Work, Re‑cultured: A Photojournalist Teaches Online Classes to Keep Working
In Work, Re-cultured, The Swaddle brings you a snapshot of what work-from-home culture looks like for Indian professionals across industries. In this installment, a 28-year-old photojournalist, A.J.
I have been a freelance photojournalist for six years. It’s not difficult to guess that my work is entirely in the field. In non-Covid times, I would get at least four assignments per week, and on the other days, I’d shoot my own photographs and pitch them to different publications.
I’ve never felt the need to apply for a full-time role, because freelance assignments were floating my boat and paying my bills. I live alone in Mumbai, and so far, I’ve not needed any help from my parents in paying the rent or for other expenses.
I’m a lot into technology, gadgets and accessories for the camera, such as different types of lenses. So most of what I made has gone into buying these things. Hence, I don’t have a lot of savings.
Therefore, the last four months have been extremely difficult for me, and I’m sure for people in my field. Work has dried up amid this pandemic. Publications have cut down on their freelance budgets, so I’m not getting too many stories to work on.
Unlike other professions, my work isn’t about Zoom calls or teleconferencing. Because I’m not in a permanent role, I have no office meetings to attend or bosses to send updates to. Earlier, I’d be out of the house for at least 12 hours, changing trains, hopping from one part of the city to another on assignment, six days a week. For the first three months of the lockdown, I couldn’t establish a routine. I’d wake up at different times, dig out my old photographs and put them up on Instagram to keep it active. I also went back to a few wedding shoots I did, edited them and sent them to clients. That got me some money to pay rent for two months.
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Finally, I got assigned a big project. It was to shoot the state of municipal hospitals in Mumbai. I did that but ended up testing positive for Covid19. Luckily, I had to quarantine at home, and I was fine within a few weeks. Soon after I started feeling better, I began making portraits of people on an iPhone, while video conferencing them. This wasn’t for any monetary benefit but just to create something new. You know there was a lot of pressure on us ‘creative’ people to also keep creating. I shot a lot of photo stories of everyday objects and posted them on social media, but it was stressful after a while. On some days, I just lay down, curled up with a book, without the phone or the camera next to me all day.
When I felt like I was getting too lazy, I thought of giving classes for basic photography skills for children 15 years and up for a fee. Online classes aren’t fun at all. I would want to be in front of students to show them different parts of the camera, accompany them to different locations as they shoot, help them set up angles, but I’m helpless now. Everything has to be on screen and my teaching has to be crafted accordingly. I’m not sure how much students are learning but nobody’s dropped out yet which I’m guessing is a good sign.
As told to Anubhuti Matta.