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AIPP calls for Victorian face mask exemption

The Victorian AIPP Council is campaigning for the State Government to provide portrait photography subjects an exemption to mandatory face mask laws, to ensure photographers may resume work when lockdown restrictions are eased.

Melbourne’s Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions could ease on October 26, allowing many businesses to re-open including some professional photographers. However, it’s currently mandatory for all Victorians to wear a face mask in public, including in regional Victoria where restrictions have eased and the 14-day average case number sits at 0.3 as of October 1. So it’s a safe bet that Melbourne residents will be required to wear a fitted mask after restrictions are eased – a real problem when you’re in the business of photographing people’s faces.

Victorian AIPP Council president, Emily Black, launched a Change.org petition, which has garnered over 5000 signatures supporting the call for the Victorian State Government to provide a face mask exemption for portrait photography subjects.

‘Currently our industry may be able to return to work as soon as October 26 within metropolitan Melbourne, however this is irrelevant if masks must be worn by those being photographed or filmed, effectively blocking out an entire profession from returning to the local, metropolitan, and state economy. Given that many are sole traders, it adds to their frustration that image makers in other states are able to resume businesses, safely, specifically in the aforementioned genres.

There must be an exemption from the mandatory mask wearing rule while actively being photographed or filmed by a professional. This is essential if our professions are to survive into the future. It is important that our clients are not robbed of memories from this time. The current rules do not take such matters into account, especially when we believe can operate safely.’

Work has been ‘sporadic, uncertain, and confusing’ for Emily and other Melbourne-based portrait photographers, she tells Inside Imaging. While Stage 4 restrictions officially classified photography as ‘non-essential’, when Melbourne moves to the next step of re-opening the classification may again be unclear.

‘Many photographers are in a position to be able to work outdoors for their sessions with families or children, in fact many choose to regularly. While others do primarily work in a studio space they are able to easily adhere to the social distancing measures,’ Emily said. ‘Unfortunately the most common grey area, specifically in stage three restrictions was which category of work we as a profession fell under, which implicated the information we could relay to clients.

‘Could they come to our studio? No, because we were not one of the four reasons to leave home. Could we work from our studio? Yes, because at the time we were deemed (at times) as ‘essential’ because we were working, and working was essential, we could be classified under retail to some degree, though only in certain genres. Could we travel to clients’ homes? No, because we are not family, or able to work in that capacity.’

From the outset the Coronavirus rules have been difficult to interpret, and this has led to reports of police revoking fines and all sorts of other drama caught on video. Back when regional Victoria’s restrictions were tougher, Bright-based landscape photographer Mieke Boynton informed Inside Imaging that Business Victoria confirmed she could travel to capture landscape photos. Landscape photography was deemed essential work, provided Mieke adhered to strict Covid guidelines. But this wouldn’t have been clear by reading the various online resources relating to working in regional Victoria at the time.

The rules are clear for major sectors like retail, hospitality, real estate and construction. Somewhere way down the line is professional photography. So it’s no surprise the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, hasn’t come around to addressing image makers during his daily press conference.

The AIPP’s petition, ‘created to gain a united voice’ for photographers and videographers, impressively hit its initial goal of 5000 signatures in just over a week. This proves there’s serious interest in the continued viability of professional portrait photography in Melbourne.

‘The petition has gained a good number of signatures which does help in uniting our voice across the state, it also highlights the importance people place on photography, maybe it was not until it was not easily accessible that people really understood how valuable it is,’ she said. ‘So many people have missed major milestones being professionally photographed, and the thought of still missing out because of a mask is adding salt to the wound.’

The AIPP is also hoping to draft a handbook similar to COVID-Safe Guidlines by Screen Australia, a federal government agency tasked with supporting film makers, which was published in consultation with the Department of Health. The document lays the groundwork for screen producers to minimise transmission risks of Covid.

‘Photographers would be able to work under the same or similar guidelines with risk assessments and Covid Safe Plans for individual businesses. While we in Victoria are in a unique position from the rest of Australia, the Victorian AIPP Council has been spearheading the support and awareness (campaign) surrounding rules, and what is allowed and how to gain answers for our members and the profession as a whole. These are definitely unprecedented times and as a council and representative body with the AIPP we are committed to helping petition for image makers, many who are sole traders, return to work safely and effectively.’

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