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Waiting out COVID 19

Shanghai-based photographer, Dave Tacon, is one of the Australian ex-pats who chose to stay in mainland China and bunker down during the Coronavirus (COVID 19) outbreak.

When the coronavirus situation worsened, face masks sold out overnight in Shanghai. Source: Dave Tacon/Daily Mail.

The Australian has lived in Shanghai since 2012, working as a commercial photographer and videographer. He was attracted to the city’s incredible buzz; ‘it felt like the centre of the world – especially during my first visit in 2010 for the Shanghai Expo,’ he told Inside Imaging.

Since January the atmosphere has changed. It’s eerily quiet, with far fewer people crowding the ordinarily bustling Shanghai streets. Precautions from individuals and businesses has also resulted in work across China to dry up.

But life, as they say, goes on – despite uncertainty surrounding the severity of the epidemic. Although it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, the extraordinary event makes it a unique moment to be a photojournalist or street photographer in Shanghai.

February 2, 2020, Shanghai, China – A couple wearing protective masks walk along the unusually deserted pedestrian mall on East Nanjing Road as people stay indoors to avoid contagion from the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Dave Tacon.

Inside Imaging shot a few questions over to Dave. They are as clear and succinct, so instead of a re-write, here they are in full:

What’s the professional photography community like in China compared with Australia?
There’s quite a few foreign photographers in Shanghai with a handful of Australians in the mix. The leading commercial studio here, Central Studios, is owned and run by Rodney Evans, from Sydney. He’s been here longer than me.

Is there a sector or industry which you predominantly serve as a commercial photographer? What’s the primary marketing channel?
I shoot a mixture of editorial, corporate and video work. The corporate stuff has mainly been for luxury hotel brands over the last few years. I also shoot luxury events here either for Women’s Wear Daily or sometimes directly for brands.

The only Chinese social media I use is WeChat, which is a bit like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, but also a cashless payment system. There are a few different WeChat professional photography groups. I’m the admin of one, which has 210 members. Most of them are foreigners. It’s a bit like the old ACMP Yahoo group, if anyone can remember back that far. It was a great resource back when I was starting out.

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Have attitudes changed from when the coronavirus outbreak began in late December until now, both among the public and government?
The Coronavirus situation really came onto people’s radar when they put Wuhan under quarantine. That’s when all the stocks of masks and hand sanitiser basically sold out overnight. Things seemed to get more serious during the Chinese New Year holidays.

During that time I travelled down to China’s border with Vietnam for a project. I wasn’t able to enter many of the villages, and some border towns were shutting themselves out to anyone not from there. All their restaurants and hotels were being temporarily closed down. I returned to Shanghai instead of taking a break in Vietnam.

Now some residential compounds enforce a quarantine of 13 days, although it varies from compound to compound. A lot of the measures are kind of pointless, like constantly taking people’s temperature with pistol shaped electronic thermometers. Even wearing a surgical mask outdoors isn’t much of a protection, but it communicates that you’re taking things seriously.

January 28, 2019, Ningming, China – A female customer laughs as her temperature is taken at the entrance to a Xingxiyang supermarket as a precaution to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. Ningming, a county of more than 400,000 in Guangxi Province, borders Vietnam. Photo: Dave Tacon.

How many jobs or cancellations have you had this year? Have you travelled at all for work or is this not possible?
January was extremely quiet and I actually didn’t shoot a single job, so set about finding some more clients. I did have a few meetings prior to the Chinese New Year, but everything is on hold so I’ve been unable to really follow up on these. Even Shanghai Fashion Week has been postponed, which is usually something I’ll pick up a few jobs from.

I’ve been filing daily life stuff to my agency in the US [Polaris Images] and they seem to be making a few sales with partner agencies. It gives me something to do and the situation here has made street photography more interesting. Over the past few weeks since I returned to Shanghai I also wrote a couple of things for SBS and The Independent, shot a little job for the AFR, flew down to Guangdong Province to shoot a portrait for German magazine Stern and I’m in discussions about flying out to Bangkok to shoot a boutique hotel, so it’s not a total drought.

Pretty much any commercial work within China has been cancelled or put on hold though.

So generally the public are staying in doors, with fewer shops are open, etc. What else is happening – are people free to travel?
The government has stated that anyone who has returned from outside the city should quarantine themselves for 13 days. People are supposedly free to travel if they can find a place that hasn’t temporarily severed their air links with China. Technically, I’m out of the 13 day quarantine phase come this Friday. This is another headache about travelling outside China for work. I’m supposed to be on lock down for two weeks after I return.

I’d take a guess this is a new experience – being nearby a containment zone due to a virus that has the whole world watching. Do you have any idea on how long this will go for?
I think the situation will ease off with the warmer weather. The best case scenario I can envision is that things will be getting back to normal by the beginning of March. Once things do settle, I think there will be a sudden rush of work.

– Dave has been regularly publishing on his blog, which is a recommended read. Check it out here.

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