Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

COVID-19 hampers Fashion Week for photographers

Make-up artist and entrepreneur, Bobbi Brown, applies make-up as a host of photographers snap photos during a pre COVID-19 New York Fashion Week. Photo @Sebmarketbk via Twenty20

On Thursday, September 17th, the final day of an abbreviated New York Fashion Week as a result of Covid-19, Charles Sykes, an almost 30-year veteran Fashion Week photographer, drove his car, oddly, away from Manhattan, to the wooded town of Westport, Connecticut. He had been sent by the Associated Press to cover a show by Christian Siriano — a luxury womenswear brand, hosting one of the few in-person events this season — at the designer’s own home.

For photographers, Fashion Week is usually a chance to capture images that establish and advance their careers, boost yearly earnings, and rub elbows with friends and competitors — often indistinguishable — from around the world. It is chaotic, exhausting, and inspiring. But not this year.

In late August, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Fashion Week would be held but because of the virus limited the number of people who could attend outdoor events to 50. Indoor events were reduced to half capacity, no spectators.

Photographers, hampered by safety orders, minimal programming, and travel restrictions to New York State, largely didn’t go. For those who did, there was little to cover. In a normal year, Sykes shoots anywhere from 15 to 30 shows during Fashion Week. This season, it was only Siriano.

“As I approached, I could tell it was the house because there were a bunch of SUVs in front and security,” he said. “From the main road you had to walk up a gravel path. Several people checked me in, made sure who I was, asked who I was shooting for.”

He furnished his credentials and joined a handful of press, some familiar, who he hadn’t seen in six months. Another photographer, Simbarashe Cha, was there on assignment for The New York Times.

“Mr. Siriano was super accommodating and his staff made everyone feel welcome and at home,” Cha said. “Which I can assure you is not a thing that happens often in a normal fashion week season.”

Missing was the usual crush of photographers, standing on top of each other, vying for angles and room to work. Sykes, familiar with the Fashion Week melee, also saw advantages to the arrangement.

“The way the show was set up, being in someone’s backyard, you weren’t on top of anybody,” he said. “You actually had a little more freedom. Normally you can’t move, you’re stuck in one spot during the show. Here, because there’s room, I could go to a couple different angles, so it actually, ironically, gave me more freedom than I would normally have.”

Outside of Spring Studios in Manhattan, where a small number of in-person shows were held, Andrew H. Walker, a staff photographer with Shutterstock, experienced the other side of this year’s limitations: a scrum, jockeying for a few photos.

“This year was definitely the least exciting, and the only thing I got to shoot was street fashion,” he said. Walker has covered New York Fashion Week since 2008, and will normally shoot three or four shows in a day. “Shooting street style was more challenging than I anticipated, as there were so many other photographers trying to get the same shots.”

Despite the circumstances, Walker’s photographs look almost indistinguishable from a normal season’s: attractive, fashionable people striking poses on sidewalks. The only difference is the ubiquitous mask.

At Siriano’s intimate show, however, the designer’s lush backyard replaced the standard studio runway, and in that setting, the photographs gained a novel, whimsical air.

“The landscape of what Fashion Week looks like is different for the first time ever,” said Samantha Adler, Vogue.com’s Visual Director. “You’re photographing a different thing.”

Cha captured a dreamlike photograph of model Coco Rocha wearing a bushy, blood-red, taffeta gown, strutting through the grass before a blurred ensemble of masked guests. Sykes later caught Rocha, wading backwards, on a whim, into Siriano’s pool, the gown flowing after her like a soggy rose.

For photographers who missed these scenes, the harm is threefold. During fashion week, Cha explained, the images that a photographer captures not only builds their portfolio but attracts potential clients.

“In many seasons, too many to count, the photos that I produced at Fashion Week led to most of the commissions I’m granted throughout the year,” he said.

The missed opportunity is also a significant earnings loss. Sara Kerens, who has shot for Siriano since 2012, explained how limited programming financially crippled photographers — especially freelancers.

“New York Fashion Week usually comes with endless fashion events that are money makers,” she said. “To have this loss of income is a big deal. It was a hit for me.”

With fashion and entertainment largely shut down because of the pandemic, many photographers, with nothing and no one to capture, have been anxiously waiting for things to pick up. For Sykes, the Siriano show was his first assignment since March.

“I don’t know when [entertainment is] coming back, and when it does come back, I don’t know what it’ll look like,” he said. “I imagine everything will be scaled down, just like this Fashion Week.”

After the show, Sykes walked back to his car and quickly submitted his photos to the Associated Press. They’ve since appeared in countless magazines, journals, and newspapers across the world.

The drive back to New Jersey took almost two hours. Traffic was horrible. But, he thought, maybe this is a good sign. The world is becoming full again.


Tags


Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020

On the heels of revelation that Trump downplayed the covid threat, voters question rallies resuming

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 16, 2020

Overburdened mothers in Pakistan are relieved as schools reopens

Quratulain Tejani September 13, 2020

Students from different parts of the world struggle as schools reopen during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang September 12, 2020

Special needs students face learning obstacles during Covid-19

Courtney Guarino September 12, 2020

Back to school – COVID-19 style 

Isabel Beer September 12, 2020

The new normal for school life is abnormal in Michigan

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 11, 2020

California School District Parents and Teachers Clash About Return to School

Norah Hogan September 10, 2020

A tribute to the mask pioneers

Bohao Liu July 11, 2020

Air pollution in China rebounds to pre-COVID level

Hannah Zhang July 11, 2020

ICE takes aim at international students

Maria Abreu July 10, 2020

Chinese students trapped by new ICE policy

Zishu Sherry Qin July 10, 2020

New ICE policy adds more turmoil to the lives of international students

Shiyu Xu July 10, 2020

Lawsuits follow ICE policy barring international students who are taking online classes

Joanna Lin Su July 10, 2020

Economists say the US needs a bold, generous fiscal response. Congress is likely to disappoint. 

Ahmed Mohamed July 9, 2020

Overseas Singaporeans have pandemic obstacles to voting

Yifan Yu July 9, 2020

Proximity sensors and hygiene stations are the “new normal”

Joanna Lin Su July 9, 2020

 Tour ticket vendors miss the hustle and bustle of Times Square

Narkwor Kwabla July 8, 2020

Dengue outbreak could be a greater threat than covid in Singapore

Yifan Yu July 8, 2020

Corporate bankruptcy: ‘A story that’s not going away’

Gaurav Sharma July 7, 2020

Beijing reopens as the second wave of coronavirus dies down

Hannah Zhang July 6, 2020

Masks or no masks?

Bohao Liu July 5, 2020

Varsity Flu

Madeline Gunderson July 3, 2020

Rail travel in China is popular during the pandemic and filled with safety measures

Bohao Liu July 3, 2020

Brazilian international student caught in US travel ban.

Marina Guimaraes July 3, 2020

MTA faces crisis following COVID shutdown

Daniel Girma July 2, 2020

Easter Market goes back to its roots

Kyla Milberger July 2, 2020

China’s Airline Industry Aims to Lure Back Passengers with Unlimited Flight Pass

Zishu Sherry Qin July 1, 2020

US corporate debt soars during coronavirus outbreak

Gaurav Sharma June 30, 2020

In Singapore, gay pride goes online

Yifan Yu June 29, 2020

The Hair Room reopens

Shiyu Xu June 29, 2020

A second wave of the coronavirus creates travel woes in Beijing

Hannah Zhang June 29, 2020