These Dubai photographers are helping unemployed UAE residents improve their job prospects

Ales Vyslouzil and Tara Atkinson are taking free profile shots that can be used for CVs or LinkedIn profiles

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A picture can say a thousand words, and Ales Vyslouzil and Tara Atkinson know it.

With the coronavirus pandemic leaving many unemployed, the right CV and social profile can give people that extra edge they need to secure a new job.

Recognising this fact, the Dubai photographers launched a new initiative towards the end of May. Impression Session was started to give those unemployed in Dubai free photoshoots. The ultimate goal? To provide them with that perfect corporate profile picture for their CVs or LinkedIn profiles, thus improving their job prospects.

“A good picture shows that you’re investing in yourself, spending more time on yourself,” explains Vyslouzil. “It shows employers that you value your skill set and you’re putting in extra effort.”

So every Monday over the last four weeks, the duo have been setting up shop in HotCold Studio in Al Quoz, which has generously allowed them to use the facilities free of charge. Vyslouzil and Atkinson shoot about 12 to 15 people a day, with each subject getting a 15 to 30-minute slot. Those photographed are then shown thumbnails and invited to choose three options. Photos are edited by Vyslouzil and everything is delivered within the week.

“Your image makes that first impression”

Impression Session DXB at HotCold Studio in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on May 31, 2020. Christopher Pike,
Ales Vyslouzil and Tara Atkinson at HotCold Studio in Al Quoz. Courtesy of Christopher Pike

It was Vyslouzil who came up with the idea for the project. The Czech native works as an architectural photographer in the UAE and, like many creatives over the last few months, found his projects – and steady source of income on the decline.

“At the same time, I got to talking with the security guard in my building. He knew I was a photographer and asked me if I could take a portrait of him. I ended up doing an entire shoot for him for free,” he says.

“It got me thinking – there are so many people losing jobs right now. I’m a big believer in the power of LinkedIn, it’s an underrated platform, and there are people who won’t connect with those who don’t have a profile picture. Your image makes that first impression. I realised that I could help people get a better chance at a job.”

When Vyslouzil told Atkinson, a long-term friend and a lifestyle photographer with over ten years of experience in the UAE, about his idea, she immediately got excited about the project. Within five days, she had managed to organise their first shoot and Impression Session was born.

“A good photo should represent the real you”

“We are all about good faith,” explains Atkinson, explaining that interested parties do not need to submit proof of their unemployment to get a picture taken. “There are a lot of freelancers, a lot of people between the cracks who need help. At the same time, we can usually spot an opportunist a mile off.”

Those interested have to fill out a questionnaire in order to book a time slot. They are then guided through the process, with Atkinson and Vyslouzil spending time chatting to them, making them comfortable, and getting to know them better so that they get photos that "really represent them".

“A lot of people feel like they need to look serious for corporate photos, but that isn’t the case,” says Vyslouzil. “A good photo, even if it is a corporate one, should represent the real you.”

So what does it take to create that stellar CV shot? According to the duo, it’s about confidence, looking approachable and connecting with the camera, which can only happen if one connects with the person behind the camera. “The more we talk to them, give them compliments, ask them questions, the more they relax,” says Aktinson. “When people have enjoyed the sessions, you know they will enjoy the photos too.”

Telling real stories

The pictures are all shot against a navy blue background, a standard colour, as Vyslouzil believes it works well with platforms like LinkedIn. Finally, samples of the final product are uploaded onto the Impression Session Instagram page, complete with each individual’s story – from pay reductions to unpaid leave to financial difficulties due to unemployment.

In fact, the Instagram page has now morphed into a platform offering solidarity for UAE residents experiencing hardship during this uncertain time. Each profile shoot is accompanied by background information on the person, the challenges they’re facing and their hopes for the future.

Vyslouzil and Atkinson are also keeping in touch with the people they’ve met through the project, and checking in on their job prospects and financial situation from time to time.

As Atkinson puts it: "At the end of the day, Impression Session is about more than just providing those unemployed with new photos. It’s also about giving them a little confidence boost, a chance to socialise and know that they are not alone.

"The people that we’ve met just are so grateful. They’re happy to be out, to put on a suit, to run into other people in similar situations while they’re in the studio, to break the monotony of sitting at home and sending out CVs. We hope these sessions inspire them, and gives the energy to keep applying for jobs.”