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Call to Photograph ‘Oldies’ Before It’s Too Late Strikes the Wrong Note


Photography is invaluable for preserving memories of loved ones for generations to come, but a recent call to market portrait shoots for the elderly in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has upset some photographers.

Peter Hayes, Chair of the Royal Photographic Society‘s Distinctions Committee, took to Twitter this week to share a screenshot of a message that has been circulated to members of the Master Photographers Association, one of the oldest photographic associations in Britain.

The message urges photographers “to capitalise on the Coronavirus crisis,’ Hayes writes, calling it a “disgrace.”

It was sent last Friday, a day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a press conference in which he called the coronavirus pandemic the “worst public health crisis for a generation.”

“I must level with the British public,” Johnson said. “Many more families are going to lose loved one before their time.”

The message circulated to Master Photographers Association members references this grim warning by Johnson.

“Boris yesterday in so many words said, many of our loved ones are going to die, as the virus is striking down the over 60’s (I’m in that group),” the message reads. “Therefore this is the ideal time to remind everyone to have a generational portrait sitting.

“You can’t say ‘have the oldies photographed before the virus gets them’, but Boris has paved the way, we just have to put out the idea as ripples.”

Hayes’ Tweet sharing the message drew sharp reactions from some of his nearly 50,000 followers.

Photographer Ray Lowe, Chairman of the MPA, confirmed to PetaPixel that he sent the message to MPA members, but he says it was taken out of context.

“The article is in a private communication with our members only, from me to them not as chairman but as a way of generating activity to create more work for their studios and businesses,” Lowe says. “I apologize if it has offended or upset anyone as that was not my intentions.”

Lowe says that the message was part of an ongoing campaign that started long before the coronavirus outbreak began.

“This piece is a small snippet of a much larger article talking about the need to push generational images, it was not in anyway suggesting that you have them photographed before the virus gets them,” Lowe says. “I started a generational family portrait campaign 3 months ago for our members only. There has been a communication every week over the last three months encouraging members to have their own parents and grand parents photographed for the benefit of their children and the generations that come along behind.

“Lots of members have taken up that challenge and thanked me for pushing them along the way.”

Lowe, who’s part of the at-risk 60+ age group himself, says he’s continuing to encourage people to create memories of loved ones.

“The sentiments are there, none of us have any guarantee of tomorrow (and as I’m in the most vulnerable group I know only too well) so therefore memories of our loved ones become even more important,” he says. “Please remember that this communication was only meant for our members who have read the last 3 months campaigns and understand the underlying message, not those who grab a single selected comment for their own ends.”