What will the profession of photography look like in a year? Or Two? Pretty sure it won't look like it did before but will the photos have changed or will the way we look at them have changed?

"Hairspray" Zach Theatre.

I was looking through a folder of my own images this morning and I found myself wondering how my photography will change next year or the year after when we emerge from the pandemic and the new financial depression. Will there still be a theater in which to make images? Will there still be plays and musicals? And will people still want to drop by and have their portrait taken? Will I have lost the skills I've spent decades working on? Will my isolation slowly rob me of my glib repartee and make my social skills slow and clumsy? Will I have lost a pivotal time frame in which I might have done my best work? Will I be consigned to the concept of yesterday's photographers?

These are the things I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night, with unspecified anxiety and then lay awake until I've decided that the time has come to get up and start the routine of my daily suspension from art over again. At least I still look forward to that first cup of coffee...

When the smoke clears and people walk back out of their shelters will there still be a demand for photographs or will more practical and immediate needs wipe away any residual appreciation for the graphic arts? 

I fear for physical galleries and museum spaces. I think the former won't come back for quite a while and the later will be diminished. I think the shift from photography to video will accelerate while also pushing down incomes and moving us further away from the idea that intellectual property has value.

We'll all be a little sadder if we lose some of the legendary camera makers that we grew up with. Product introductions will slow down and the tools and selection of tools will become a bit more constrained and limited. 

Will models and talent agencies exist anymore? Maybe only in the biggest markets like Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. Will NYC even be a player in the creative spaces going forward? Will compacted living become an impediment to attracting talent anymore or will people seek to live in less expensive and more diffuse communities? 

Maybe a year or two of not being able to go out and shoot exactly what we've always wanted to shoot will cause us, collectively, to lose interest in photography as a hobby and passion and by extension losing the most affluent part of the camera market will be the final nail in the coffin for camera sales and  finally make iPhone photography the dominate channel for all kinds of imaging. 

I think most of us reading here are at an age and a demographic segment where our worries are more likely focused on losing our relevance to our local culture more than they are about want and deprivation. We can count ourselves lucky to have nice roofs over our heads and well stocked pantries. But every generation is and will suffer through this shut down of normalcy in some way that is pernicious to each bracket.

The millennials will have an unexpected gut punch to their ability to get good jobs. The generation X folks will have taken two steps backwards in funding those college accounts for their kids and saving for retirement, and even the kids still in primary schools will be scarred by the sudden shifts of parenting and education. The burdens will fall (as they always do) most harshly on those with the least income and wealth and the affects of the upheavals will be less burdensome for the wealthy. 

I understand all this and there is little I can do to ameliorate the chaos for anyone, but I can understand what the chaos feels like for me and it most immediately feels like so much loss potential and lost opportunity. Both as a working photographer and as an "artist." I am almost certain that 2020 will be a lost year for work. We're coming up on the half way point of the year and there are no signs of recovery for our businesses. And no opportunities to make the kinds of photographs that I love. The foundational ones that make the rest of photography seem fun and fulfilling. 

I feel like one of the Olympic athletes who trained for years and years only to have the games postponed. Having peaked too early. And, the possibility that when everything resumes it will be somehow too late.

We're lucky, sure. We only had travel plans and personal projects disrupted. Our social security contributions will be lower this year and that will drive down future income. But we haven't lost people close to us to the disease and we're doing fine. It seems selfish to write this but the only truth is in writing what you know. Trying to explain what you feel.

I head outside with a camera every day. My goal is to find one good photograph every day. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I fail but I'm committed to keep my hands in the process; my mind in the game. 

Today I selected images that I like, that were fun to make and fun for me to look at. I chose them to bolster my own spirits and to help renew my hope that we'll all get to go back to whatever work we loved as soon as it's possible. At 64.5 I've learned that I only get to do this whole process of life once and every lost year is irreplaceable and something to be mourned, at least in passing. 

