Talk about a perfect storm. The pandemic has hit many professional photography businesses really hard, but it has been particularly difficult for travel photographers and travel photography course leaders, who rely on being able to reach distant locations quickly and easily.
Even after the first lockdown ended last year, and things were looking reasonably optimistic, many photogenic countries, such as Vietnam, were still closed to most foreign visitors. Now the situation is even worse, with travel bans and quarantines being imposed all over the world as the threat of Covid variants rises.
To find how one UK-based travel photographer has been coping, we caught up with Steve Davey, a regular contributor to AP, published author and well-established travel photography workshop leader.
How you have been surviving during the first lockdowns, and now the current one?
Essentially, except for a couple of commercial jobs in London before the November lockdown, all of my work has virtually completely dried up. My work usually consists of travel work, commercial and events work, shooting and writing features for editorial clients and books and also leading photography tours and courses.
Rather than surviving lockdown, I guess I have been enduring it. We moved from South London to the wilds of Somerset a couple of years ago, which is looking like a very good decision.
Did you manage to do any overseas trips or workshops at all last year?
I was actually leading a tour to the colourful and chaotic Indian festival of Holi when the Covid pandemic blew up! At one point I even had to consider whether we should abort the tour and head home.
I was hearing about shortages of toilet roll whilst I was in crowds of tens of thousands of happy revellers, most of whom wanted to throw coloured paint over me. It felt very strange, and looking back at those photographs I can’t but wonder when the world will be such a wonderfully open and welcoming place again.
Since then, I have had to cancel one tour, and postpone two others, to Namibia and India, for a year. These are now due to happen at the end of this year, although I am unsure at the moment whether they will be able to go ahead – especially in light of the so-called South African variant of the disease.
With the current border closures, we presume you are unable to plan any trips or workshops for the foreseeable future?
As a working photographer, and press card carrier I am actually on the list of people who could leave the country, although the looming threat of hotel quarantine would certainly mean that I am unlikely to accept overseas work for a while.
It would be bad enough being overseas and facing the unexpected imposition of self-isolation before your return; facing the unexpected imposition of expensive solitary confinement would be too great a risk to take.
Obviously, all tours for last year were postponed, and although at the end of last year I was quite optimistic for this year, the emergence of these new variants of Covid has made me considerably more gloomy about being able to get away anywhere this year.
Are you doing online activity as a way of keeping in touch with your customers and keep your profile up?
I have carried on sending out occasional emails, but as I have little to actually market at the moment, these have been few and far between. I am trying to bounce back though and am poised to launch a series of tours for 2022. People are desperate to travel again and I want to have things in place for when we are able to do so again.
I have been doing a bunch of online mentoring, which has proved quite popular, and am in the process of researching a series of UK-based courses, as I think that travel and interactions within the country will be a lot more possible than international travel this year.
Have you been trying out any other photographic genres?
As a part of setting up more UK courses, I have been exploring and travelling around the South West, photographing in more landscape genres. This has been a fairly major departure for me and I have enjoyed the challenge, and also getting to explore the area that I have recently moved to.
I have plans to create a third edition of my travel photography book, expanding it to include more UK location photography to showcase a lot of the skills I have developed and the images I have shot during the various lockdowns.
Are you getting government support?
I have been lucky enough to get the government self-employed support, although when you work out the actual percentage (bearing in mind there were a few months in the Summer when I couldn’t work, but the scheme was suspended) it is something like two thirds of average profits. This has obviously been a serious financial hardship.
What impact do you think Covid 19 will have on travel photography long term?
I am trying to use this extra time as a chance to get through my massive backlog of image editing and captioning. While I doing this, I am struck by the incredibly warm and empathetic welcome that I have received in many remote corners of the globe. This is one of the things that I fear might have changed the most.
People may well be very suspicious and hostile to outsiders, once we are all able to travel again. My fear is that the golden age of travel that we have enjoyed for so long might not be enjoyed again for some time.
Travel forms a vital cultural and economic exchange, and many poorer parts of the world rely on the micro-finance that travel brings to their communities. I am in touch with a number of people involved in the travel industry in various parts of the world, and they are both suffering from the health effects of the pandemic, as well as the financial effects of the closing of borders.
I think that there is a massive demand amongst inveterate travellers to be able to hit the road again, and I am planning for it with new tours and destinations for next year. I think that there is a moral imperative to getting the travel industry back up again, but also to doing it in such a way as to avoid making the situation worse in the rest of the world.
As such I am insisting that anyone who travels with me in future must be vaccinated against Covid, to minimise the chances that the regions we visit will be infected by any tours that I run.
I do believe that this will become more generally required – in the same way that some countries currently require certification of Yellow Fever vaccination – but I am pre-empting this, in part to protect vulnerable people that we encounter on any trip, but also for anyone who is vulnerable on the tour, and might not be able to be vaccinated for genuine medical reasons.
Once this currently lockdown is over, I am hoping to be able to launch a series of photography courses in the West Country, and then once travel is more open, resume overseas tours as soon as possible.