Unforeseen layoff allowed Winnipegger to fulfil dream of becoming a photographer

Temur Durrani

Have you, or someone you know, changed your day job or side hustle because of COVID-19? Pandemic Pivots is a new submission-based series highlighting those stories.

It took an unforeseen layoff, a whole lot of willpower and a particularly arduous pandemic to allow 30-year-old Karina Walker to finally fulfil her lifelong dream.

Back in January of 2020, everything seemed to have fallen in place at long last. The Winnipegger had only just begun working as a continuing education program co-ordinator with the River East Transcona School Division.

Then, merely months later, Walker faced what thousands upon thousands of other Canadians have gone through: the loss of a job because of COVID-19.

At first, it was weeks of refunds to everyone who was dropping out of the recreation and skills-related courses that Walker co-ordinated, because nothing had moved quite online yet. In May, however, she was told she’d be out of work indefinitely.

“It was undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through,” Walker told the Free Press. “Things still haven’t moved online, and I’ve yet to hear about any job from the school division. I’m not sure anyone knows what’s going on there from their side, even now.”

‘It really took a global health crisis and getting laid off to see how this is maybe what I should’ve been doing all along.’

After taking some time to figure things out, Walker went back to the basics. She’d already gotten an undergraduate degree for exactly the kind of job she just lost, so she thought out loud: “What else do I have to lose?”

That’s when she realized the creative timing, which she’d always longed for, finally felt right to pursue a career as a videographer and photographer. And ever since she took an online course, almost exactly this time last year, Walker hasn’t looked back.

“Halfway into my class, I bought my camera and all my gear,” she said. “I didn’t exactly have a plan about what I was going to do with it and I wasn’t sure what to tell people. But I knew this was something I was doing just for myself, so no matter what happened, I would keep reminding myself about that.”

In many ways, this is something she was born to do. For a Grade 3 project, Walker remembers telling her classmates and teachers at the science fair all about how cameras worked. And growing up, she was constantly playing with her dad’s camcorder to vlog her summers.

“You know what?” Walker said, chuckling. “I feel like if YouTube was around back then, I’d be pretty damn popular. Or at least I’d like to think so.”

Even after she dropped the idea of working with cameras for a living, because she was told it wasn’t the most viable career, she never stopped secretly documenting trips or special occasions.

To her, the most beautiful escape from daily life was capturing those ordinary moments that everyone forgets about, but gets emotional watching on film years later.

Walker frequently surprised her friends and family with homemade, sentimental videos. “I recall buying my first DSLR camera when I was 18 and never really giving up on that,” she said.

“I guess I just kept pushing it aside due to all sorts of pressures. It really took a global health crisis and getting laid off to see how this is maybe what I should’ve been doing all along.”

Still, working on commission during the pandemic hasn’t exactly been the easiest.

There aren’t many photo-shoot opportunities to go around, and the paid events that freelancers like Walker would’ve covered have been few and far between — creating stiff competition in the market, which has mostly been dominated by those that have been around the longest.

On top of that, for a bulk of 2020 and for a large part of 2021 so far, Walker’s career was considered “non-essential” and thus prohibited under Manitoba’s COVID-19 health orders.

“Code Red was certainly the hardest,” she said. “There were many nights where I kept thinking, was this really the right decision? Should I be continuing with this, when clearly I’m struggling so much so early?”

Now, however, it’s been “nearly a complete 180,” said Walker. The wedding industry is seeing a boom following reopenings and restrictions being loosened, which has allowed photographers and videographers to be booked most days of the week in cities like Winnipeg.

For Walker, there’s a personal connection, too. She plans to get married to her fiancé Matt in October, which has paved the way for a special type of empathy with her clients.

“Obviously, it isn’t completely back to normal because we still have all sorts of rules to navigate about what we can do and what we can’t,” she said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way though — I love working and I love being busy again.”

There are many moments of imposter syndrome when Walker is at an event and feels like she doesn’t belong. On some days, she misses the steady paycheque of her old jobs; and on others, she thinks she might eventually take up a part-time role as an education co-ordinator again when things are better.

“But honestly, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” she said. “And at the end of the day, that’s all I can keep doing — just going along, going with the flow, with the biggest smile.”

Maybe you were an office clerk or a bartender, maybe you owned a corner store or were an aspiring actor. Now perhaps you’re a farmer, an electrician, a mechanic or a delivery driver. It could be any change at all — big or small; good or bad.

The Free Press wants to tell your story.

Please drop a line to be part of the series: temur.durrani@freepress.mb.ca


Twitter: @temurdur

Temur Durrani

Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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