Intellectually, I know this is so much harder for people everywhere. But if we don't talk about the way it affects us personally we're pushing down real feelings that will surface less elegantly later. 

It helps to have friends. I had coffee with a great friend today. He's just ahead of me on the life experience scale and he's a great mentor. Every connection helps. Just a quick "thank you!" to Frank. Much appreciated.

photographing big, fun set up shots for 
Zach Theatre's marketing and advertising.
Wearing short pants and sandals.

Michelle's beautiful smile.

this is now a documentation of the past. 
The Chair has been recovered and is now looking 
modern and snappy. I miss the wrinkled and the padding 
that had been compressed far too often for far too long.

checking on the reservation status of state parks in West Texas.
Ready to go back to Ft. Davis State Park and watch the stars in
a dark and dramatic sky while camping a bit rough.

The last time I was in Mexico was two years ago.
We photographed an industrial plant. It was hot, loud, 
humid and fun. 

the Kirov Ballet at the Mariensky Theater in St. Petersburg.
The view from the Czar's box. Was this performance
"the Firebird"? I think so....

Up to Saratoga Springs to see Ben graduate from college and to see 
Fred for coffee at Common Grounds. 

Noellia at the Barton Springs Spillway.

a model getting ready to hit the catwalk at a show in South Beach, Miami.

Boston. Dress shop.

Austin. Dress shop.

Ben at Asti Trattoria. Austin

A still life shot on stage. During a rehearsal for "Million Dollar Quartet." 
@Zach Theatre.

Ben. Looking earnest.

South Korean Photographer at lunch in a Chinese restaurant in Berlin.

My dining room with a model blocking the view. 
Made potentially for a book cover.

A pause while getting make up done for a photo workshop I taught.

At the Spa.

In the old studio.

the end of the road? Or, another beginning?


Craig said...

Thank you, Kirk.

A beautifully written piece that gives voice to many of my thoughts more eloquently than I could have ever expressed them.

Your daily goal is something I will keep in mind and aspire to when I retire in the next few months at age 66. I've relied on the enforced structure and required discipline of a M-F 8-5 job, and I have had some anxiety about how I will fill my time productively and with meaning once the job ends.

Your statement of "Intellectually, I know this is so much harder for people everywhere. But if we don't talk about the way it affects us personally we're pushing down real feelings that will surface less elegantly later." really captures a piece of wisdom that many people don't recognize.

We need to acknowledge and have the feelings of anxiety and loss that this monumental change has brought to our lives, and failing to do so will likely affect our own health and/or the relationships most important to us. Yes, many others have it worse, and we can help to a limited extent, but we need to process how this impacts each of us.

Thank you for bringing some clarity and calm to my mind in this turbulent and uncertain time.

Craig C. - Minneapolis

Jeff said...

We're so lucky in the U.S. that we haven't had the epidemics, massive earthquakes, tidal waves, mass starvation, financial chaos, dictatorships (no we don't), very widespread crushing poverty, wars, civil wars, etc that many countries have had to suffer through this century.

Now our luck has changed a little and it's our turn to have a serious problem. It might last one year, it might last five, or it might last ten or twenty. There will be lots of changes that we can't anticipate yet, some that we might like and many that we won't. But we will just have to put up with it and follow the safety rules until it's over.

crsantin said...

I don't think it's selfish or insensitive to write about our own experiences. I know what I know. I can only live my life, not the life of some other person. Like you, I am fortunate. I don't know anyone who has died from this. My wife and I are still working and earning good incomes. In fact, we are both busier than ever. It doesn't mean our perspective or experience is diminished or less than. Suffering and hardship are not a competition. This pandemic affects everyone on the planet. There is no going back to normal after this. There will be a way forward but a new one and we will all have to adapt and grow.

