Making the most out of emptiness

Photojournalist Trevon Smith talks about working during the pandemic by capturing the story told by silence during lockdown

One of the photos in photojournalist Trevon Smith's photo essay "The Empty City," depicting a once-crowded area of downtown Toronto being devoid of people.  Courtesy of Trevon Smith

During the height of Toronto’s lockdown, the city was almost completely empty, save for a handful of people. When people see the empty streets of the once crowded downtown core, they see the reality of the state of the pandemic. Photojournalist Trevon Smith sees an opportunity.

Smith is a freelance photojournalist and content creator working on a photo essay he calls “The Empty City,” a series of photos of places around downtown Toronto and Scarborough that used to be crowded, but are now devoid of people as a result of the lockdown. Smith primarily commuted between locations.

“I figured the TTC’s usually packed, so I might as well take advantage of the lack of people.” Smith says it took some time before he realized the depth of the lockdown. “Yonge station, at the height of rush hour…that’s where I really felt it, ‘this is as empty as it gets.’ Not a soul in sight.”

Smith says that operating during the pandemic has added a new piece of equipment: disinfectant wipes. “I was being really cautious…I carried wipes with me and after each shoot I’d come home and spend 30 minutes to an hour just wiping everything down.”

When the pandemic lockdown started, Smith was working on a few photo projects for The Underground, University of Toronto Scarborough’s official student publication. Transitioning to working from a distance was one of the more difficult adjustments for him because of the photo editing process.

“I don’t like working from home, I like having a dedicated office to go to. Working remotely is a lot more solitary and it’s harder to bounce ideas off of people. If I’m editing a photo or video at the office I can just go ‘hey can you take a look at this?’ Remotely I have to download it, send it and then wait for their response. Sometimes people take an hour, two hours to respond while you’re trying to work on it so it’s hard getting stuff done.”

After taking photos, Smith would go through the editing process online. Editors would request photos from him, and he would go out in the field to take them (wearing proper PPE), and he’d come back and edit his photos. Because he needs to work from a distance, the editing process is a little more difficult, and requires a bit of back and forth with another photo editor.

With the tools journalists use today for collaborative editing like Google Docs and Microsoft Teams, it is becoming a lot easier for journalists to work from home. Live edits and comments on written articles can be done over Google Docs, and team projects can be done from Adobe Cloud services, Allowing journalists to work collaboratively from a distance.

“I think our field is very adaptable. While I don’t imagine everything can be done remotely, if you think of the cost savings to not have to lease a newsroom and to cut down on production costs by having a smaller space…of course there are things you can’t do from the comfort of your home office. You still need to go to that protest and take pictures and talk to people who are at that event.”

Now that a generous size of the population has been exposed to working from home, the idea seems more feasible for companies now. Only time will tell how this global pandemic will change the journalism industry in the long term.

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Posted: Jul 6 2020 12:42 pm
Filed under: COVID-19 Living Room Newsroom News