When I wrote my post about what to expect from me in 2020, coronavirus (Covid-19) had not yet made the news front pages. In these past few days, I took some time to reflect on the situation. On what it means for my business. This is still a work in progress, but some decisions are to be made.
Since I began this journey as a professional photographer, travel has always been the epicentre of my business. I travelled close to natural disasters and I found myself in the middle of political changes. But coronavirus and lockdowns are an entirely new condition.
Frankly, when the outbreak started, I was still convinced that disruptions would be limited to specific areas. Sure, they would affect places I had intended to visit and work in, but I could still change plans easily. I was in talks with a tour operator to organise a photo tour in one of the most affected countries, for example. I thought I could still put this on hold and organise something elsewhere. My work would be marginally impacted, not disrupted.
Watching the news, I slowly started seeing the coronavirus spreading everywhere. I had the feeling it would not be so simple.
I’m based in London, but I’m half Italian, so via friends, family and news, I was having first-hand knowledge of the escalation there. In the first badly, very badly, affected country in Europe. Learning how this was unfolding, it became pretty clear my perspective needed to shift.
Tours and Workshops
My travel season was set to commence in March. First stop, Italy. Cancelled. Next, Spain. Not yet, but I believe we’re almost there. And it’s the 20th anniversary of OFFF Barcelona, so I’m gutted if it’s cancelled but I think it would be sensible (update: it’s cancelled indeed, new date in 2021). I was also planning 2 big projects in Asia.
I’m monitoring my next destinations but I know everything will change rapidly.
With workshops in the UK, it’s not much different. As of now, the country is not in lockdown or anywhere near. But with every other country taking action to prevent gathering of people, it doesn’t feel safe to organise a group. Or to go photograph in a crowded place.
Thing is, I’m not even talking about me. Even if I take precautions for myself, will it be safe for others? Is it actually safe for anyone to attend my events? Am I putting people at risk? My groups are small, from myself plus one in my 1-1 Masterclass to a dozen (but usually kept to half) in a workshop. An irrelevant fraction of what is considered a gathering. But the reality is you only need 1 person with the virus to put everyone at risk.
And let’s talk logistics… what if I’m abroad and someone in the hotel gets sick (so it ends up quarantined). Or the airline suddenly suspends the route back. Or the entire country goes into lockdown? What if all the hospitals in the country we are visiting are full, and locals are already queuing for a bed?
Then of course, there’s always the chance I could get sick myself. And with so many people being asymptomatic healthy carriers, can I confidently say I’m not carrying the coronavirus already? I can’t cope with the idea of spreading it to anyone. Yes, I’m already isolating and distancing as much as I possibly can.
I’m not the only one. Companies have also started closing their offices, sending people to work from the safety of their homes. Again, the sensible thing to do: in this day and age, a lot can be achieved with remote work.
Some commercial work can still be done, but a lot is already on hold, waiting for further notice from the government or to see when the return to normality can be forecasted. Suppliers see delays, so their product launches are postponed. I heard the same kind of stories from other photographers in my area.
And it’s still early days in the UK (it’s a common sentiment anyway).
It all feels so uncertain and scary.
I mentioned initially that I took some time to consider the possibilities here. I believe the most sensible thing to do is cancel all the engagements that imply meeting with others in person.
It’s all cancelled until May, possibly June. Again, everything changes rapidly in this coronavirus outbreak. But the official end of the lockdown in Italy is in early April. And with other countries possibly following it does seem a realistic date.
Every situation is different, and the UK government is still not recommending avoiding gatherings. But feeling the potential of putting people at risk, I’m taking the matter into my own hands, and I decide to do all I can to avoid it. Cancelling a few events is not a big deal, it’s one simple thing I can do to prevent spreading the virus any further.
In the short term, I know my business will be hit. But my long-term goal is to see you all safe and sound somewhere around the world. And if this can help so be it.
And I know other photographers/travellers feel the same way. My celebrity friend Elia Locardi wrote a very similar post yesterday.
The online side of business
No, I’m not talking about social media. In fact, I’ve been particularly silent lately on Instagram and other platforms.
Cancelling my public events will give me the opportunity to focus on other aspects of my business. And to finally improve my online presence. I’m talking more about digital rather than physical products (the coronavirus delays still apply) but something will definitely happen.
In fact, I’m launching my new 1-1 Online Sessions now, where I’ll help other photographers and designers via conference call.
So, stay tuned. But, most importantly…
Dear Fabien. Thank you for being empathetic. I would like to share with you my current situation: I want to cancel my attendance to a workshop (in Prague in June) due to the recent risks, which I’d paid in advance. The workshop host (based in the U.S.) won’t refund (unless they decide to cancel it altogether). Do you think this is fair? What would you recommend that I do?
Yesim, hello and nice to meet you. I hope you are doing well despite the tough times.
I think yours is a difficult question. I assume your host has clear information about the refund policy and I’m afraid that it’s what you need to refer to, regardless of the current situation. I can’t imagine anyone, including myself, has a “pandemic clause” in their terms and we’re all reacting in different ways because it’s uncharted territory for everyone. As you read in my post, I’ve taken the decision to cancel everything to avoid these situations but it was up to me to do so, it wasn’t a rule. Whether we agree or not, I’m afraid it’s still up to your host to decide what to do. And if by the time you will have the workshop, a flight from your country and the US to Prague will be available, your host could decide that the workshop goes on anyway. Maybe together you can find a compromise, half and half, I don’t know. Myself I would have been more flexible, but I’m not in their shoes and I can’t say my decision would be the right one.
But a pandemic is legally referred as a “force majeure” so maybe you have legal means to appeal, although I have never seen this been applied to a workshop. But I had never seen such pandemic either, so…
It’s really complex and I’m sorry you are finding yourself in this situation. I’m not in a position to tell you what is the right thing to do because, like I said, it’s all new. But I hope you will find a solution.