I really don't see how camera stores are going to make it through this. I don't see anyone rushing out to buy a camera even after a vaccine. The vast majority of people are going to be faced with rebuilding their lives. New jobs, paying off bills and debts. Finding somewhere to live. Keeping food in the refrigerator. Who's buying a camera or lenses in 2020? 2021? It's so far down on the list of priorities for so many. Even for enthusiasts like myself who have the money...12-16 megapixels is enough for my personal work and now I'm incorporating my iPhone more and more into my workflow. Our parks are starting to open up here and I have an idea for a photoshoot that I'm going to pitch to my son and his girl. I'm thinking of doing it on my iPhone.

When my wife and I got married many moons ago we hired a professional photographer. That's what you do. He shot our wedding with a Hasselblad. He did a great job and we were very happy with his work. We also put disposable cameras at every table and had our guests take photos of whatever they wanted. We gave a video camera and a bunch of video tapes to my wife's then 10yr old nephew and asked him to film whatever he wanted. Our favourite photos are still the ones taken by our guests on cheap 35mm film. Our favourite video by a landslide is the one her 10yr old nephew filmed. It's absolutely hilarious and we love watching it even today. He filmed a great ending. He was funny and sweet and fearless the way kids are. My point in all this rambling is I think everything will become much more personal. Art especially will be created and consumed on a much more personal level. Business will happen on a much more personal level. I'll be going out to local farms to buy my meat there. I want to support my local farmers as much as I can. I will be closer to home. The Trumpian age of anti-intellectualism is coming to an end. It caught on here in Canada too but it's coming to an end. We cannot afford stupidity. Most people realize we need to at least look out for one another if not care for and love each other.

Sorry for the rambling here Kirk. The short answer is no, I do not think that things will return to normal for the working photographer such as yourself. I do think, however, that photographers like you will find a new way forward and that new way will be fantastic and better than it ever was. You will earn a living with your camera again, just not one that you are used to. You won't have a choice, unless your choice is to retire. Nice photo set today, I enjoy the portraits as always.

Kristian Wannebo said...

Thanks for sharing your well founded thoughts,
and for a very inspiring set of photos and portraits.
( There is, I believe, a need for good thinking now, amid the rather chaotic spread of opinions.)
- - -

"checking on the reservation.."
struck me as nicely describing our reality now...

"A pause while getting.."
has an air of "Mona Lisa", hasn't it?
- - * - -

Considering your good blogs on protection against the Corona virus, I thought this from
the BBC World Service
might interest you:

"Science in Action
Loosening lockdown
Understanding which situations pose the highest risk for virus transmission will be key to safely relaxing lockdown rules."

It sounded like a very good overview about spread of and protection against the current Corona virus.

Dave Jenkins said...

"the end of the road? Or, another beginning?" Yes.

Peter Dove said...


Food for thought for sure. As far as theaters and such go, I suspect people will be starving for any sort of community entertainment, no matter how restricted gatherings may be. Theater – live theater, that is – and music won’t go away. If anything, there could even be a boom. I wonder whether bigger or smaller venues will do better. Will budget or agility matter more? Movie theaters are probably already history, more’s the pity. Art galleries, who knows? Most of the smaller ones will probably just not open back up, and new ones won’t replace them. Big galleries live in the financial stratosphere that won’t notice much down here at ground level. Museums with any budget will more or less hang on until funding cycles resume to expand and refresh collections, but small, under-funded private museums are vulnerable or already done for.


Anonymous said...

I don't think we'll see a return to pre-covid normals until everyone is comfortable with the level of risk they face from crowded public places where some others are not observing any safety measures. There are pictures today from crowded bars in Wisconsin, and there have been reports of violence - and even a murder - arising from people being asked to, and refusing to, wear masks. People will still go to the grocery store where some others are ignoring safety measures because everyone needs to eat. But how many will not accept the same risk just to go to a museum, shop for clothes, dine out, or board an aircraft?

At this point, I think it will be several years until the economy fully recovers and a year or more before people feel safe in crowded public places. And I think photography - both as an industry and as a hobby - will hobble along at best until then. If nothing else, the idea of camera models getting replaced every year or two is probably dead. That doesn't bode well for the market - not every camera maker can survive on significantly lower sales. Even large parent corporations may opt to drop a low-margin camera business that is a drag on earnings.


