COVID-19 has put a strain on many of the working class here in Los Angeles. For street vendors it has been more of a challenge since many vendors couldn’t receive government aid, I spoke with Photographer Jon Endow on a video piece he did for Inclusive Action and on his thoughts about Covid-19 - Joshua Zamudio
Inclusive Action our response to COVID19
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been listening to the fear and anxieties of the micro-entrepreneurs we work with as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. None of us can accurately anticipate how this will impact our communities, but what’s clear is that micro-businesses and their workers are already seeing a negative economic impact.
We have created the Street Vendor Emergency Fund with our partners at East LA Community Corporation and Public Counsel. This fund will provide direct cash assistance to vendors who can not access resources from the government.
The Street Vendor Emergency Fund
Josh - Tell me a little about the experience you’ve been having with this CoVid situation? What were you doing when you first heard about it? What was your train of thought when you started noticing that things were going to change?
Jon - In the Summer of last year, I started shooting sports any day that I was free. I got connected with getting press passes that sportsmen use, mostly for college. I was shooting a lot of sports. Then, early March, I think it was March 14th, I was in Vegas for the Pac-12 Basketball Championship. I got there the first day. There were 4 games and I got there for the last 2 games. Then they said they were going to shut it down. I was in Vegas by myself. I had my whole schedule set up with all the games I was going to shoot. They shut it down because of the whole pandemic. I was like, man, this is real. They only had family and friends for the games so the arena was empty, the T-Mobile arena was maybe a quarter or a third full. I remember looking in there thinking damn, it’s pretty empty. It’s real. Then, the next day, I show up to the arena and was told they were just shut down. I had heard that they were going to talk about doing the games with no people, so I was hoping that it would be just the games with media. They ended up shutting down the whole thing. I booked another flight and came home early. Vegas seemed so depressing, going through the casinos. When I came home, that’s when the domino effect started happening. People were saying they were going to postpone all these jobs that I had booked. One after the other, it was like boom, boom, boom - canceling, postponing, canceling. During this time, I had some work that I really needed to edit. So, I caught up on editing. That occupied the first 3 or 4 days. After that, it was pretty much stay-in-place orders. I thought okay, maybe I need to start learning some video, take some You-Tube classes, and try to figure stuff out. That’s when a blessing in disguise happened. One client called me and asked if I could do video on a project they were working on. Through that, I got in touch with another friend from a non-profit called Cielo. They work with a lot of undocumented migrants and undocumented workers. They received funds as a grant and have been handing out checks, or something similar to Inclusive Action. So, I’ve been documenting that, just trying to create more work.
Josh - How was it that day? I think the day you went, was the most active day that they had in the distribution of checks. Describe that day you went to document.
Jon - It’s crazy because before the whole pandemic, I never did any video. I realized I have this time now so I just started doing some editing to see if I can take on Premier. One of my clients was like, hey can you do some video? And I’m like yeah! For sure, I’ll do it. I just jumped into it. I have time, I don’t have anything else going on during the day, so I’ll shoot and come back at night and just try and hash it out. Before I worked with Rudy, I probably did 2 videos for a client. The first day I went, it was terrible. They just called me and everything I was doing was handheld, and everything was shaking. So I just went back to shoot again. This was a video dealing with housing for the homeless, they’re putting homeless into shelters. That’s how Inclusive Action came about. I saw Rudy’s post, and I’ve done stuff with Rudy in the past before, and I told him, ‘Hey, I’m trying to work on these videos, just trying to get more practice. Let me go out there and see what I can get.’
Jon - I follow Rudy, we talk, and I saw that he was handing out the checks. I know street vending has been something he’s been working hard on for a number of years. I wanted to help and was wondering how. I can’t really donate because all my jobs are on the line, or out, so how can I help out and make an impact in a different way? I asked him if I could just go and shoot video and see what happens. As a photographer, you understand storytelling, so I understood the storytelling aspect of the situation. I was just shooting and filming away, not knowing how it was going to come together afterwards. I knew we needed to have some people do testimonials, and to document some of the people that were working. How can we, as filmmakers, share their story and what they’re going though? That’s what was going though my mind. You realize how many people are impacted, what a little amount means to them, and the gratitude that they have.
Josh - Why do you think it’s important to document and do the work that we do?
Jon - It’s hard for me, I never realized the impact it would have. I wondered how could I learn more to help others, while having an arsenal of what I could offer. For me, it’s about sharing other people’s stories. I feel more connected and more in tune in the non-profit sector. I don’t know how to explain it in that sense. I’ve worked with celebrities and I don’t feel the self satisfaction that I get when I can tell someone else’s stories. People know if you’re working with someone that’s known, those stories are already known. I’m trying to be a catalyst and tell other people’s stories that had to go through a harder time. It’s nice to know you don’t have it as bad as others do, so how can you uplift them? And it’s by telling their stories.
Josh - What do you think the future holds for Los Angeles? I just saw today on all social media that stay-at-home orders will be in place until July. Others are saying it’ll be until August. How will you as a professional in your field navigate through?
Jon - I know, it’s interesting, I keep asking the same question to a lot of the undocumented workers - what will their future be like? And how do they see themselves in a few months when it’s over? What’s fortunate for me, is that I think people are going to go back, and they are going to have their events. No matter how it’s going to be, whether it’s going to be social distancing or not, these events are going to happen and people are going to want those moments documented. As a documentary or as an event photographer, or storyteller in that sense, there is going to be work. It’s going to be different. To the people doing high-end work, I think that market might change in terms of the money they’re used to getting. That budget is going to be here, it might be a little less, it might be more infrequent. That’s why I think it was important for me to do video, to understand it and learn it a bit more so I that I can say I’m able to shoot video as well.
Josh - Are you a native to Los Angeles?
Jon - I grew up in Orange County. My dad grew up in Boyle Heights. So I have that connection, even though I don’t know too much about Boyle Heights. My dad’s side of the family spoke a lot about it. My uncle coached at Roosevelt. It’s interesting how a lot of people that I’m meeting with are connected to Boyle Heights. Some of the photographers I’ve met and that I work with were born and raised in Boyle Heights. It’s kind of a small world how this is all connected.
Josh - Is there any project you’re thinking about or working on through this pandemic? Is there a bigger picture to what you’ve already started on with Inclusive Action?
Jon - Through this last client that I got and through the start of my video process, they recommended me to another non-profit that is working on housing 100 women who are on Skid Row. They asked me to document their project on video. I want to continue telling these type of stories. The housing story was pretty interesting for me. I just hope as they move and transition, they are able gain stability. It’s interesting to see how this can be a longterm project if I came back to them in a few months or a year and follow up on how they’re doing. Hopefully this is something that I can get paid for a little bit and will create relationships with future clients.
Josh - Thank you Jon for taking the time for speaking with me this afternoon.
Jon - This is my first interview ever. Thank you, I appreciate it. I was honored to have you reach out. When this is all over, I’d love to hang out and have a beer or just walk the streets. I rarely do street photography so that would be nice to do.