Artists, photographers, and creatives share how they’re dealing and evolving with this moment of crisis and what others can do to help them
In these uncertain times, much of our audience is in their own personal, precarious situations. Though it might feel like the world is getting more insular in lockdown, it's an opportunity for us to uplift and support people at their most vulnerable. Whether it's contributing financially if you have the means, sharing work online, or just tuning into a live stream for human contact. We reached out to artists, photographers, and creatives to share pieces of advice on how they’re dealing with the ongoing crisis, and what others can do to help them.
Staying in touch at this moment shouldn’t stop simply because we can’t be with each other. Drop someone a text or make a phone call. Maybe now is a great time to get to know someone better that you already connect with. Or join one of the many online party and streaming platforms which are exponentially popping up to help us feel less alone and make a new friend.
With this pause on daily life as we know it, London-based photographer Vivek Vadoliya says he’s trying to see the silver lining. “It’s weird to say, but connecting with new people hasn’t stopped,” he writes over email. “I had a beautiful conversation with a photographer that I’ve never met over FaceTime and also connected with another filmmaker in Kashmir who told me about everything going down there. We’re all in it together and I don’t think we should stop being curious and working and meeting new people. It’s also made me realise that I don't call the people around me enough, something I need to do more of when this all settles.”
GET TO WORK ON A PERSONAL PROJECT
London-based photographer Rosie Matheson – whose Boys was a beautiful time-capsule of contemporary masculinity – is using this time to focus on the personal projects she’s been overlooking. “I’ve been trying to finish working on a zine since last summer, but myself and the designer, Oli East, always have other work come up which we need to prioritise,” she says. Having been off work since last Thursday, Matheson says they’re already made great headway. “We’ve put together a new design plan and mood board, ready to get it finished over the next month or so. It’s important for me to keep busy and my brain focussed otherwise I will lose my mind!”
If you don’t have a passion project at the ready then use this time to help yourself to find one. “I will be watching lots of photography documentaries to get inspired by my favourite photographers – something I used to spend so much time doing,” Matheson reveals. “I am also going to be using my time to research for my next personal project (and) to hopefully shoot later this year.” If harnassed in the right ways, what seems like a disconcerting amount of spare time can actually be extremely fruitful – which Matheson plans to play to her advantage. “It can take photographers months, even years, to fully research a project. So to now have this time at home, I can finally get deep into it,” she says. “I think having something to plan ahead on can help you feel optimistic and maintain a feeling of work and motivation. It’s also nice to have something you are working towards and looking forward to.”
She’s also aware that it’s now (or likely never) to get to all the admin bits done that you never want to do. “I don’t know about other artists/photographers but I have a huge amount of archiving to do (of my negatives particularly), and it’s a job that over the last six months has grown enormously and it’s got a bit out of hand. So being able to manage this and get it organised will help me in the long run and when we are out the other side of this madness!”
SHOW LOVE DIGITALLY
If you are putting yourself out into the world creatively, then a little validation from others can go a long way. Without physically being able to interact with one another in person, showing love could be as easy as a quick double-tap on a post, a follow, or a DM telling someone you appreciate what they’re making and doing. Spread the digital support and spend a little extra time showing your online adoration of people in a time when we can’t actually experience it IRL.
“Feed the algorithm”, advises photographer Rosanna Jones, “share, comment, etc, on the work you like.” Fellow photographer Jono White echoes this sentiment. “Big up artists on social media. A little love goes a long way. A like or follow can feel validating.”
APPLY FOR FUNDING AND GRANTS
When Ione Gamble launched Polyester zine in 2014, she brought together a community which was led by the fantastic John Waters’ quote: “Have faith in your own bad taste”. Since the debut of issue 1, the founder, editor, and writer has regularly published Polyester, hosted events, panels, collaborated with brands, friends, and icons, and generally held down her status as a boss.
As a self-published and self-funded zine which has flourished in what has proved to be an uncertain era for the publishing industry, Gamble shares her tried and tested advice. “Try to form collectives with other creatives and band together on funding and grant applications,” she says. “Don't be afraid to reach out to artists who you have seen successfully complete grants and funding rounds and ask them for their advice.”
