When Work Begins Again

Boboli Gardens, Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy.
Photo By Barry Schwartz

The photography industry may start to open before too long.  While photographers’ skillset is unique, they will not be unusual in what they will be required to do after they go back to work. What is safe?  What is dangerous?  How does the Covid-19 shutdown affect pricing and scheduling?  When will things get back to normal?

That last one – about “normal” – is the easiest to answer: No one knows.  Maybe this year, but probably not.  Barring an usually rapid development of a vaccine, life may be better by the end of the year, but not normal.  Employee, business owner, politician, scientist, doctor will know after it’s over, not before.   In the meantime, there is plenty of good guidance from reliable sources on how to move forward as safely as possible to protect ourselves and those around us.

Anyway, it’s not for photographers to decide.  States and local municipalities make the rules, whether or not there is agreement with their civic neighbors, or what scientists or doctors advise.  So it is not the photographer’s problem.  They live where they live and work where they work.  Professionals have to abide by governmental directives.

There is plenty of knowledge already in place to help guide photographers in their professional lives. What we know is straightforward and easy to understand.  Don’t get too close to anyone but family or those you already live with; wear a mask in public to protect others in case you are asymptomatic; wash your hands all the time; don’t touch your face; sneeze or cough into a handkerchief or your elbow.  Everyone is stressed out; be extra nice, be extra considerate.  Tip restaurant workers extra well. How does this apply to working on set or on location?  How does it apply to photojournalists who (for the moment) usually work alone?  The behavior we have all been asked to adhere to is not new: it is standard protocol for all epidemics going back many hundreds of years.  It worked before there was the science to back it up, and it works even better now that the science has proven reliable.  Photographers have a bit of an advantage in that they will continue to adhere to common industry safety protocols.  Professional makeup and hair stylists, as a result of training and licensing, have known for years their tools need to be sanitized using autoclaves and barbicide solution – the same as in hospitals and medical offices – in order to not pass infections from one person to another – or to themselves.  They know to wash their hands a lot.  They know to keep cans of disinfectant spray handy.  They know it takes the time it takes, there are no shortcuts. 

Photographers who work in hospital operating rooms are familiar with the specific protocols that environment demands: wear masks, hazmat suits or operating gowns, protective glasses, don’t get too close, wash their hands, don’t work if they are sick.  Photographers who work on industrial sites know they also need to wear masks and protective glasses, but, unlike operating rooms, steel-toed boots.  Photographers who work with models know that, typically by law, they are not allowed to touch the talent. 

These are rules professionals are already guided by.  States and municipalities generate new directives until the pandemic has receded enough, way down the line, for the directives to be removed.  There are liability issues, too, as photographers who have contacted their insurance brokers have probably already discovered, which is that insurance companies are sometimes refusing to cover photographers without the backup of states and municipalities giving the go-ahead.

After they can work again, photographers will be responsible for having conversations with clients to work out safety issues and to encode them contractually.  Planning, of course, is a skill photographers are already familiar with.  They will be able to negotiate terms, but not safety.

Restaurants, grocery stores, mass transit have learned how to operate more safely than before the pandemic.  The science on how to keep ourselves safe, and those we love and work with safe, is public knowledge, and evolving. States and municipalities interpret that science as they see fit. As we hear often these days, we’re all in this together.  That’s not a metaphor.


Here are resources that directly address safety.  All are subject to change, of course, like everything else. 

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them.  By Dr. Erin Bromage

CDC guidance on Covid-19

CDC  “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework” – as of May 7 2020.

CDC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home

Cal/OSHA Guidance on Requirements to Protect Workers from Coronavirus


Washington State Guidance for Resuming Professional Photography

Film Florida – Recommendations for Clean & Healthy Production Sets

European Film Commissions Network

Bulgarian Film Guide

The Everyday Projects Covid-19 Guide for Visual Journalists

Space for Arts – Safety Protocols for “Socially Distanced” Photo/Video Productions

Comprehensive guidelines and resources for photography production in Los Angeles/New York in the age of Covid 19

Advertising Producers Association – British. 
Look for: APA Covid-19 Guidelines | Coronavirus updates



Sports Video Group – a vast collection of articles and white papers, including Cleaning & Sanitizing, Crews & Freelancers, and much more.

ProductionHubSafety Guidelines For Filming Interviews And Live Streams During The Covid-19 Crisis, by Jan Klier

AICP – Association of Independent Commercial Producers

BECTU Health and safety during COVID-19 – British union for crew


Cinematographers Guild Local 600 – Covid-19 Member Resources and Updates

COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Nieman Lab – COVID-Explained aims to translate hard science into clear answers to common questions.


