Socially-distanced smiles for the camera

Features

STAYING FOCUSED Photographer Jessica Priddy has had to totally transform her business during during Covid-19.


Áine Ryan

SHE is a ‘social photographer’ and as she says herself ‘the clue is in the name’. About two-thirds of Jessica Priddy’s genre of photography involves people gathering together. Not exactly easy during a pandemic with varying levels of restrictions. Moreover, the gallery and shop, The Photo Hub, she also runs at Westport Quay with land and seascape photographer Kerstin Hellmann has also been a victim of Covid-19’s ‘new normal’.
But back to basics: taking photographs.
“The pandemic has massively impacted on my side of our enterprise. Up to now about two thirds of my business involves social gatherings: the very thing people have been unable to do. Weddings, christenings, reunions, family parties, corporate events. It is all just gone.
“During the months when The Hub was open I was able to do portrait shoots but these felt very different as well. The studio is a room with no windows where social distancing is possible but not always easy – especially when working with and trying to engage young children,” she tells The Mayo News.
Being proactive, however, one of Jessica’s first adaptations was to purchase a large air purifier for the studio.
“It was good to be able to say to clients that the air was being purified and recycled cleanly every 15 minutes, especially as although I always wear my mask, obviously those having their photo taken cannot,” she says.
Ironically, there have also been positives for the business over the last year with the move towards remote working for many people providing some dividends.
“From studio head-shots or people wanting to showcase their remote working environment or their products, there have been lots of commissions from businesses moving online.”
Unsurprisingly, she also promotes outdoor shoots whenever feasible.
“Although with our unreliable weather this proved quite tricky and could only really work where people could be flexible on the date and the time of day we did the shoot, as we worked around the elements,” she continues.
Where wedding photography was concerned, Priddy learned quickly to innovate about ‘personal space’.
“On wedding photography, with such small numbers allowed, if any at all, I realised that the conventional packages weren’t always going to fit. So although I’ve always been happy to offer quotes for weddings that didn’t fit the ‘norm’, it was important to promote this and let people know that even if their day had been condensed they could still have great photos to remember it by without all the bells and whistles,” Jessica says.
Of course, the logistics of social distancing for photographs are obviously not simple.
“A photographer’s instinct is to get people in as close together as possible for a photo, so it is a whole new way of working taking shots with big spaces between people. Being aware of not making anyone feel uncomfortable by asking them to stand next to someone else has become important. It’s a whole different dialogue that I’m having with people. I try to take their lead as to how happy and comfortable they are, for example, while I’m working with groups of more than one household,” she explains.
“Although the majority of my bookings have been postponed, a few couples decided to go ahead over the last year when restrictions allowed. I actually photographed one wedding last August, which had 70 guests. At the time this seemed like such a small wedding, how times have changed. This last weekend I photographed my first wedding of 2021 and there were six people there.”

Screens and systems
MEANWHILE, during those periods when the Photo Hub was allowed to be opened under the non-essential retail category, there were lots of health and safety additions made.
“At The Hub myself and Kerstin installed screens, made a one-way system around the gallery, with multiple hand gels and reminders about social distancing around the place too,” adds Jessica.
With last year’s footfall the highest since they opened their shop and gallery at Westport Quay in 2015, they are already preparing for a busy summer season and hoping to re-open in mid-May.
“The whole Westport area seemed to be extremely busy with staycationers from various parts of the country, and although fewer than normal we were surprised that there were still international visitors as well. Let’s look forward to the hotels and B&Bs being full this summer,” she adds.