Menu

Snapshot: Photographers Forced To Reinvent Themselves Amid The Pandemic

In lockdown, artists struggle to survive and express creativity.

After more than a decade of working as a professional photographer, Ricardo Urbina had to make drastic changes in the pandemic.

Like many other service providers, he saw his profits reduced by 80 percent. Urbina lives in Veracruz, Mexico, which has more than 50,000 COVID-19 reported cases.

“I was sad, frustrated and disappointed,” he said. “I would lock myself in my room. I didn’t want to know anything. I was used to a way of life because I could afford it. But suddenly, my earnings decreased to 20 percent of what they were. I have a family … I had a challenging time trying not to worry them.”

Although COVID-19 made headlines worldwide in January 2020, Mexico acknowledged its first case at the end of February. The lockdown began in March, and many remain in quarantine.

As in many countries, commercial premises have closed, impacting the economy of professionals such as Urbina. Many offer discounts of up to 60 percent in a hectic race to make a living for their family.

Richard Urbina takes a selfie, wearing his mask, a few minutes before a photo session in the archeological zone of La Antigua, Veracruz. *** Richard Urbina se toma una ‘selfie’ con el cubrebocas puesto minutos previos a una sesión fotográfica en una zona arqueológica en La Antigua, Veracruz. (Photo courtesy of Richard Urbina)

“Some people have told me ‘work in something else.’ It’s sad to hear that when you don’t have the financial means to change your direction, and you’ve already started a whole path, a career,” he said.

The Mexican government has been firm in forbidding massive celebrations, including weddings, baptisms and quinceañeras, just the photographic market that Urbina targets.

The coronavirus pandemic also brought unfair competition in the industry, forcing Urbina to search for new market niches through direct sales on social media.

“I’ve coped by doing the normal photo sessions with discounts and selling other products that have nothing to do with my photography work,” he said. “I sell products to lose weight and sanitizing mats.”

Alejandra Zamudio Ferrao lives a similar existence. A professional photographer, workshop teacher and winner of the Veracruz Biennial of Arts, Zamudio Ferrao directs the Latente photographic studio, which had to close as the pandemic hit Mexico.

Her studio is closed, but the rent, power, water and other utility bills continue to arrive on time. “It will be almost a year of closure. I had to suspend the scheduled activities and the scheduled guests,” said Zamudio Ferrao.

She also had to reinvent herself.

“We continue with virtual activities. There are people interested in learning basic photography or in analog photography. I offer them personalized workshops. I also provide long-distance consultancies,” she said.

Latente is one of the few spaces dedicated to the genre in the Mexican southeast. Its closure is a big blow to those interested in photography. Latente is where the public could get acquainted with the work of renowned international photographers.

In 2014, Alejandra Zamudio Ferrao won the Second Biennial Veracruz award for 3-D art. Now, the pandemic has put everything on hold. *** En 2014, Alejandra Zamudio Ferrao ganó la 2a. Bienal de Arte de Veracruz en formato tridimensional. Ahora, la pandemia ha pospuesto todo. (Photo courtesy of Alejandra Zamudio Ferrao)

For Zamudio Ferrao, the saddest thing is not knowing when she can have a total reopening. Faced with uncertainty, artists dedicate themselves to other activities.

“The whole guild had to look for alternatives to continue working and providing for our families and basic needs,” she said. These are only two cases of the millions of impacted artists in Mexico. Fear is a familiar feeling.

“There is a lot of uncertainty regarding contagion, although we are following all the measures recommended by the government. But it is something that is completely out of control,” she said.

“By itself, running a cultural venue dedicated to photography was like swimming against the sea. Right now, a gale is hitting us, and we have to keep going. I cannot say that we are going backward, but supporting ourselves has been challenging,” Zamudio Ferrao said.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel.)