The coronavirus pandemic has hit photographers hard. We reached out to some professional photographers to ask how the crisis has affected their businesses. We also wanted to know how they were adapting—both their own lives and their businesses—to the challenges of these difficult times.
We recently spoke with Jon Holloway, a fine art photographer and teacher in Greenwood, South Carolina, who is also a NANPA Board Member and College Scholarship Program Committee Member. (See part one of this series here.)
How has the COVID-19 situation affected you and your business?
Most of my photography business is in fine art and galleries. I only do a limited amount of tours. I’m fortunate that, for the past twelve years, I’ve taught photography full time at Lander University. I also oversee the school’s student-managed fine art gallery. While I used to work with several galleries in the Southeast, I now have my own sundance Gallery. It is a 100 year old building that was renovated and converted to gallery and event venue space. We host 60 plus events a year including weddings, corporate events, and music performances. The space is really beautiful and has helped transform the local Uptown Greenwood community.
Like many photographers, my business model seems to always be changing. You have to keep reinventing yourself in order to be relevant. When I first started, I was mostly doing commercial photography, portraits, and select weddings across the country. That’s shifted over the years.
I used to do more commercial work (right now, it is very limited) and after 300 plus weddings, I have stopped accepting wedding commissions. A good portion of my income was once from stock sales, but the explosion of digital photography has reduced that substantially. There’s even been less commercial work available as companies have so many more choices for the images they need.
When the corona virus hit, all the sundance events booked for March, April, and May were cancelled. The gallery has been closed since the state of emergency declaration, the impact has been substantial as rentals pay the mortgage on the sundance.
What are you doing to adapt—either to mitigate the damage or explore new possibilities?
For my gallery and photography business, I’ve been working with my local community bank to re-arrange mortgage payments. I applied for the small Payroll Protection Plan loan, I have one employee who manages the gallery. I got an answer within three days and the PPP money will help with payroll and some building expenses. Banking with a local community bank made a huge difference in the process, you are not lost in the system.
I’ve been meaning to do some renovations to the building—reglazing windows, painting, making the gallery space more efficient—that I’ve never had the time to really plan out. We have been busy with a variety of renovations.
At Lander University, all classes in the middle of the semester transitioned to an online format. That has been an interesting and sometimes challenging process. It was a challenge to get up to speed, my students are technical savvy so they actually helped me in some instances. My students were working on final portfolios, many of which had to be redefined. One class was a traditional black and white darkroom class and had to be transitioned to digital products.
For example, a set of portfolio prints that were going to be darkroom prints transitioned into an online book project. The capstone project of Art 499, is having students design and create an exhibit in the Lander Fine Art Gallery. With the campus closed, we found a New Zealand website that allows you to design virtual exhibit spaces. Each of the seniors created an online gallery to showcase their work. We will hopefully have the physical Art 499 Senior exhibit in the fall at the Lander Fine Art Gallery.
One of the opportunities in the COVID-19 crisis. We are finding new tools that will make us better teachers and photographers. Another has been the time to look in my photo archives—to explore, revisit and reprocess some beautiful old images shot on 4×5, which I’m scanning into to my digital archive.
And also finding the time to slow down and think about my future commitments. I am spending more time at home which has great. The pandemic has changed everyone’s daily pattern. What can I leave out of my old pattern? Where do I want to work on in the future? For instance, I have always wanted to experiment with the “encaustic” technique where you apply wax to surface of photo. I’ve had the wax sitting on a shelf for years but haven’t had time to do it. I’m looking forward to some creative exploration, even if it down not result in a commercial payoff.
We go into photography to share experiences though a visual connection. When it becomes a business, there can often be no time to work on a personal project. I always stress to students, it is very important it is to have a personal project. Presently, we all have the time now to start a personal project and keep our photography grounded, to rediscover our inner voice.
I’m playing around with old cameras, experimenting. I’ve always felt that photography was more about interpreting an image than about the equipment. I stopped chasing technology a long time ago. You can express yourself just was well with a $35.00 holga camera if you have the right message.
Has this crisis taught (or reinforced) any lessons about the business side of nature photography?
Yes, at any moment in time you should be prepared to position your business model to adapt to the situation at hand and have a reserve in place.
Throughout my career, I have experimented with capturing the splendor and beauty forged from building connections between the human spirit and our universe – a visual statement designed to communicate my belief that we, as soulful beings, are made to share ourselves. We are all part of a whole, and by sharing ourselves, we nurture and strengthen our community.
See more of Jon Holloway’s work at his website, www.jonholloway.com.