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Victorian photography opens up

Many Victorian professional photographers, including in Melbourne, are heading back to work as the state finally eases restrictions after enduring one of the world’s longest strict Covid lockdowns.

Victorian studio photography is set to light back up.

Photo retailers and other photo industry businesses will also have re-opened their doors from late October.

Victorian schools photographers will be working around the clock to photograph an estimated 500,000 students around the state, with just a handful of weeks left in Term 4. While regional Victorian schools photographers have worked outdoors for the last two weeks, from the end of October  they may conduct indoor shoots, while Melbourne schools photographers are now allowed to set up outdoor shoots.

Dale and Stuart Wright operate GV School Photography, a small family-owned business servicing the greater Goulburn Valley region for over 25 years. Stuart said the work scheduled over the next month will provide the critical cash flow to stay afloat, and they plan to fit all their usual clients in.

‘We only started up again in the last two weeks, and we were excited to go back,’ Stuart told Inside Imaging. ‘Even the teachers and parents are so appreciative you’re there. Being local, you know half the teachers and parents, and have been photographing some of these students their entire lives.’

Prior to this, schools photography remained banned across the state, despite the extremely low case numbers in regional Victoria. Photographers were concerned this crucial – some may say essential – business would not receive a green light, causing a major hit to income and leaving a blank in the 2020 Victorian school records. A Change.org petition called on James Merlino, Victorian Minister for Education, to put schools photography back on the curriculum for Term 4. It attracted over 12,000 signatures.

Comments from the petition.

‘These are school records. In 10, 20 or 40 years time, where are there going to be images of those kids? Especially the students in year 6 and 12. To us, and a lot of schools, this is an essential business, but we weren’t classified that way. Schools need the photos for IDs, for the computers, records, graduations – we couldn’t understand it.

Fortunately, the lockdown and Covid scare has left many parents appreciating the value of school photos.

‘The packages this year are higher than usual. I think parents are looking at the packages, and realising with just $5 or $10 more, they have something to send their grandparents, or relatives who are overseas. It’s not like, “oh this is just school photo day, big deal”, they’ve realised these are important moments.’

Lorraine, Stuart, and Dale Wright.

The Wrights also shoot family portraiture, and this arm of the business continues to suffer. ‘Everybody is scared, and portrait photography has died. Even now, from when Shepparton had a Covid scare three weeks ago and everybody panicked.’ The Wrights are also concerned about the upcoming viability of Santa photos – the big man ain’t going to look great with his beard spilling out from a mask.

As with many other business owners, it has been a tricky and frustrating year. At one moment things are open, then they are closed; appointments are booked, then cancelled. Rules aren’t clear and then they change. At the beginning of Term 2, for instance, schools photography was given the green light for Term 3, starting from mid-July. On the eve of the term, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews delivered a crushing announcement that resulted in all bookings being indefinitely postponed.

‘Covid has been a nightmare. At one moment we’re booked in, then the booking is cancelled. I tell people now I got “Covid syndrome” – you don’t know if it’s going to go backwards or forwards or where you are now’.

Inside the Ring of Steel

The Wrights aren’t the only ones with Covid syndrome. Melbourne commercial photographer, Lauren Bramford, has no plans to celebrate just yet. ‘We’ve been scarred with the failure of the last re-opening, so I don’t want to get my hopes up, or consider anything a victory just yet,’ she told Inside Imaging. ‘For now, I just plan on doing all the client work that has been waiting for months! Need to make an income finally.’

As of Wednesday, October 28, commercial photography appears to be permitted in Melbourne once again, including indoor shoots, provided businesses have a CovidSafe plan.

Last month Lauren launched a Change.org petition on behalf of Melbourne commercial photographers, and had 250 local photographers volunteer to have their names added to the petition, calling for the Victorian government to safely re-open the industry. She explains how commercial photographers experienced a similar on-again-off-again routine throughout the year.

‘Our entire industry has been unable to work since the Stage 4 business restrictions were enforced on Wednesday 5th August, 2020,’ the petition states. ‘We complied and looked forward to the easing of restrictions that had been planned for September 14th, 2020. When that date was scrapped, it created yet more confusion and anxiety, as shoots were cancelled, rescheduled, and in many cases – sent interstate to be shot by teams in Sydney.’

The petition called for a re-opening on October 19, a date which passed with no significant change. Even a week ago, Lauren shared a correspondence with the Victorian Government, which stated that photographers may not work alone at their studio, and may only attend for ‘collection of materials’.

With restrictions easing this week, and the ‘Ring of Steel’ being lifted from November 8, there is plenty to look forward to in Victoria, but considering how this year’s played out it’s reasonable to keep the champagne on ice for a little while longer.

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