How does a photographer emerge out of 2020? A year that has changed the way we see and analyse reality, a year that has made us reflect on how images are created.
As a photographer myself, I believe photography is an inter-personal practice, dominated by social interactions across all its genres, such as street, commercial, fashion, documentary and landscape. Coming from a photographic education or years of industry experience, photographers have experienced an increasing competition with other artists. The photographic practice has become rather introspective, developing into a new way of studying and situating one’s own practice -Image makers are now forced to frame their work in an unprecedented socio-cultural context, affected by Covid-19 restrictive measures, or even political influences. Photographers are still compelled to generate imagery in 2020 - with all its twists, turns, peaks and troughs. Thus, it is something to be provoked and inspired by.
For instance, the Italian photographer Regina De Luca, who is currently studying professional photography at Escuela Efti in Madrid, draws our attention to street photography. It is about the photographer’s glance towards the spontaneity of people and the talent of capturing dynamic street scenes in a split second (Fig 1). However, street photography has been subverted by COVID-19 restrictions as well – as, for instance, social distancing or facial protections - since they hide or mask most of those expressions and emotions on which street narrative is based. In this regard, Regina stresses how the pandemic has impacted her (reportage) work. She highlights that streets have significantly changed for her:
“The absence of people in the street and fear in their faces can make it more difficult to tell a story other than COVID.”
Moreover, she observes that Covid-19 has not only affected photographers’ production process, but also the way they experience art. It seems that she speaks for us all when she says:
“The experience of dressing up and dedicating your time of day to the viewing and contemplation of photography / art in exhibitions galleries is deeply missed”.
Indeed, during this time of social distancing, art galleries and exhibition spaces have been drastically impacted.
On the other hand, visual Artist Matthew Rhys Thompson - who has just completed an MA course at the Royal College of Art - shows a contemplation towards realising his work today. He explains:
“To be an artist today is ever cyclical, challenging and invigorating that consumes and demands an awareness of self and others.”
Hence, Matthew’s elation towards imagery is set in the climate of challenge and excitement that he embraces. In this respect, contextual impact is what propels the work into contemplations of purpose and meanings, positioning the latter as a consequence of the surroundings - whether the choice of focal length, depth of field, colour or simply the subject matter itself is reciprocal to reality. In some cultural contexts, we find photographic aesthetics developing according to those specific cultural moments; photographers emerging today operate towards a continuing practice of adaptability and reflection of life itself. For example, the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement generated an immense amount of documentary style imagery portraying racism and police brutality. The image maker’s perspective came from the streets and communities, making them capable of exposing and inciting change, highlighting struggles and oppressed minorities.
On a more pragmatic stance, still life photographer Christopher Mitchell shares his perspective as an emerging photographer today. His work (Fig 3 - still life) has not changed - he primarily photographs in his own studio - but the practicality of reaching clients has definitely shifted due to the outbreak of Covid-19. In normal circumstances, Christopher’s face-to-face contact helps him form those business relationships as opposed to virtual meetings on Zoom or Skype that he now must abide by due to social distancing guidelines.
I certainly agree with Christopher that from a photographer’s viewpoint there is a deep and intrinsic value in a physical interaction when building a relationship or collaboration.
Christopher also discusses a further crucial point: how should photographers discuss their work together? He misses the simple chance to grab a coffee and chat about his work with other creatives. This critical discussion is necessary for how creatives can build value and reflect upon ideas. This practice has now shifted exclusively to the digital and online experience. It means that an artist cannot cultivate a dynamic environment of viewing, discussing or contesting ideas and imagery.
Giulia Parlato is a London-based Italian visual artist who recently completed her MA Photography at the Royal College of Art. Despite her recent graduation, Giulia is truly worried about finding her first job because of the numbers and competition from other creatives in the industry. However, this is not the only reason that discourages most emerging creatives from joining this panorama; the current COVID-19 crisis also plays an important role - as it keeps us apart - along with the political culture which is particularly volatile and polarising today, it is increasingly daunting to start working. For many emerging photographers today, personal experience is the key to new creative opportunities and the golden ticket towards starting a career in the creative industry.
Giulia acknowledges and is comforted by how many art market players today sympathise with emerging artists - such as competitions with large prize pools, post-graduate internships or platforms like ISSUE.07, who are committed to expose and connect with emerging photographers. Giulia says this helps tremendously in such uncertain times and that this year gave her much free time to focus on her productivity and being a freelancer, yet she also feels:
“Less energies should be involved in online exposure and paid competitions for the emerging photographer…and more paid opportunities should be offered, because those can really make the difference to start building a sustainable career.”
The photographers featured in this article (whose info and work can be found on ISSUE.07) show a variety of attitudes towards the challenges of emerging photographers today. Despite the struggles of Covid-19 and the competitive landscape of the creative industry, these influences become the catalyst that cause work to progress and become realised.
Embracing the inevitability and chaos of change is what spurs on creative ideas and careers.
Illustrations and Photographers featured in this Article
Fig. 1, Regina De Luca - Personal Website
Fig. 2, Matthew Ryhs Thompson - Personal Website
Fig. 3, Christopher Mitchel - Personal Website
Fig. 4, Giulia Parlato - Personal Website