We’re all in hiding now.
Those of us behind closed doors, in private, and masks, in public, should be more grateful than ever for the curious eyes of the artist. Coronavirus and social distancing came as a sucker punch to Twin Cities photographers, who—with weddings canceled, concerts postponed, and paying gigs vanishing--ripped up their calendars and put away their equipment.
For a bit. Then that same restless energy that drives them to create in the first place stirred, and they found ways to depict this disorienting new reality--through windows, through computer screens, from a distance. It’s a little stranger, this world they’re capturing. But it’s still beautiful.
[Click here to see a gallery of these photographers' work during quarantine.]
Emily Utne, City Pages Art Director
I spent the first month of isolation not doing anything, being depressed, reading too many news articles, feeling super lethargic. And then I thought… I don’t want to do that! I started collaging, and when I was sorting through my materials I was thinking, “I really want my own images to collage with.” But I wanted new work. I found these pictures in a 1970s photography book of nude, fine-art pictures in windows, and I started thinking: “I should do my own.”
It’s been refreshing to be so spontaneous without coordinating something elaborate with stylists and makeup artists— I can’t really plan it, I don’t really know what they’re going to wear when I get there, I don’t know what the reflections on the window are going to look like. Am I going to have to stand in the neighbor’s yard? Is it going to be raining? All the unknowns make it really exciting. I don’t know exactly what I’m getting until I get home and I’m like, woah.
It’s really about them being vulnerable and intimate. People are feeling a lot of emotions, and they’re conveying that. The series captures feelings of seclusion, isolation, longing, and heartache. And there’s a bit of voyeurism to it. I would say I’m trying to invoke or capture a timeless, visceral experience or energy, sort of time-warping between the Great Depression, a horror film, and a fashion shoot. Reality is so surreal that capturing it right now feels like a fantasy. It’s making me be creative in new ways.
Carla Alexandra Rodriguez
These are really different than the images I typically make. I shoot in a studio, indoors, but I didn’t feel confident or safe in continuing portraits that way. There was three weeks or so where I didn’t make anything, or know what I should or could do. Part of what I’m missing right now is human interaction. I thought I could do these tintype portraits at a safe distance, outdoors, using natural light, and longer exposures. I’ve got a mobile setup in my car, so I can go to people’s homes and photo outside their homes, and then I hosted a pop-up at my home.
Tintype is a really honest medium, you can’t really hide anything. With these, I was especially interested in capturing people in the moment, authentically, whether they’re haggard or glowing -- thriving or not. That woman in the hat is named Francine; she was a stranger to me, I’d never met her.
She showed up at my house looking ethereal, and beautiful, in that white dress. She told me she’d been waiting a long time, and felt like this was the right time. It’s really interesting that there’s a desire to document this moment. I see someone who’s really at peace with themselves, very serene, but… confronting. The way she was looking at me was very present, and calm. Like, “I’m here, I’m present, I’m witnessing this.”
I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s lives and how they live at home and how they decorate their homes. All of our houses, whether we do interior design or not, tell a story. And I’ve always been a Hitchcock fan, so. I started out doing this series a while ago and it was more editorial, a little more posed stuff, almost like movie stills or vignettes. And then as usual, I crash and burn with a project, and I kind of gave up on it. But then all this started and I was like… well, no one can say no now! I have a plethora of subjects!
I feel like before the project had a playful element, and even though that’s still there, it’s kind of like, just a reality now. It has a different meaning, and I think any viewer can identify with it more, but I hope that it’s hopeful when people look at it -- what I want as an overarching theme is connectivity. Even though we have the internet, it’s easy to fall into isolating behaviors. We just want to have people over to our yards, we just want to have normalcy. But it’s like, let’s not forget that we’re all doing it alone and together.
Every one feels really special. I just put out there: Hey, I need subjects, ideally people that have first or second-floor windows. It’s so amazing that there’s people in the community who see the value in it and want to be a part of it. Because I do think art is essential. I have so much gratitude toward the community for supporting artists like myself and everyone else that’s shooting right now. We couldn’t do it without you all. And if you have a space you want to shoot, reach out to any of us. There’s tons of us doing work still.
