Getting through Covid-19 as a photographer
Many of us have been struggling from the knock on effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Photographers are no exception and many photography businesses have been hit hard. John McTaggart shares his story of getting through Covid-19 as a photographer.
It took less than 72 hours for it all to come tumbling down.
Over a span of three days in March of 2020, my fulltime freelance photography business was in shambles.
Every booking for 2020 had either cancelled or indefinitely postponed their events. Weddings, conventions, conferences, event after event, assignment after assignment — everything for the entire year — gone.
Not long after that, the bookings for 2021 began to crumble as well. The business I had spent years building… ruined. The rent was late. A growing stack of unpaid bills was piling up on a small end table near the front door, and I didn’t know how I could fix it.
And I wasn’t alone, either. Friends and colleagues were living the same reality.
A few closed up all together, while others began a search for a new career path. A few brave souls decided to hunker down and ride the out the storm the best they could for as long as they could. Many of those have been forced into finding a different line of work or shutting down by now.
I, however, sold my camera gear on a Thursday in June, getting what I could for it from a local camera shop.
Along with a pair of digital Nikon cameras, lens, and speedlights, were my film cameras — my beloved Leica M5, a Hasselblad 500cm, a pair of Hasselblad T*lenses, four A12 backs, a well-used Nikon FE and a beautifully tarnished and dented F3hp, with accompanying 50mm lenses.
I sat in my car after leaving the store and cried. I knew I needed the money. I knew I had little choice but to do it.
I knew providing for my family was the priority. But I cried nonetheless at the loss of these decades-old analogue cameras; cameras that were more than just a collection of metal and gears and buttons to me.
They were the culmination of years of hard work, hours of an endless chase to perfect my craft, and they were, to me, a part of my soul, a tangible representation of a passion.
I loved picking up that M5 and capturing a moment, taking the film into the darkroom and watching it come to life.
I relished time spent peering into the waist-level viewfinder of the Hasselblad and capturing a scene on that amazing square frame.
It’s true, not a single one of these cameras I had ever used professionally, yet each one brought me something far more valuable — I found joy, peace, escape, and a form of creative expression with every press of the shutter.
Anyone who loves photography, regardless of whether it’s your career or not, understands these feelings.
On that day, for what amounted to a relatively small amount of money, they were gone. After paying a few bills, buying a few groceries and doing my best to keep my head above water for another few weeks, that money was gone, too.
For months, there wasn’t a camera to pick up, a roll of film to develop or a print to make. There were no walks around the park, the neighborhood, the city, searching for the perfect composition or situation or moment to capture.
It’s during these times something dawned on me… photography, particularly analogue photography, is more than a passion — it’s what I am.
Despite nearly two decades as a fulltime photojournalist, and years as a freelance photography business owner, working exclusively with digital gear, I was a film shooter at heart.
I didn’t miss the assignments, the events or even the income nearly as much as I missed the feel of that M5 in my hands, or the rush I got whenever the lights in the darkroom went off and the challenge of opening a film canister and loading the film on to the reel played out.
I longed for the joy of watching a print magically appear on the paper in a bath of developer, and the smell of the fixer in the air.
I missed the conversations with members of the film photography community, and the countless times I had to tell people I was still shooting a film camera and why.
So, in late November of 2020, after a small grant check arrived in the mail, I made a decision that quite honestly made little sense to me and would likely make little sense to anyone in my position.
I bought a film camera.
I couldn’t afford to replace my M5 with another Leica, nor was I able to purchase a Hasselblad — although one day I hope to afford both.
What I did find was an old Canon F-1 body, circa 1972, on an online auction site along with a 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C. lens.
And, of course, despite a detailed description of how well the camera functioned, the camera didn’t work when it arrived, so I sent it off to be repaired and for a CLA, which added to the total investment significantly.
I should’ve used the funds for other things, I am aware of this. Am I advocating you not pay your house payment in order to go buy a Leica M3 body? Of course not.
What I am suggesting, however, is that we understand how important it is to invest in our passion, in ourselves, in what we are.
I’m also suggesting we understand and appreciate the dividends this investment can yield in our lives, particularly in troubled times like these. Admittedly, I’m terrified, like many of you, of what the future of my profession holds.
I don’t know at all what to expect — and that frightens me beyond words. I’m also trying hard, like many of you, to keep myself and my loved ones as healthy as possible. These are terrible times for all of us.
And yes… the rent is still late.
The pile of bills still higher than it should be, and the phone isn’t ringing with bookings yet.
But oddly enough, I have a sense of peace in knowing what I am, in finally understanding and accepting this fact and then acting on it. I am a photographer who loves shooting film. This is my passion, my calling… it is what I am.
What are you?
Whatever comes to mind; however you choose to answer that question, just go out and be it, live it, do it.
Invest in your passion, in yourself, even if it might now make sense at the time.
You’ll be glad you did.
Many thanks to John for sharing his moving story. How has Covid-19 affected your photography and business?
Please share your thoughts and comments and be cool to one another.