COVID-19 Photo Essay

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This photo essay spurred during the bizarre and tense climate brought about by the COVID-19 situation. Below is a short report of my COVID-19 Photo Essay.

Photography has come a long way in its relatively short history. In almost 200 years, the camera developed from a plain box that took blurry photos to the high technology found in today’s DSLRs and smartphones. It could be said that photography was not “invented” but that it evolved over time, this discovery changed for good our perception of the world, and of ourselves and also defined a whole new artistic form. Moreover, by the beginning of the twentieth century, photography was well on its way to becoming the visual language it is today, the pervasive agent of democratic communication. The outbreak of World War I essentially ended the Pictorialist movement, and the medium of photography, at large, transformed from a solely aesthetic program to a medium of documentation. Artists began to see the camera as a tool for social change, using it to shed light on injustice, inequality, and the sidelined aspects of society. The subjects vary, from ‘migrants in the camp of Nipomo, California’ – documented by Dorothea Lange to ‘Americans’ – a project by Robert Frank with bold social criticism.

As per its definition by Tate, documentary photography, “offers alternative ways of seeing, recording, and understanding the events and situations that shape the world in which we live.” In that way, many photographers, in this current Covid-19 situation the world finds itself in, contributing to the documentation of global facts and widespread emotions defining this unique moment in history. Many have produced or are still producing bodies of work that vary in style but report the same crises — a time when humanity as a whole was forced to press ‘pause’, together.

My personal ‘Unseen’ project is an arbitrary narrative of this Covid-19 situation. At the initial stages of my project, while confined at home, the level of work I was producing wasn’t quite up to standard. I couldn’t find photo-worthy situations that honestly bring to light the climate of the pandemic. It was when some of the quarantine restrictions were lifted that my photo essay started to take shape. Compared with the staged photos I was producing at home, the situations on the desolate streets justified the value of documentary photography. It was quite an experience walking through streets which are usually crowded and full of energy. Observation was the source of my body of work; I let my route dictate the flow of the project, shooting whatever shouts Coronavirus. That being said, my ‘Unseen’ project has no one particular focus theme other than my personal visual diary in the times of Covid-19.

As remarked previously, the early stages turned out to be a failed attempt in terms of final output shots. However, the insight on iconic documentary photography projects and also exploring recent ongoing photo essays about the pandemic guided my process, and eventually influenced the final outcome. The project is non-linear with a mix black & white and colour photos. It is clear that I do not follow one particular style; instead, I adapted techniques by some of the greats. Different techniques for different situations, the zone system by Ansel Adams for some BW shots, high contrast, and saturation on other shots — influenced by Martin Parr and shooting some events from the hip like Vivian Maier. Throughout the course of my personal project, I have also looked into concurrent projects by other photographers, a particular mention is the covid19visualproject.org — a photographic archive of the coronavirus pandemic. This digital platform is organised across main thematic areas in the form of a narrative where many stories from all over the world will cover multiple subjects, at times overlapping.

Bibliography

Loane, S. (n.d.). A Coronavirus Photo Essay From Bologna, Italy. Thomson Foundation. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from http://www.thomsonfoundation.org/latest/a-coronavirus-photo-essay-from-bologna-italy/

Tate. (n.d.). Documentary Photography – Art Term | Tate. Tate. Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/d/documentary-photography/

(n.d.). The COVID-19 Visual Project. Retrieved June 3, 2020a, from https://covid19visualproject.org/

(n.d.). England’s Coronavirus Lockdown In Pictures. BBC News. Retrieved June 2, 2020b, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-52830287/