How Covid-19 brought an unexpected opportunity to a small business

By Nina Assam

Covid helped me to diversify professionally, in a way I never thought possible. The pandemic was a critical event that shifted the whole world. Anyone reading this will know the toll it took. That one single change has created a new path for my future and set a pace for the work we are very thankful to continue to do today. At a time of limited avenues for so many, it was time for us to kick into gear and diversify.

My story 

Originally born in vibrant Baghdad before moving to Scotland at the age of 5, my early life held much in the way of inspiration, while preparing me for the many challenges ahead. A gift of a camera from my brother at age 15 would help pave the way and build a vision, and my drive to help others built a substantial career base. Eventually I would travel and explore the world, holding several jobs in places like Dubai and America before starting my career in photography. These experiences would later translate into extensive knowledge for Soora, a corporate photography business, and then for PAPP, my Product and Packshot Photography service.

Soora has been running for well over eight years now, holding a rapport with many companies from all over England, and becoming a go-to for anyone wishing to update their professional profile photo. Although the job of taking headshots might appear straightforward, a level of social understanding and a commitment to diversity can reflect positively on those you photograph. Our favourite instance of this actually came from International Women’s Day in 2022. We’d walked into IFM, a renowned investment company usually fronted by men, and were pleasantly surprised to find we were photographing almost exclusively women, of all ages, all creeds, all abilities.

I then started PAPP because of Covid, in May 2020. I had just made the decision to move into a commercial studio after working from home for 15 years, and I signed the contract in February 2020. I finally had a larger studio space and presented a more professional front of house! However, shortly after moving in, the first lockdown happened, making it impossible to continue working face to face with people. Luckily, I had the vision to pivot and move into product photography, and establish a new offering that didn’t require the physical presence of my clients. The new business was therefore covid-compliant and has proved to be a very worthwhile undertaking.

The value of a different perspective 

With so much of the commercial photography industry being male-dominated, it’s so important to hold a space for those who are less advantaged. We often don’t think of the visual difference gender can bring to photography either. Since the details can be so easily overlooked to outsiders, shoots done by men and women might not look much different to the eye, but to the client and our subjects, it can mean the world. Fashion and design in particular need an attentive eye from a prospective buyer, and many companies would do well to look into outsourcing labour to those who would actually have an interest in the product.

Despite the success female photographers hold now, photography in the late 90’s carried a very different atmosphere to it. Burly men hauling around hefty equipment were the norm, so getting booked as a woman – let alone a woman of colour – could almost be seen as impossible unless you could fit the exact requirements of companies. Two small feminine people (my assistant and I) walking into a building, skirt pockets full of tech and carrying the heaviest equipment across central London, of course we got some curious looks.

 

Valuing diversity 

It’s refreshing to be able to tell everyone that times are indeed changing. And I still encourage this within my business, giving job opportunities to those who might otherwise be overlooked due to their identities and characteristics.

I’ve now had the absolute pleasure to have worked with and mentored three assistants. The most recent assistant I’ve taken on is Rayne Daeva, who has said,  “I’m proud to say my work with Nina has easily been the highlight of my working career so far. Not many people are willing to give accommodations to autistic non-binary workers, but with Nina there wasn’t even a question about it. With so much kindness and understanding in her approach to other people, there’s a constant communication that has nurtured my own growth more than any other workspace.

“When I first met Lauren, Nina’s previous assistant, who also falls on the neurodivergent spectrum, I was keen to know her experiences too. It’s not surprising now to recall how positively Lauren spoke of her time at Soora and PAPP, recounting all the valuable lessons she’d picked up, and even teaching me her own tricks that Nina had passed down. Alongside her incredible work ethic, Nina manages to balance family as her priority all while managing two successful businesses. Anyone would be lucky to be provided with the opportunities I’ve been given, and I sincerely hope the industry makes people like Nina shine.”

This testimonial makes me as proud as the commercial success we have achieved.

 


Nina has been working as a professional photographer for over twenty years. She has worked with large corporations such as American Express and Royal Bank of Scotland to leading brands such as Lidl and Boux Avenue. She enjoys helping people meet their marketing objectives, from large organisations to start-ups.

Contact Nina on 07905 818028. Email: nina@soora.co.uk

www.soora.co.uk  

www.productandpackshotpix.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ninaassam/