Opinion: My experience being a photographer amid a pandemic

Mar 11 2021, 11:03 am
Written for Daily Hive by Dalia Nardolillo: a freelance writer and photographer living in the suburbs of Laval. Visit her Instagram @nardolillo.photography and Twitter @DaliaNardolill2 for more content.

Victoria Vonapartis, a professional photographer based out of Montreal, says she’s had to make a “180º flip” as her industry manages the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been doing photography since God knows how long, and it’s been pretty standard until  COVID-19 hit back in March. We’ve hit a year point now; it’s definitely been an adjustment above everything first and foremost,” she says.

As Vonapartis explained how she had to re-adjust her entire business model during the first months of the pandemic, I could relate.

In June, Vonapartis said she made the switch from shooting portraits to pick up food and product photography. “I cannot make a living off of this,” she said, citing that portraits were no longer a source of revenue due to strict coronavirus gathering guidelines.

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In my own experience, the last 12 months have been hard, obviously. Initially, I thought the pandemic would ruin my dreams of pursuing photography as a career. I didn’t feel comfortable meeting new clients, and public health guidelines set up too many barriers, especially when it came to in-person shoots.

Masks were making everything feel impersonal, and one of my major motivators as a photographer is connecting with my subject.

Last summer, I started to explore landscape photography more because it was outdoors, an activity that was encouraged by public health in Quebec. Being outdoors helped me feel more comfortable shooting, and as more information unfolded about the virus, I felt more comfortable getting back behind the lens.

One of my professors at Dawson College helped me understand that photography is constantly evolving and part of being a photographer includes adapting to the real world, especially when themes of overcoming adversity are present in the art.

The hardest part has been trying to balance public health safety with my passion for my career. I’ve learned that art imitates life, and being true to my surroundings has helped me to feel comfortable, even in the midst of a pandemic.

As much as it has been a challenge for photographers to adapt, it’s been just as challenging for the professors that have had to teach photography at CEGEPs and universities. Photography professors have always relied on in-person teaching techniques.

“I think at this point we are doing a little better because we are doing more of a hybrid model,” says Laurel Breidon, Dawson College’s program coordinator of Professional Photography. “We have been doing in-person studio courses since September. Some students have approximately two in-person classes.”

Breidon says all the studio courses are done in-person, but students have been broken up into smaller teams.

“We only have nine people coming into the studio at a time,” she explained. “There is a strict protocol that must be followed in the photo studio at Dawson at all times. The photography students are forbidden to reserve studio time outside of normal class time. In pre-COVID times, the students were able to make studio reservations for the weekends, to work on class assignments, portfolios, etc.”

COVID-19 protocols have “taken away” the idea of working collaboratively between students, peers, and professors, Breidon says.

Over the years, Breidon has observed that her students have been able to perform better when they work together. “I would say, that’s the most difficult thing, is sort of the natural migration of people kind of going towards each other.”

David Hopkins, a photography professor at Dawson College, says he’s always been inspired by Montreal’s various landscapes and monuments. The pandemic, he says, has “restricted me geographically,” which has resulted in him going for plenty of walks around his neighbourhood and Mont-Royal. It’s resulted in more landscape shots and local photos.

Breidon and Hopkins say they are among many teachers that are trying to give the best experience possible for their students — despite the times we live in. “I think the thing that everyone needs to take away is that when these situations arise, there are other ways to handle them,” says Vonapartis. “We shouldn’t just stop doing what we love doing because there are other ways to create and go with the flow.”

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