(photographer Emily Wood photographed on the job)  Photo submitted

 

The Further plight and governmental ineptitude toward the Manitoba wedding and event industry

Many types of small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID regulations. Those in the Wedding and Event planning business, Mobile DJ business, as well as the Photography industry, are finding it especially tough. All of these business owners are taking a huge hit to their livelihood because their business has pretty much been shut down. Specifically focusing on Photography, not being able to allow customers into studios makes it hard to take pictures of those customers. Emily Wood, Owner / Operator of Stardust Photography has endured trying times with her business. She offered to attest firsthand how the COVID pandemic hit the wedding and photography industry hard. Not only was her business decimated by the COVID rules, but she also found out the hard way that initially, she would not be able to benefit from the Manitoba Bridge Grant Program. She decided to share her experience as a way to cope with the adversity. So she posted a series of social media campaigns over the last few months.

While sharing her horrible experience with Spark News, Wood starts with a little backstory, “In November, when we were ordered to cease operations, we found that despite Premier Pallister publicly promising to support “all” small businesses with the Bridge Grant, those of us who have no need for a physical storefront did not qualify.” Wood then took to social media to create the #mybusinessisnotahobby campaign to raise awareness of this double standard, “these “small businesses” still qualified as taxpayers, but did not qualify for support. The Grant was expanded a few weeks later to include home-based/mobile businesses, however, that also proved a struggle,” said Wood. She would then endure a series of errors and financial challenges. “I was told I was approved for the first payment of $5,000 only to then be told if I’d been approved “in error”, I’d have to repay it and apply for the correct stream. Not whether or not it had been an error—I had to go out of my way to find out if it was even a mistake on the government’s part—but was encouraged to apply for Stream B before the December 31 deadline so as not to miss out in the meantime. I waited and waited until January when I finally received a call, after the deadline had passed, stating that it had been an error and that I had to repay it before qualifying for the second payment in January when restrictions were extended.”

Unfortunately, repaying it was not a simple online process for Wood. “It required a visit to my financial institution and paying out of pocket to have a money order made (because who really needs cheques anymore), then another trip to the post office to pay for registered mail to ensure guaranteed delivery—also out of my own pocket. I had to pay my own money during a time the province was forbidding me from working to fix their error. After this was returned, I was relieved to see I received the funds from the correct stream, or so I thought. It turns out this amount was the second payment from the original erroneous stream and I had to do it AGAIN. Appalling,” said Wood.

When the province announced a new phase of health orders on February 12, 2021, photographers were thrilled to hear they would now be permitted to resume operating, with a few restrictions: they were told they could photograph people a) outdoors, or b) individuals or those residing in the same household in a studio setting. The exception was still shooting people inside a home or shooting people that don’t reside in the same household in a studio setting. “At that point, many of us proceeded to start advertising again. I booked studio space in February, March, and April for maternity and family sessions, only to find the day before my scheduled shoots (February 19), the government website still had this messaging, but also had a different message in a different section stating that we were only permitted to shoot individuals. No couples, no families. With shoots scheduled for the next day, I had to make a lot of noise again just to gain some clarity on what the actual message was to ensure I was still abiding by the regulations.” Then, the unthinkable happened. They announced a third version of the messaging in that day’s media briefing, stating that up to five people could be photographed outdoors, and now only individuals in a studio or a business setting. No couples, “So this meant my expectant mother could now no longer be photographed with her husband, and my booked family of three residing in the same household could not come to the studio I had now paid for to have their photograph taken together,” said Wood.

You would think that would be the end of such a challenging if not infuriating experience but it got worse, “I was surprised to see an email from the Province of Manitoba with another remittance voucher, dated February 26, 2021, stating that $10,000 would be deposited to my account. A few of my industry associates also received the same email and promise of funds.” With there being no announcement she was aware of, Wood was skeptical and reached out to Manitoba Finance only to find out that this was once again an error, and that no funds would be deposited. Yet another error that broke the proverbial camel’s back. “Given that we are still not permitted to photograph more than a single individual inside, while those that reside in the same household can go to an enclosed restaurant with other households nearby, and that anyone and everyone can go to a crowded mall or store (places that we are repeatedly told are “sources of higher risk of transmission”), given that hairstylists can literally touch people and be permitted to work, given that I can actually get a tattoo, yet am still considered too risky to take a photograph of a family with far more safety precautions than a shopping mall, and that I’ve once more paid out of pocket for their errors, I was excited to see that I may actually be getting some support. But to have it rescinded yet again? This was just unimaginable,” said Wood.

The person at Manitoba Finance investigated the email all photographers received saying they’d be getting $10,000. “The following day another email was sent simply stating this had been an error and “no funds would be deposited”. By the end of that week, however, I had heard a few news stories on it and they announced that a third payment of $5,000 would be granted with no further action required on our part, which was at least something, given that we’re still not permitted to fully work,” said Wood.

As regulations are once again calling for a longer shutdown, Wood is grappling with the logic behind the Manitoba Government’s decisions. “I don’t understand how literally anyone can go to a food court or a packed store but I’m still not allowed to take photos of the same family inside their home… the last few weeks I have had a few couples scheduled for April and May weddings just cancel completely at this point because many are on their second or third attempt at rescheduling their big days, and they are just so stressed trying to plan with the constant changing of rules that they’re just giving up and going to a courthouse at this point, so a lot of my scheduled income has evaporated,” said Wood. The stress of not being able to work at full capacity is really starting to take its toll on Wood, “This is BEYOND ridiculous. With the ever-changing rules, and the complete lack of scientific reasoning or logic; the response of “we can’t open everything at once” while MUCH RISKIER INDUSTRIES are allowed to earn a living again is atrocious. The mental health toll it is taking is growing daily, and frustration at these ineptitudes is at an all-time high,” Wood said.

She is still taking bookings to continue doing what she loves to do just to try and make a living. Emily Wood can be reached at emily@stardustphotography.ca