ODL Designs said...

Don't underestimate the raw potential of human capital and ingenuity.

Theatre will come back, museums in Europe survived countless wars and 2 world wars. Photography will continue to evolve, as will video content and our methods of consumption.

Personally I am pretty pissed off, but that is my go to response to these things. I go to the office every day and work on something, rally the troops (on zoom), look at the financials... Then I go home, help with dinner, bathe the boys and the baby and read them a story.

The Truth is I consider myself lucky I have my children and wife around me. They motivate me and provide a certainty that whatever happens I must provide for them. Whether that is with a camera or a shovel is irrelevant. My goal as a father and husband is to serve my family, to provide for their well-being and that quiets all other concerns.

But to bring it full circle, we will not let this virus or the politicians rob us of our right to pursue life as we see fit. You can already see the frustration in the people across the US, and while many people I know like to run down these protesters I will simply tell them what my father told me during a bout of rioting in London as people denigrated the protesters "it will never be the university professors, doctors or lawyers risking their comfortable lives to confront injustice, these people are the Canaries in the coal mine".

I look forward to a full summer! But then I am am optimist.

Kurt Friis Hansen said...

Let’s not completely forget the “side effects” of the closedown: All over the world people experience the hitherto unfathomable and unobtainable luxury of breathing clean air. Imagine that!

The modifications to our previous lifestyle, simple things like washing hands, keeping distance etc. has even lowered the lethality of our yearly dose of influenza, even in places with no or less restrictive lockdowns.

The good thing is, that we all - all over the world - was tought a lesson countless generations before us also have had to learn - whether they wanted to or not - and that is, that we’re all capable of handling almost all challenges as a society in a reasoned way. There will always be crazies rejecting facts, showing no care for the well being of others, but the large majority of people will act sensibly if allowed to.

Any seasoned traveler of this world will also testify, that all humans everywhere have the same basic needs, concerns and aspirations in spite of differences in religion and culture even preferred foods. Besides: We only have one world.

We also learned, that you could move brainpower instead of blubber - often in the form of a home office, but not limited to that notion!

The only real fly in the ointment is people in power.

I know from personal experience, that “home-office” work is far more effective, than wasting the daily one to two hours commuting each day to company premises. I worked one hundred percent in my home office since the early nineties, even on huge projects involving hundreds of people and many different companies. Most meetings took place “somewhere”, often geographically practical for all involved. The actual work was in the home office. Communications worked, but when I retired online conferencing was still in its infancy and somewhat unreliable (outside the marketing sphere of the suppliers ;-).

Today the last aspect is also working.

In your case, the need for professional quality personal portraits may return more or less unmodified again. Probably local based, as before. Peoples vanity - under whatever label used - will probably never vanish.

Companies may require more intricate corporate video profiles and productions in a world, that has discovered that in-person meetings may neither be wise (health, risk, cost, time) nor really necessary most of the time, with on-line meetings actually being pretty effective for most if not all parties involved.

It’s just a different approach with the same goal as before. Reaching consensus, decision and action leading to “some” sensible outcome.

Maybe your profession will have to adjust some old approaches too. Is it absolutely necessary, that you personally own all the gear you do today? That you are physically present in every case?

Several cameras. Several light systems etc. Is it necessary to move yourself and gear around in all cases? Within Austin, yes. But if you branch out, any “pro gear pro outfit” could deliver and place cameras, microphones, lights etc. locally in - for example - Los Angeles or Singapore, and from your office in Austin you could direct the physical setup via a video link (even iPhone based worst case) and exercise creative control of the actual recording of sound, video and images remotely. Source material transmitted real-time to your premises. It’s possible.

It’s transport of ideas, stupid, not transport of blubber, that is important from now on in all aspects involving mental, as in non-physical, work.

