An in-demand UK wedding photography and videography company that went bust has left ‘hundreds’ of clients out of pocket and desperately seeking solutions, while sub-contracted workers remain unpaid and scrambling to help.
South West Photo and Film (SWPF, formerly known as Lee Brewer Photography) declared bankruptcy on July 27, 2022, claiming the pandemic brought about hardships that sunk the business.
‘We have tried so hard the last couple of years to survive the COVID-19 pandemic,’ Brewer’s e-mail automated response to clients read. ‘The financial implications have proven too much for us to get over. Unfortunately, I have been left with no choice but to cease trading and declare bankruptcy as of today, July 27. An official receiver will be in touch with further information.’
A wedding photography business shutting up shop isn’t ordinarily a big deal, even via bankruptcy. Between the generally challenging nature of wedding photography, compounded by a pandemic that brought the profession to its knees, another business falling by the way side is no reason to stop the presses.
But SWPF wasn’t no ordinary business, with the scale of the impact emerging after Brewer declared bankruptcy.
Newsweek states certain reports suggest as many as 800 clients across the UK are impacted by the closure of SWPF. While this gargantuan figure seems unbelievable, especially given Newsweek didn’t cite or presumably verify the source, in just over a week more than 1800 Facebook users joined a group set up to connect Brewer’s clients with new photographers.
‘We had our wedding with him Friday, and Monday he emailed asking for [an additional] £125 to do a “speedy edit” and get our photos back within two weeks,’ said client Hannah Veale. ‘[And on] Wednesday he declares him self bankrupt!
Around 200 posts appear on the Facebook group, which is only permitting affected couples to publish posts seeking a new photographer or videographer. Since the group’s goal is to match clients with a new photographer or videographer, many of the 1800 members include wedding vendors, as well as people just having a sticky beak.
But a scroll through the page shows a gob-smacking number of Brewer’s clients with a similar stories. Some couples have wedding scheduled in less than a month, while some folks are paid over £1000 for a wedding next year.
It’s pretty devastating and hopeless.
‘We have our wedding in four weeks, spoke to him the other week because he was doing his routine call to confirm and take the balance of £1200,’ wrote client, Kim Morgan. ‘Which obviously we paid because it seemed normal to collect payment this close to the wedding and I always looked on his Facebook page because he was always uploading recent weddings, everything seemed legit, and I actually loved looking at how videos and photos, getting excited, actually really loving ‘his work'”. We now have no photographer or videographer.
‘It’s lovely that so many people are recommending people but what do we do if we actually don’t have any money left. With our wedding so close, we have nothing left and we can’t save again because it’s such a short time – we all have house bills to pay, kids to feed, etc – you take a long time to save for a wedding.
‘He knew what he was doing and I feel so stupid. He kept putting “offers” on his page for final payment. He’s planned this for a long time. I know how every single one of you are feeling right now, it’s sickening. Photography is one of the top things to pay for at a wedding. It’s not even like he was cheap, which would of made you question [the legitimacy of the business].’
Although some clients shared stories about successfully organising last-minute photographers and videographers, some even 48 hours before tying the knot.
How did it go so wrong?
It’s surprising that Brewer, with so many paid-up clients, has run his business into the ground. Generally speaking, businesses go broke when they don’t have enough clients, and not the other way around. While Covid may have partly contributed, apparently mismanagement and poor business acumen brought Brewer’s company to its knees.
Videographer, Sam Richardson, who was among many sub-contractors working for SWPF, told Petapixel the business was ‘in over its head’ with massive expenditure on advertising, salaries, and equipment.
”The scale he was trying to run it and what they were trying to pay for were big. I didn’t think the price was high enough to pay for the costs,’ explains Richardson. ‘From what I understand, it got to the point where people were paying in full for next year and that money was going immediately to pay for the equipment and overheads for the here and now.’
Richardson told the BBC the alarm bells started to ring six weeks ago when payments slowed for ‘all the shooters, where the overdue invoices were building up in the thousands’.
He’s states the bankruptcy has ‘affected me massively’, and is ‘picking up the pieces and working with the rest of the team trying to help as many couples as possible to retrieve photos or videos and make new bookings’.
‘For my part, I’ve just been trying to get the videos I’ve shot for couples to them and the arrangement we make is “pay what you can” because I’m out of pocket and they don’t want to pay twice,’ Richardson said. ‘I’m taking on new bookings for this year and next year for affected couples matching the price they had agreed previously.’
In a now-deleted Facebook post, Brewer promised to send all clients whose wedding he shot in the last three months fully edited photos.
‘I will also be contacting clients whose weddings our associate photographers and videographers have captured. I have set up automated responses on all our email accounts to update you with our present situation. This isn’t a cowardly act as you all probably think and I’m not hiding but I simply can’t cope with the vast amount of people trying to contact me.
I have spent years trying to build this business and now lost everything.
In hindsight I should have admitted defeat during the pandemic but being one not to quit I kept trying to fight, rebuild and grow, with having to refund over £200,000 in the last two years because of the financial burden following the pandemic my business has failed as the result.
I completely get it people have lost their money and are severely angry but I absolutely had no other option.’