Creation in a time of limits

One Boulder freelance photographer shares his view

By Tatyana Sharpton Apr 10 2020

With the COVID-19 wave shuttering dozens of local businesses, the impact has hit nearly every other related industry, from agriculture to independent creatives working with these businesses.

Mike Thurk. Image: Mark Twight.

Local freelance photographer Mike Thurk‘s income comes solely from local restaurants, gyms and product companies who hire him to create engaging imagery for their brands. All of the work he had lined up for the next few months was restaurant-based, so as soon many of those pulled way back or paused operation, all of those jobs disappeared.

Some Boulder businesses Mike has worked with include Frasca Food and Wine, Cured, Pizzeria Locale, and Boxcar Coffee Roasters.

In this quiet period, Mike uses his social media platforms to spotlight restaurants he’s worked with that are still open, and drawing attention to community businesses such as Easton Training Center that rely on membership fees for their livelihood.

Boulder’s Pizzaria Locale. Image: Mike Thurk.

Creativity in constraint

While freelance work frequently ebbs and flows, a pandemic like this is still uncharted territory, and uncertainty lurks on the parameters. Many of us have had to tap into a different way of being and adapt. We’re forced to take a more personal, intimate look at creation in nearly every aspect of our lives.

When there’s no work and days begin to blur together, it becomes necessary to creatively face our own constraints.

“Rather than waking up every morning and not having any direction,” says Mike, “I say ‘today, I’m going to use some constraint to create something — use this lens, or this process. When I accomplish it, it feels so good. That’s my way of punching a clock.”

Frequently artists employ the use of limits to push their boundaries. As we’re seeing now, this does not stop at the arts; creativity is using whatever means you have to solve a problem.

The coronavirus has caused many to quickly pivot their businesses and modes of operation, from restaurants like River and Woods offering Take-and-Bake options from their backyard market, Esoterra Culinary leaning into its farm CSA, and even the City of Boulder working with grocery stores to create Safe Shopping Hours for seniors.

Handling the shift

Mike, no stranger to the waves of freelance, has experienced dry spells before.

Corner Boxing Club, Boulder. Image: Mike Thurk.

“Early on, I would go through periods of total panic,” Mike recounts, “like ‘No work lined up for the next four weeks — it’s all over!’ What I learned really quickly was you have to ride those out.”

Sometimes clients don’t have the budget based on time of year, or multiple campaigns come to an end simultaneously. At the moment, he has no work coming in as his clients’ businesses have either frozen or they have had to reprioritize cash flow.

Like many of us, Mike is taking it day-by-day and week-by-week.

“I have to see another angle rather than worry, or being without,” says Mike. He has begun selling his prints, something he has not previously explored before.

Rather than going out with his camera to photograph what’s happening, he has committed to coming inward and figuring out how to be creative within the four walls of his home.

Header Image: Frasca Food and Wine. Image: Mike Thurk.