Graphic Artists Guild – Coronavirus Information & Resources

DPA Microphones – Proper Microphone Hygiene


VII Interactive: In Conversation. “How can photographers cover the world’s deadly viruses?” with Nichole Sobecki.  Facebook Live

APA Biz Talk Episode 4 – What Work Looks Like Now & in the Future

APA Biz Talk Episode 5 – Liability & Safety On Set

Intro Covid Safer Sets: Infection control Intro- Webinar April 30th 2020,  John Cordes and Samantha Isom

Stories That Knocked Me Out

Video by Barry Schwartz

Here’s another set in my occasional series of online stories that knocked me out. A little photo-centric, but not always.


A photograph is not evidence of the truth, rather, an interpretation, even though over time that interpretation becomes so embedded it seems indistinguishable from the truth. It helps to hve more than one photographer document the scene to know what really happened. By Michael Shaw in The New York Times Magazine.

The True Story Behind an Iconic Vietnam War Photo
Was Nearly Erased — Until Now
A celebrated book and a major museum exhibition revealed the harrowing tale behind the image of a wounded Marine. Their version was wrong.



In a long and beautiful remembrance, as much about the South as art, “Michael Adno admired no artist’s work more than Alabama’s William Christenberry. And after Christenberry died in late 2016 at 80, Adno retraced his footsteps through west-central Alabama. Today, read through a two-year journey with Christenberry’s family and friends, recounting how he made a record of his native Hale County and what that ultimately meant outside the South.” By Michael Adno in the Bitter Southerner.

William Christenberry – Once It Comes Time



Asking questions in professional contexts is never easy, but it can be more like a conversation than an interrogation, becoming a better experience on both sides. Journalists do this all the time, and there are a range of techniques that work for anyone. By Solutions Journalism in The Whole Story.

22 Questions that ‘Complicate the Narrative’



Freelancers all face the same challenges, including learning first hand about the myths of freelancing. “You can find plenty of positive things online about being your own boss, and we all know someone who says going freelance was the best decision they’ve ever made. With this article, we want to give you a more realistic view of this often glorified way of living.” By Rosa Koolhoven from Vanchneider.com.

The Downsides of Freelancing



Hugh Magnum was a traveling photographer during the early 20th Century whose photos, while forgotten and buried in a barn and chicken coop for almost a century, are remarkably contemporary. From the article: “’Through Mangum’s eyes, we see a diverse citizenry, and we see them depicted with democratic equanimity on the same glass plate negative in side-by-side portraits, which suggests that they waited their turn together, in the same studio at the same time,’ Margaret Sartor, an instructor at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, told Hyperallergic.” By Allison Meier in Hyperallergic.

An Itinerant Photographer’s Diverse Portraits
of the Turn-of-the-Century American South



The world of art galleries looks like a cloistered clubhouse, closed to outsiders. It may well be cloistered, but it is also, and mostly, a business, easier to understand than to enter. Two writers have authored a book that explains it all, and have published a condensed version as a brief article. By Edward Winkelman and Patton Hindle in Artsy.

A Brief History of Art Dealing



Sarah Meister is a curator in the New York Museum of Modern Art Photography Department. In an audio interview, Meister pulls back the curtain on what curators actually do, the culture of museums, and the relations they have with collectors, photographers, and other institutions. Interview by Jordan Weissmann

How Does a Museum Curator Do Her Job?
Meet Sarah Meister, a curator in MoMA’s
department of photography.



SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a constant concern, worry, and obsession for anyone who wants to be found on the internet. How does Google rank us? How easily can we be found? What are the dangers of doing it wrong? What is Google thinking? HubSpot examines 22 SEO myths about what’s true and what’s not. By HubSpot, as a downloadable PDF.

22 SEO MYTHS You Should Leave Behind in 2019



What does the music industry have in common with other creative endeavors? The music industry recently had a major victory in Congress in the quest for musicians to be fairly paid in the form of the Music Modernization Act. That victory was the result of all kinds of stakeholders working together for a single goal, and it worked. Those results could be replicated by others, if they work together. Michael Huppe, the president and CEO of SoundExchange wrote a piece about the power of working together in Variety.

Music Modernization Act Was Verse One,
the Rest of the Song Is Yet to Be Written



Along these same lines, the passage of the Music Modernization Act has put into law the ability to set up a rights clearinghouse for music creators – an endeavor that other creators could also benefit from, as a proof-of-concept for managing licensing and rights payments. Billboard magazine has an Op-Ed by The Open Music Initiative, launched by the Berklee School of Music and the MIT Media Lab, who have already begun work on a non-profit, open-source project to manage all that information, potentially unlocking trillions of dollars of fees to go to creators.

Why Success of the Music Modernization Act
Depends on Open Standards