Without the security that a full-time job offers, freelancers are understandably feeling anxious. Facebook groups have been sprouting over the past week which Gamble says have been designed to help creatives and freelancers during this time. Alongside these DIY services that sees the community relying upon and serving itself, Gamble also suggests getting in touch with Arts Council England, which on Sunday announced emergency plans to help people working as artists, freelancers, and those in publicly funded cultural organisations.
#Covid19 emergency: Arts Council England’s No.1 Priority for the next three months is to support people who work in the arts, museums and libraries. We want as strong a sector as possible as we come out the other side of this crisis. THREAD 👇— Arts Council England (@ace_national) March 15, 2020
When applying for grants and funding, Gamble says it’s important to understand exactly what you want. “Often these applications will ask for you to pitch a specific project or grant idea, which will definitely have to be adapted to the fact we’re all going to spend a lot of time indoors. Make a priorities list; do you need cash, resources, or mentorship? As a lot of these opportunities will offer different things, it’s important to be clear about what you want to get out of the situation.”
“Honing in on your mission/personal statement is really important. These people may not have encountered your work before, so what do you want it to say about you right from the off? Get organised with budget sheets as they may ask you to propose a budget for the grant money. Think very deeply about the purpose of the work, who it is benefiting, what this institution would gain from supporting you. Definitely show the application to a trusted friend before sending. Often if you Google the name of the award/grant and successful applicants, a lot of past winners share their experience online and help guide you through the process.”
Her most valuable piece of advice is rooted in what she’s been practising for the past six years. “Band together with people and ask for help. We’re stronger collectively – and that applies to funding and grants too. If you have an idea, then perhaps put a call out and ask if anyone has experience applying for grants; I personally have done so and have had a really positive response.” Gamble adds that if you don’t think you know someone personally, turn to Google. “Look up specific arts institutions or governing bodies and see what they offer. Often the information might feel difficult to access, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s all there.”
MOVE YOUR ART FROM IRL TO URL
One of the few truly beautiful aspects of the internet is its infinite space. Not only has art found a home online for the past few decades, but with museums and galleries closed, there is no better time to push for more online exhibitions. “It can give opportunities to more galleries and project spaces to push a different type of vision,” says artist Alexander James, who also suggests creating online residencies where artists respond to the same brief or use the space as a place for brainstorming and thought-sharing.
“LOCKDOWN? LOG ON!” This is the new mantra of Leanne Elliott Young’s CommuneEast, a self-described ideas institute founded in 2015 which encourages digital exploration for ideas and execution.
Young wants to encourage artists to make use of the internet at a time when we are mostly living through our devices, and by that, she doesn’t mean constantly checking your news feeds. “Slide into DMs, spend this time researching and making, jump onto YouTube tutorials, and reach out to artists and makers in the digital arena and start collaborating,” Young suggests. “Thinking digitally and beyond IRL means a new mode of communication tools. It sounds overwhelming, but starting light and opening up a conversation for collaboration is a good start.”
A key piece of advice here, Young adds, is to remain realistic – small steps are better than none at all. “Let’s not suggest we are all going to exit our isolation booths as a 4D Blender pro or with a VR gallery show screening on Netflix, but it’s a good time to think differently – the unison between IRL and URL is here. Think about the weight of a digital image and the legs it has, this image is not static, it has the potential to move, amass an exponential rate of growth, form a digital legacy, and recontextualise our physical realities.”
“Diversify the digital space by helping to found new online artist-run spaces” – Lotte Andersen
Young also hopes that during this time the digital realm will open up opportunities for access and equality that our real-world has so far failed to do. “We have been championing and pushing the making of digital assets and builds, as they also drive an inclusive narrative, something which stands juxtaposed to the nepotism of the art world and the white privilege it has been built upon.”
“The sustainability positives for digital making should also be highlighted. As we are all aware, the creative industries are an active part of the climate crisis, with a constant glo-cal circle of herding, to art fairs, for fashion weeks, which are building and creating a worrying amount of single-use structures to house these events and activations. We can all pivot to the digital arena and you can boast zero waste.”
