Still, as the coronavirus crisis continues, artists and entrepreneurs alike are finding ingenious ways to circumvent isolation — including one Palm Beach couple that has built a business specializing in wedding and lifestyle photography, tailored to these fraught times.
The pandemic-induced shutdown left Kareem and Sandy Virgo with cancellations that threatened to idle their company, Reem Photography, for a few months at a minimum. Instead of panicking over losing their livelihood, Sandy suggested they virtually coach friends through their own cell-phone photo shoots using FaceTime, given that the platform had become the primary form of communication for quarantined loved ones.
“At first I was like, ‘What?’” Kareem says with a chuckle. But after the couple persuaded some friends to pose against various backgrounds for a virtual photo shoot, the results sold him on the concept.
“When we went back and edited the photos, to our surprise, the pictures came out really nice for a phone-quality photo," Sandy explains. "Not only that — they enjoyed it. It was fun. It was a way for us to see a lot of our friends again.”
When the Virgos posted before-and-after photos of their virtual shoot on their Instagram page, the response was overwhelming. The post caught the attention of the celebrity gossip site the Shade Room, as well as Good Morning America and other news outlets. What began as a lighthearted FaceTime screen test went viral.
“We didn’t expect any of this. So to have our names out there and just to be able to shed light on what’s going on right now, it’s been really great,” Kareem tells New Times. “Honestly, we’re overwhelmed — in a good way.”
Requests from couples, families, and social media influencers flooded the couple's inbox. At last count, the initial post had garnered more than a half-million likes on the Shade Room's Instagram page. With scheduled shoots already spilling into 2021, the Virgos — having slotted in as many as a dozen clients per day, five days a week, through next month — have stopped taking requests for the time being. Though the load seems heavy, they're managing it with creative input from clients on the front end, 15-minute shoots, and quick edit turnarounds.
“They’re getting their hair done, their makeup done, they’re color-coordinating and using different parts of their home for the background,” Sandy explains. “We haven’t really told anyone what to do. The only thing we suggest is for them to have good [internet] service and, if they have tripods, to [use them]. But they’ve been coming correct.”
The act of providing shoots for people who've had to postpone the most important day of their lives has brought to light deep feelings. One couple became so emotional that the two intendeds had to stop the session and collect themselves. “They started crying, and it was so inspirational to be able to do that for them,” Kareem recounts.
The reactions are priceless, and so are the shoots: The Virgos are providing the sessions free of charge.
“Some people think we’re crazy for not charging," Sandy says. "And we say to them: ‘We’re in a time right now where people are laid off. People aren’t working and scared and depressed. If we can put a smile on someone’s face for free, there’s no price tag we can put on this.’"
Amid the uncertainty, the Virgos hope to motivate other entrepreneurs and creatives to remain resilient and to continue testing unorthodox ways to connect with their clients.
Says Kareem: “You should be fearless in what you put out there. As creatives, we think about, Are people going to like this? Is this idea OK? But what we’ve learned from this is it’s not crazy unless you try it.”