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Student photographers focus on maintaining their creativity during the pandemic

Sophomore advertising and public relations major Rainey Scarborough takes a photo of her friend, junior media and journalism major Claudia Benfield, in the Quad on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

Nash Consing was in Belize, working on a documentary project, when the pandemic started to escalate at home in the U.S. in March 2020.

Consing, a senior studying journalism and communications, was planning to follow a high school sports team and create a photo series documenting its season. But due to COVID-19, it was canceled.

For the months of April, May and June, Consing was unable to work on any photography projects. He said this transition negatively affected his mental health.

“All that work, all that momentum, really just stood still in its tracks,” Consing said. “I moved back home in April and documented my home life, but that was really not what I was expecting to be doing in the spring semester of 2020.”

Student photographers like Consing have had to turn to new methods to keep up their craft as the pandemic continues to rage around the country. Though photography is a hands-on project, students are using social distancing and masking precautions to continue working. 

Consing continued with freelance photoshoots in the fall, including his work as a photo and video assistant for the Communications and Creative Services Office at the Student Union. He said he was careful to take safety precautions, including double-masking and wiping down his equipment.

“I think it would be rude pre-COVID era if you were to ask someone, ‘Oh, who have you been hanging out with? Do you have any sicknesses?’” Consing said. “But for the safety of myself and the roommates that I live with here in Chapel Hill, it's kind of an essential thing to be vetting the people that I'm working with.”

Consing has taken the pandemic as an opportunity to turn the lens back on himself, which has allowed him to recognize what it feels like to be in front of the camera. He said he thinks this is a useful learning experience for young photographers and journalists. 

Another student photographer, Rainey Scarborough, shared that sentiment.

Scarborough, who is a junior in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, has photography experience from working for Coulture Magazine, 1893 Brand Studio and Vintage Blue. 

She said the pandemic has pushed her to move away from working for organizations, and instead do more work that she finds personally interesting. This includes product photography for her friend’s small business, Vintage by Caro.

Over the summer, Scarborough was wandering through Carrboro on her bicycle when she drove past Lloyd Street, which she had never seen before, and took a photo. She posted the photo to her Instagram, and some people who had lived on the street previously requested a print of the photo. She ended up selling it, opening a new avenue of possible business for herself.

Christine Dequito, a senior nursing major, has several years of photography experience under her belt. 

Since March 2020, she has conducted several photoshoots, all with CDC-recommended precautions in place. But she said her client pool has declined due to general reluctance and financial strain caused by COVID-19.

Dequito is not stopping, though – she plans to carry out carefully-spaced photoshoots over the course of the spring to help her graduating friends commemorate their time at UNC.

“It’s kind of funny because I’m both a photographer and a nurse,” Dequito said. “I really believe that we can still pursue our hobbies, but in a safe manner.”'

For Scarborough, her main advice to student photographers working through the pandemic is to utilize social media to reach out to potential clients.

“I know that people sometimes want to keep their work to themselves,” Scarborough said, “but I think if you want to get hired or at least paid or something like that, it's nice to share stuff to people so they can see what you do. Then they'll start reaching out to you.”


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