Echoing Young’s advice for collaboration, artist Lotte Andersen recommends banding together to skill-share. “You can help artists set up ongoing collaborative net-based art projects by contributing tech expertise, institutional links, research and writing skills,” she says. “Diversify the digital space by helping to found new online artist-run spaces.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RICH TO INVEST IN ART
Angel Lauren Garcia is a tattoo artist based in Brooklyn and Miami. As the Covid-19 pandemic halts artist opportunities and IRL practices, the ideal option would be to have as many people support artists by buying or commissioning artworks from them. However, for many people also facing potentially cash strapped futures, forking out money in a time like this doesn’t have to be as financially daunting as some of us might believe. “Some artists have small objects or dollar minimums that ensure that their time and costs are being covered,” writes Garcia over email. “Asking what their minimum is for services is an awesome way to get to know their practice/offerings and see what you’re able to afford.” But if money really is an issue, then Garcia advises thinking about what you can offer someone in return for what you want from them. “Trades can be really helpful when money becomes an issue. Trading a service for a service can alleviate the stress of spending or having money and can begin to create an environment of sustainable sharing that is long term.”
In terms of what she’s doing to adapt in this period of self-isolation, she adds: “I’m selling small items like drawings, merch, and stickers – some of which can be pre-ordered! Also designing flash that is unique but fits into my minimum. And finally collaborating with other artists to come up with alternative offerings that are mutually supportive and don’t necessarily require getting a tattoo. Honestly, working together or collaboratively in some way is the best thing artists can do. Especially if it can be organised via FaceTime.”
COMMISSION ARTISTS FOR THE FUTURE
As countries around the world advise residents to stay indoors and self-isolate, shoots and commissions are being postponed. But surely the worst thing we can do right now is creatively black out the future. Photographer and Dazed+Labs collaborator Alfie White says, “If you had plans to work with an artist in future, now is the time to speak about it. It gives them hope for the future.”
Taking that one step forward is fellow photographer Lucie Rox, who advises, “If you’re a brand or company that can afford it, who is thinking of hiring freelancers for future jobs but doesn’t know when it can happen but you definitely want it to happen, consider still doing it and pay 50 per cent of their fee as a confirmation. This will help with cash-flow and the stress regarding future jobs if we know we have things waiting for us on the other end.”
Visual artist Andy Picci adds, “Don’t cancel jobs – give more time to the process.” Surely allowing extra time for ideas to breathe and evolve can only result in greatness. Plus, Kaj Jeffries reminds, “We can still have video meetings!”
CHECK WHO’S USING YOUR WORK AND CHARGE THEM
Dana Chang is a New York City-based assistant and producer at Thompson, an agency which consults and collaborates with photographers. “I think that now is a good time for artists to keep track of the companies using their work and what usage terms are in place to see if they can get any money in usage fees or renewals,” she advises. “I know that not everyone has an agency to keep track of this but now may be an easier time for independent artists to really check in on how their work is being circulated and make sure that they are getting proper compensation.”
For those who aren’t agency-represented right now but have usage contracts in place, she says that organisation is your best weapon. “I maintain a usage chart, which is basically a Google spreadsheet where I chart horizontally: job name, images used, agreed terms/rate, expiration date.” She adds it’s important to keep your old contracts and look through these, but it’s often on Instagram – such as artists’ tagged pages and hashtags – where she’ll find transgressions. She says, “I also check the websites and Instagrams of advertising customers to see what imagery is being used. It is just scratching the surface but a good start.”
In terms of online resources, Chang shares an overview of how different usages work and the best ways to protect your imagery, as well as a guide to usage terms, and a legal overview of copyright laws.
“I’m hoping this may help unsigned artists in particular, who don’t always have a team to keep track of these things. I’ve been working from home but happy to offer young artists any help in my down/off time! They can DM or email me directly.”
“Now may be an easier time for independent artists to really check in on how their work is being circulated and make sure that they are getting proper compensation” – Dana Chang
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AND THEN PUSH FOR MORE
Cairo Clarke has been navigating the art world as an independent curator for half a decade, as well as the founder of SITE.projects (and a recently launched digital exhibition space, in.oscillation).
