Photographer Ian Sanderson is pictured on Petermann Island in Antarctica in March with a nation branding tote bag. His local work has all but dried up because of the coronavirus restrictions of movement orders.
Photo: Frances Annets
Independent business owners and the self-employed are among those being hit hardest financially by covid-19 restrictions. Many freelancers have fallen below the radar, says photographer Ian Sanderson.
Ian Sanderson had only been working as an independent for just over a year when covid-19 restrictions basically put an end to all his local work. The former IT project manager, who started his career as a military engineer in the British Army, had been busy with a variety of short-term roles, voluntary work and “pursuing some bucket list activities” for the four years before he decided to set out on his own. “I became increasingly interested in becoming a freelance during 2018, partly through the encouragement of others, and partly through discovering that there appeared to be some demand for my skills as photographer, both in Luxembourg and through stock libraries,” he explains.
Although he didn’t have a diploma in photography, Sanderson did have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in information systems. So, he managed to apply successfully for a business permit as a consultant, information systems & digital media. “This obviously includes digital photography,” he says.
He planned on giving himself two years to make a success of it. “Or accept that I wasn't actually that good a photographer after all.” But in March this year he was officially nominated as Luxembourg’s first “Olympus Visionary” by the camera company of the same name. And he has been steadily expanding his local event commissions with film festivals and chambers of commerce, and had been growing a decent client base, largely from personal recommendations, and taking a more structured approach to his submissions to online stock libraries.
Then the work dried up because of the covid-19 lockdown. “All the events that I was booked to cover have been cancelled or postponed. As far as I can ascertain, I also can't go anywhere to try to build a portfolio of lockdown images,” he says. “I have some small income from the stock libraries, but it's totally unpredictable and can't be looked at as anything other than a bonus.”
Fraught return to the grand duchy
Sanderson was grateful to be back in the grand duchy at all. In early March he was aboard a ship sailing to Antarctica for a photography expedition. “Although coronavirus was in the news, nobody really expected the world to change so fundamentally while we were away,” he says.
After sailing to the Antarctic Peninsula, then South Georgia, the ship was in the Falklands preparing for a three-day sail to Uruguay when it was announced that the port of Montevideo was closed to cruise ships. “Even small ones like ours, with 150 passengers and 80 crew, which had effectively been self-quarantined as we had been away from any external contact for more the 14 days.” He says the cruise organiser, Norwegian company Hurtigruten, was magnificent in arranging a charter flight from the Falklands to Sao Paolo, and onward connections for everyone to their home destinations. Sanderson made it back to Luxembourg just in time via fraught connections in Madrid and Amsterdam. “Though it was eerie seeing the airport terminals so empty and quiet.”
Although measures have been put in place to help the self-employed, Sanderson says he has not been able to access any state aid. “It appeared that new freelancers who haven't yet established a minimum turnover of €15,000, have simply fallen below the radar,” he explains. He prefers not signing on with the employment agency Adem to claim benefits, though he recognises that “at my age there are state incentives to help employers take me on.” But, unable to carry out his trade, Sanderson is taking a more proactive approach and says that maybe it's a great time to look at upskilling. “So even a grant that could go towards online training course would be appreciated.”
“I'm very aware the government has many other much higher priorities right now.”
He has not joined any of the social media groups that sprung up to support and lobby the government on behalf of the self-employed and independents. “I might if I felt I could help influence the government to help others who may be in a similar situation,” he explains. “But on the other hand, I'm very aware the government has many other much higher priorities right now. Realistically, I'm not a great contributor to the economy, and I'm highly unlikely ever to create any employment opportunities. But I would like to be self-sufficient.”
Meanwhile, he does have some outstanding client invoices and he hopes they are not delaying paying bills to ease their own cashflow. “Freelancers tend to be at the end of the food chain!” Sanderson, whose wife works at St. George’s International School, also suspects that there will be less interest in individuals setting out as freelancers. “It's a huge risk in times like this, with little or no safety net. In my case, at least I'm not depended on to be the main breadwinner,” he says.