Certainly harder than me, but perhaps with no life-swallowing childcare considerations. They are creating lovely images and feeding my insecurities. Should I be working harder and doing more?
There is certainly no shortage of things to photograph as lockdown eases in various stages: reopening shops and pubs, street markings, endless social distancing signage, people wearing PPE and masks. There are countless moving personal stories out there too. But Wales is behind the general UK curve in its reopenings, and I only tend to sell editorially outside of Wales. Is anyone outside Wales interested that hairdressers have reopened? Doubtful.
You also wonder how many images are being sold, how much profit is being made by smaller players. Media organisations were squeezed hard before covid, and are squeezed even harder now. Did you buy many newspapers during lockdown? One old chap on my road (over 70) dutifully kept going on his morning walk to the shops to buy one or two, but I suspect he was in a big minority. Lockdown will have steamrollered sales, arguably delivering the knockout blow to an already buckling industry.
Huge job cuts are now being made locally and nationally across the media landscape. We are being told that the creative sector is in crisis across Wales, with government bailouts not even coming close to helping.
Selling pictures to newspapers was always a challenge for me, a humble freelancer not closely connected with any big agency or media organisation. It was a dumb lottery, a numbers game. Now it is even harder.
If your pictures are being funnelled through a Getty Images or Rex pipe, you might be making some cash. But probably not much unless you are doing high volume, working every day. I sporadically push some images through a third party Getty pipe and the returns are usually woeful. My last statement from one agency showed earnings of almost £29 for 31 image sales.
Based on these figures, is something better than nothing or not? The big question. For those used to commanding a higher fee and making a handsome amount of money, something is probably not better than nothing because there’s a margin of professional pride. For others there is greater desperation to make something, anything. When you are feeling desperate and underemployed, there is also the factor of feeling occupied, feeling like you are doing something, like you are at least trying here, world. That can help the mental health in the short term, even if it doesn’t much register on the bank balance.
Professional sport is now harder to gain access to, with limited spaces available. But the same aforementioned media landscape challenges exist. Most images used will be those of big agencies or images funnelled through the big agencies. This was virtually always the case pre-covid and one of the reasons I reduced my efforts at the start of this season, as well as the murky grey factor of payments taking up to 18 months to arrive from media companies. And sometimes never.
But I had barely done any speculative sport this season before lockdown, so couldn’t really grumble about my lack of access afterwards.
Business events and conferences provided some decent revenue but appear to be off the calendar for the foreseeable future. Doorstep family photography appears to be a line which is growing in popularity, with momentum built after the weekly clap for carers initiative during lockdown.
We had a leaflet through the door this week from a photographer offering the service. It is at least something that can be done, but not something which has appealed to me. Although if it was directly requested I would almost certainly do it.
I am fortunate in professionally providing both photography and writing services. One writing project has occupied me for the last six months or so. Such projects can come and go in fleeting fashion, with nothing for 18 months to two years. One happened along at just the right time, but may never do so again.
Nobody really knows what the future holds from here, what a second wave might look like. Lockdown for now is gradually easing, although there appears to be an obvious tension between health experts and government, between public health and the economy. Every day there seems to be a new headline about job cuts and redundancies. Divisions that seemed more pronounced than ever during the Brexit defined era show no sign of being eroded. Now there is the interweaving Black Lives Matter activism and if anything those divisions are even clearer.
There’s a general atmosphere of tentativeness and slight nervousness in social distancing. During lockdown I dragged my dormant bike out from the shed and wiped off its cobwebs. It seemed to still work ok. I enjoyed phases of semi-regular cycling over the years but never fully embraced it with the passion of many. No lycra, wafer-like tyres or incredibly lightweight frames. No obsession with big mileages, geo-tracking smartphone apps, no amazingly sculpted calf muscles. It’s easy to feel self-conscious and faintly inadequate when you kick off and wobble away on your bike for the first time in a while and see other regular cyclists who appear to tick all those boxes.
That same anxiety can be applied to anything you resume after a period of inactivity, or begin entirely anew. We’re in a moment where some blind courage is required, whether it’s trying to pick up where we left off and manage new challenges, or making a change and trying a different approach. Or a combination of the two.
Please get in touch if you need any photography or writing services. I will be adhering to all local government guidance of the current time.
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