There's been a new thing circulating lately. As COVID-19 takes its toll on all corners of the planet, as businesses and lives come to a screeching halt, a new trend has come to light that promises positivity and social distancing. With many families safely at home in this time, I understand the draw to escape the monotony of home and acquire new family pictures.
With new data circulating around the virus and how it spreads, it's easy to feel overly paranoid. The thing about being paranoid though, especially in this time, is that it's safer than assuming you haven't left a route for particles to infect you, your family, your neighbors, your coworkers.
Full time, I'm a substance abuse therapist for medication assisted treatment of Opioid Dependence. I'm still labeled an essential worker, so Monday through Thursday, I head into work at 5am. While many of our almost 700 patients are stable, and healthy enough for tele therapy sessions, many are not. Some require face to face interaction as they come into the clinic daily. I have no idea the domino of people they've come in contact with, and who those people have come into contact with. It is much safer for me to assume that someone may be a carrier and to act accordingly. I don't hang out at the front desk. I don't sit in the lobby beside my patients. I lysol my office twice an hour, constantly disinfect my keyboard and my phone. I spray and wipe down my chairs. I don't visit in the offices of my colleagues. I stay at my desk, cleaning constantly between paperwork; cancelling sessions for anyone who has so much as a tickle in the back of their throat.
From a business perspective, I understand that this is not fiscally sustainable. Whether it's someone else's business or my own, I understand that without money coming in, the business cannot stand for long. A substantial part of running a business is the marketing that comes with it. Donating time, meeting new people, building a network is a HUGE portion of what helps photographers grow their business. While most of the photographers advertising these sessions are doing it for limited or no fee at all, it's absolutely still a way to get your name and your business out in front. If there were not an airborne virus spreading through the world, I think this would be a beautiful idea and helpful for brand building.
Years ago, I waited tables. I typically closed, and the parking lot didn't always have security. I was taking night classes and the parking garage was often dark. I bought pepper spray. I carried it for months before realizing that I had no idea how it actually worked. I mean, I knew I pushed the button down after flicking off the safety, but I didn't know what it's impact would be. I decided to find out. On a breezeless night after closing down the restaurant, I found myself alone in the brightly lit parking lot. No traffic on the road. No other cars in the lot. I flicked the cap, and hit the button.
I was blinded. I was in pain. The spray caught what I felt to be an imaginary whisper of a breeze, and came back into my eyes even as it shot forward away from me. I cursed loudly as I grabbed my face and tried to open my eyes. Tears streamed down my face, but eventually, the burning minimized to a tolerable amount, and I was able to get into my car and drive home. I felt betrayed by my pepper spray, and it was only after talking to some friends that I realized the reaction was apparently normal. That you should assume you'll get blasted by the spray too, which is why it's so important to make sure you mean it and your aim is on point when you use it on someone else.
Another super easy example is one I believe everyone has experienced. The stench of a skunk spray and how it lingers, or how the smell of a dead animal can be detected long before you see the animal.
First, if for no other reason including the fear of death, all non-essential businesses in the state of Michigan have been ordered to shut down. Photographs are essential to capture life, but photography itself is not essential in sustaining life. Businesses found to be working right now in person outside of that perimeter can be fined thousands of dollars (that's a huge no thank you for me).
Secondly, let's talk about social isolation and we'll make our way back to that pepper spray and skunk scenario. We're all supposed to be doing our part and socially isolating. This essentially means that you should pretend that anyone even close to your personal bubble is covered in poisonous goop, that could also potentially burst and spit in your direction. Maybe an exaggeration, but possibly not. The recommendation of 6 feet is an extreme minimum. In a controlled space. With no additional environmental concerns, no sneezing, and no outliers. It's not realistic. It accounts for circumstances in a 100% controlled setting (maybe). Which really means that you should assume it's faulty. You should assume that 6 feet is a dangerous window of proximity if it can be avoided, because you really have no idea how far the airborne particles can travel, especially on the breeze, or in an allergy sneeze, or when you accidentally touch ANYTHING. New data shows that the virus can live for DAYS on certain objects. This might mean door handles, the necklace you're wearing, the camera gear you touch. In a safety first scenario, you should assume that you are at all times carrying a toxic virus that could kill, because it can. You should assume that like the pepper spray or the smell of the skunk, the virus has the capability of traveling much more than six feet.
Front porch sessions invite the idea that your photographer can stay at a safe distance from you and your family, while providing exceptional family photos. This isn't necessarily untrue, but it's extremely risky. Where one photographer stays back, a newer one may not. One of my favorite things to do in session is occasionally show a view from the back of my camera. This CANNOT be done from 6 feet away. There are a lot of things we do every day that we are not mindful of. For example, I never realized how much I used my right arm for EVERYTHING until I broke my elbow 7 weeks postpartum. It's the exact same with the things we touch. One photographer may use a zoom lens for a session, while another may try to use a prime lens, which involves getting closer.
Front porch sessions may seem like the loophole to the rules, but the rules aren't in place to drive us crazy or see how much isolation we can take before we start losing it. The rules are in place to flatten the curve, to avoid the spread, and to keep as many people safe as possible. As a licensed business in the state of Michigan, I'm not interested in partaking in something that could literally cost me my business in unnecessary fees. I'm also not interested in risking any potential transmission of the virus. As an essential worker therapist, I already worry that I have the potential to bring the virus home to my children. The idea of bringing it to yours makes me feel nauseated.
Please do your own research, but at all times, assume that whoever you're working with is a carrier of the virus (even if they're not). Assuming keeps you on your toes and helps you make decisions that are invested in the safety of your family. There are time for pictures later. Take your own inside your home. Use your phone. Dig out that old digital camera and play around. Go for a walk, with your own family. Enjoy your back yard, your front yard. Play hopscotch in the driveway. Make a fort inside. I recommend against the park at this point, since the virus can also live on the play equipment for several days. Be safe.
I know isolation is hard. I know it goes against human instinct, because we are not animals that tend to do well with isolation. But survival should be at the forefront of your thinking. Is what you're planning on doing leaving your family or someone else's family at possible risk for COVID-19? It's just not worth it at this time. Please exercise caution. Let's be safe together. Your photographer will still be waiting when all of this is done. I promise.
Stay safe all.
Silly photo of a front porch image from a family lifestyle session early last summer <3