Clarke suggests emailing public organisers to safeguard against any fees if a project is suspended due to the pandemic, explaining this could be “a brand, institution, museum, independent initiative – basically any organisation you have agreed work with”. She adds, “If you have been invited onto a panel as a guest or panellist if you’re due to do a workshop, have an exhibition upcoming, performance, gig, etc, but specifically in this case as a freelancer or self-employed person where you originally had been offered a fee for your services.”
For a greater likelihood of security, she advises reaching out and touching base with your contact and asking what safeguarding measures are in place for your fees if the project is cancelled due to Covid-19 as soon as possible. She adds, “If you have a freelance contract, it’s worth checking through and seeing if there’s any information about the cancellation of work and in what circumstances they are liable to pay you.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to what freelancers are legally entitled to, the line becomes blurry. “I think this would differ depending on the institution/organisation that you have been hired by,” she says. “So looking through your contract or requesting a contract or agreement be drawn up due to the circumstances to protect yourself and others.” However, she adds that it’s worth checking Artists Union England and the Arts Council to see what protections are in, or being put in, place. Perhaps most importantly, it’s about being honest with one another. “I think everyone sharing their experiences and being transparent with how they are dealing with similar situations also really helps.”
“Unionising is important, outlining clear parameters of how we work, and also always having a contract to work within no matter how big or small the project is” – Cairo Clarke
Despite these forced growing pains, Clarke is hopeful that we could see a greater level of clarity in the future. “During this moment, I think we will see clearer than ever the ethics of organisations and who/what they value plus what they are willing to do to protect artists they employ,” Clarke says. “There isn’t a lot of safeguarding in the arts and I think this is a time to really rethink the structures as much as people write essays and do talks about this constantly now we literally have no choice. So drawing up our own contracts (with legal advice) so that the parameters of how you work are clear is important, as well as demanding this from the jobs that are hiring you. It’s tough to change the habit of these things but galleries and brands, etc, have been getting away with either not paying people at all or paying them badly, and not on time for too long.”
“Unionising is important, outlining clear parameters of how we work, and also always having a contract to work within no matter how big or small the project is, including the clauses such as ‘failure results from an act of God’ – this is any natural disaster or outbreak, and pandemic I guess could be included in future if not already. This work also isn’t just the job of the artists themselves but should be normal practice for whoever is hiring them/commissioning them.”
She adds, “Don’t be afraid to say no and stand your ground – don’t let these people who pretend they don’t have money to get you to work for free or unethically! We’re stronger together, sharing resources, and experiences – people who are better writers in terms of contracts and emails, it’s great to share these within our networks to those who are less confident in doing so.”
EMBRACE THE SLOWNESS WHERE YOU CAN
New York photographer Denise Hewitt is taking this time to reflect. “Personally, I’ve begun reading again to stay stimulated and have reflected on why I am doing photography and writing in the first place,” she writes over email. “Remembering my love for storytelling, self-expression, and the teamwork involved in creation keeps me going.”
This could also be a time for deeper introspection. When we are forced to pause, we could use this time for reevaluation. “Think about what your work is meant to do”, adds Hewitt, “how do you want it to shape the world around you? Knowing this will help stay focused and in love with your craft.
For London-based photographer Sophie Jones, she says it’s the most creative she’s ever felt. By opening up the time to take walks and exercise, she reveals that it’s allowed her more space for creative thoughts and ideas to flow. “I'm seeing this as the universe slowing life down to help us detach from consumerism and find ourselves again.”
“Creating isn't just the end product, creating is a process. It's the process of taking inspiration and directing it into something tangible. This is our chance to free our minds of daily clutter and let thoughts run free that we can channel into tangible projects and personal projects. Some of the best work comes out of adversity. I'm excited to see what is created after the next few months.”
HOLD THE NEWS, SEND MEMES TO YOUR MATES INSTEAD
In a growing global pandemic causing employment and financial insecurity sometimes you don’t want to think about work... the news... or the world. “Try and fill your social media with soothing things,” recommends photographer Lucie Rox. “It’s great to be informed and to keep people informed but right now having loads of time with nothing to do means panic scrolling social media for the latest updates in a place even more stressful than it used to be.” She adds that instead of reposting the same story that other accounts have, or sharing potentially unverified information, how about a meme? Or, as Rox advises, “Post a cute cat instead.”