Pity the mass-blubber transporters of yesterday. Their business model will have to adjust for all areas except, maybe, leisure. Others may also see disruptions of their business models.

Hard to (fore)tell, but possible. Or...?

Greg Heins said...

I’ve probably said this before here but just in case: I take a great deal of inspiration from the life and work of the Czech photographer Josef Sudek. Sudek was a successful, widely published photographer in Prague when the Nazis took over. Although his life was not in danger, his movements were severely restricted and it was then that he began to photograph the view out the window of his little ground floor studio and to do personal (not advertising) still-lifes, often set on that windowsill. We’re not talking about months here; this lasted more than six years. He was just 38 when it began and 44 when Prague was freed. Some of the most remarkable work of his long life was done during those years and he continued to mine that vein for the rest of his life.

Frank Grygier said...

On second thought maybe a used Mini will take your mind off things. Thanks for today!

Anonymous said...

Wow, in 7 yrs of following you every post, i can't recall a better collection of pix. Thanx 4sharing Kirk!

Bob F. said...

Your thoughts were deep but the photographs were deeper still. The little girl and the "portrait" of the Shure microphone stood out. Maybe the mike (it was never "mic" in my day) caught my eye because my first real job was as a weekend disk (not disc) jockey at a local AM station. Microphones like yours were the standard 60 years ago....

Anonymous said...

I'd echo Greg's point, it'd be a fun time to embrace the restrictions (photographically and otherwise) work with them and take it as permission to play.

It's sort of interesting that you seem (much) happier to play with kit than to tinker with your (portraiture) process. An observation, not a criticism.

I get that it's your living and that you've got a successful formula for your portraiture work (artistically, financially, socially). But was quite struck a few posts back when you replied to a comment that taking portraits at a distance doesn't work for you.

Maybe this is a chance to find a way to make it work? (tolerably, next time you grab a coffee with a friend?). What's to lose?

And, like shuffling the kit, maybe it'll inspire you a bit, or at least be fun trying it out.

At worst it'll provide some anecdotes for here maybe.

Take care and thanks again for all the words. It's hugely appreciated.


Gary said...

Kirk, you have articulated what we are all feeling. Thank you for giving us the fine photos in this post. I suspect most of your readers are among the fortunate ones, and we don't take that lightly. And I must say, you have some beautiful women in your life. Portraiture must continue in some form.

TMJ said...

Skill fade is an issue, too. It is now 12 weeks since I last worked 'normally' in healthcare. As someone who celebrated their 65th birthday early in March, I had intended to continue working clinically for a few more years.

But now, especially with the current PPE one must wear, (ant there was quite a lot previously), I'm thinking ditch clinical, carry on with the academic though, buy the new Canon R5 when it appears. Together with the 28-70 RF f2.0: well that will sort out weight training at least!

Chris Beloin said...

Greetings Kirk:

Thanks for your photos and great insights as usual.

I teach for a University Business School and see many 22 year olds entering what they thought would be one of the best job markets, but which turned out to be one of the worst. This collapse happened in just a few weeks. I can only imagine what they are going through right now.

One lesson from this is that the veneer of civilization is much thinner than we through before this crises. It does not take much to tip us over into a much darker situation.

Like you I get out and always find wonderful photographic opportunities as I bike most days around my community. Keep up the good work and continue to post your great work!

Thanks - Chris

karmagroovy said...

What about retooling your business for weddings? There will always be demand for good wedding photographers! ;-)

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Karmagroovy, I hope I never, ever need the money that badly!!! 😆 Remind to write about the "Wedding from Hell" that I shot well over 30 years ago and why I never went back. Plus, if people can tolerate a photographer at a wedding then all the other stuff will already be back.

All I'm interested in is having fun with photos. Can't think of a better way to suck the fun out of photography than spending a day shooting a wedding.... Just can't.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
I don't know what will happen in the next year or two but I know that you are the best portraitist I have ever seen. And your writing is also excellent. Your blog is one of the best photography blog on the internet. Period!

Kind regards,