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, it’s just the truth.
Here are resources that directly address safety. All are subject to change, of course, like everything else. We will be adding more as time goes on.
Cal/OSHA Guidance on Requirements to Protect Workers from Coronavirus
Graphic Artists Guild – Coronavirus Information & Resources
Film Florida – Recommendations for Clean & Healthy Production Sets
The Everyday Projects Covid-19 Guide for Visual Journalists
European Film Commissions Network
RISK PROTECTION AGAINST CONTAGION OF SARS-COV-2 DURING FILMING Basic Safety Rules
Bulgarian Film Guide
BULGARIAN PRODUCTION GOALS IN THE COVID19 ENVIRONMENT
Space for Arts – Safety Protocols for “Socially Distanced” Photo/Video Productions
Sports Video Group – a vast collection of articles and white papers, including Cleaning & Sanitizing, Crews & Freelancers, and much more.
ProductionHub – Safety Guidelines For Filming Interviews And Live Streams During The Covid-19 Crisis, by Jan Klier.
AICP – Association of Independent Commercial Producers
COVID-19 WORKPLACE GUIDELINES AND CONSIDERATIONS
BECTU Health and safety during COVID-19. British union for crew.
Film LA COVID-19 RESOURCE CENTER
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)
VIDEOS AND WEBINARS
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