A UK-based wedding photography business, South West Photo and Film, has declared bankruptcy last week leaving hundreds of couples and newlyweds out of pocket, without their images, and in some cases without a photographer – just days before their big day was expected to take place.
The company (also previously known as Lee Brewer Photography and Film) has shut down its website and online social media pages, removing all points of contact after sending out reluctantly worded apologetic emails to clients as the news broke.
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A post was shared on Facebook by Lee Brewer, the business owner of South West Photo & Film, that has since been deleted. The post from 28 July 2022 explains his side of the story, where he states "Due to the size of my debt and reviewing my options I was advised bankruptcy was my only option". Screenshots of his full (and very long) statement can be found in a comment section (opens in new tab) on Facebook.
The most difficult element of this company's downfall is not only the devastating loss to hundreds of brides and grooms, but several photographers and videographers who were sub-contracted out under South West Photo and Film (opens in new tab), meaning they too are not receiving any payments for weddings they had already shot, and are in the difficult position of dealing with reasonably distraught clients.
Thankfully, the wedding photography community has come out in full force to help these couples by offering advice, support, and discounted re-booking rates for their available dates to the unfortunate clients of the company that has now ceased all trading. Advice on choosing a more reliable new wedding photographer has also been provided by other local companies, after many clients have developed understandable trust issues on paying any further deposits to photographers.
A Facebook page has been set up titled Moments For You (opens in new tab) organized by a team of former admin staff for South West Photo & Film (SWPF) to help out all the couples affected and ensure that they still get the photographer and/or videographer that they had booked for their wedding, and help brides and grooms find alternative local photographers at short notice. It is said that the page had gained over one thousand likes and follows within 24 hours!
Wedding photographers are just as furious and angry about the situation as clients, with the industry reputation also put at risk. Many photographers feel responsible to help and have heavily discounted their prices, knocking off hundreds of pounds to help those who have been let down by South West Photo & Film.
One couple from Devon were left with just one day to find a last minute photographer for their wedding, and others have expressed the shock of being told their wedding insurance couldn't help as coverage started a little too late to receive any compensation for their payments to SWPF.
An additional Facebook support group Let's Find you Another Wedding Photographer/Videographer 2022 (opens in new tab) has been created by photographers as a further resource to link couples with photographers and videographers who may be available on their wedding date. The group currently has 1.7k members.
Hundreds of couples have posted on the group since, searching for photographers and sharing how they've been drastically affected both emotionally and financially by the news, with many having paid up front for their weddings with SWPF, and are now having to source funds to pay yet again for a replacement photographer.(opens in new tab)
In speaking with (opens in new tab) the BBC, a Taunton based videographer, Sam Richardson, has explained how overdue invoices from his work contracted out by Mr Lee Brewer (owner of South West Photo & Film) had began to pile up and he was struggling to get paid for his work. "Within the last six weeks payments had slowed to a point, not just for me but for all the shooters, where the overdue invoices were building up in the thousands," he shared.
After contacting Brewer repeatedly, Richardson finally received acknowledgement that money was owed to him, but it was a little too late as on 27 July 2022, he heard from another employed SWP&F photographer that "it was all over" and "none of us were getting paid".
A shootproof client delivery website for SWP&F (opens in new tab) still remains active for the time being, with several galleries of wedding images uploaded that may unfortunately expire soon, as some have pointed out that the website operates on a pay-monthly basis from the owner, who has now ceased trading.
Yet another Facebook group with 520 members has been created titled Lee Brewer/ South West Photo and Film Money Recovery (opens in new tab) offering help and financial advice for everyone that has been affected and in other words scammed by the owner of the company. Many say that they were hounded and badgered by Brewer for payment in full and encouraged to pay a "faster editing" fee after their wedding for a quicker turnaround of receiving images, which they did not receive.(opens in new tab)
It's unclear as to the validity or truth behind many statements made by members of this Facebook group, so they should be taken with a pinch of salt – but a quick scroll through the comment sections has revealed shocking accusations that Mr Brewer is currently "hiding" in the US, spotted in New York and Vegas, with other claims that he has previously received three outstanding CCJ's (County Court Judgements) for debt against his name, dating back to 2017.
Some enraged clients have reported Brewer to insolvency teams, Action Fraud, Trading Standards, victim support, spoken with legal reps, and some are considering taking the business owner to small claims court. There are of course two sides to every story, and while many publications and news outlets have reached out to Brewer for comment, all we have to go on is his original (now deleted) Facebook post where he did not come off in a very apologetic or remorseful light.
People are sensibly very angry, hurt and of course shocked by the whole ordeal, looking for any means necessary to get their money back. As the story seems to keep unravelling, we'll update this article as best as we can with any further updates on how those affected can obtain legitimate help and hopefully some justice.