Two articles this month in very different publications.
First, The New York Times, in their Travel Through The Lens series that was started after the pandemic made traveling safely not so easy for writers, photographers, reporters, or anyone else. I submitted images I had taken three years ago as a self-assignment. I had two fantastic editors, Phaedra Brown for the photos, and Stephen Hiltner for the essay. What a pleasure to work with them both – they made me look good (which of course is the job) something I learned a long time ago and have been grateful for ever since, since it’s always the writer and photographer who gets the credit. They even came up with the title.
And then there is Preservation Magazine, produced by the National Trust For Historic Preservation, who I have worked for in the past. In this case, Meghan Drueding, the Managing Editor, contacted me and licensed images I had produced on my own for San Francisco Heritage, whose mission is to preserve the best parts of the physical – and, I would argue, emotional and spiritual – aspects of San Francisco. I spent three days photographing their headquarters, the Haas-Lilienthal House, after they raised over $4 million to bring the building back to life.
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.
Following are resources addressing safety for large and small productions or even working alone. All are subject to change, of course, like everything else. Check back with them for updates.
The first few resources deal with current knowledge about the virus. Developing a handle on the biology is not difficult (a medical degree is not necessary), and makes it easier to implement safety protocols.