Like many others I was, and still am, very scared about COVID-19. At first my fiancé and I began selling our things. We were really scrambling to try to make money in any way that we could while unemployment wasn’t kicking in. I started seeing other photographers experimenting with these virtual photoshoots on Instagram and decided to give it a shot.
Once I started sharing those images on Instagram I received a surprising amount of messages from folks asking to book with me! I didn’t realize how far these virtual FaceTime photoshoots would reach. Over FaceTime I’ve been all over California, Las Vegas, New York, Austria, London -- it’s wild, and feels incredibly intimate that people allow me to photograph them in their most personal space. I got the chance to meet and virtually photograph Tess Holliday (@TessHolliday), a professional model, body-positive activist, and creator of #effyourbeautystandards.
Being distant presents so many challenges. Virtual photographing felt so strange and silly compared to what we’re all used to in the realm of photography. I had to experiment and explore a new way to show depth and perspective in my photographs and figure out what worked best for my editing style. A positive side of social distancing (for myself, I can’t speak for all artists) is learning to adapt and forcing myself to learn new things, some main ones being communication and trust. Something I’m told quite often from the people I photograph virtually is how much they’ve looked forward to creating art or even just “dressing up,” and that really warms my heart.
My circumstances are slightly more extreme than some people’s. My son is Type 1 diabetic. So almost immediately I started social distancing, staying at home, and canceled all my appointments. I was focused on editing some photos, and then moved into self-portraits, which I don’t really do.
I saw some people playing around with Facetime photos. At first I thought it was kind of stupid. But I saw talented people, people I look up to, were doing it. I wanted to try. At first I tried taking photographs of the screen with my camera. Now I do screenshots. It’s more difficult, that’s for sure. I don’t think my style of subject matter has changed, though now it’s more a window into that person’s life, since they’re at home.
Like, everyone has a bathroom, and basically uses it for the same reason, so let’s try to make it interesting, or sexy, or cool. I really like the shots of the woman in the bathtub with the mirror. That’s Dani, she’s a friend of mine, and a model. It’s always easier to shoot when it’s someone you’ve worked with. Most of the things I do are sexy, or empowerment photos. I’ve spent the past few years photographing to hone in on my style. I’m not trying to change anything, I’m trying to open this up as another arm of my art and my business.
“Portraits from 6ft” is a series of environmental portraits of people at their quarantine or workspaces. The intention is to capture what life is like at this time as authentically as possible, so, naturally, homes and workspaces are the best reflections of that. Many of the stories are of artists, business owners, and restaurants. As a small-business owner and creative, I know how challenging it can be to support yourself when times are good, and how catastrophic an unexpected event like COVID-19 can be. Watching the community hurt is devastating.
Maggie Thompson, a talented textile artist and owner of Makwa Studio, was my first portrait. She shared on social media how she was let go from her job and trying to now support herself fully with her business, which at the time she was unable to do. [Another] one that sticks out currently is the portraits with Bachelor Farmer chef Jonathan Gans. When we were taking photos, TBF was planning on reopening, but since then the decision was made to close forever. Looking at the pictures now and going back to that moment just a few weeks ago really illustrates the uncertainty of this time.
Before COVID times, most of my photography was event-related. I love event photography because I can be a fly on the wall, vicariously experiencing the events and emotions of the occasion. This project feels intuitive, like event photography, as shoots are not super planned in advance. I cannot predict what I am going to capture, and I leave each time feeling inspired and more connected to the community. It requires a lot of trust, which feels rare at this time. A handful of people I’ve captured I’ve never met before, and via Instagram, they’re giving me personal information like their address before knowing what I look like.
I encourage people to read the stories of everyone impacted. Support their work and businesses, or give them a follow.
I started this series as a way to get outside. I live alone, but I’m really social. All my business went away, with weddings postponed. My first thought was, how do I keep making art? I wanted to get into shooting medium-format film. It started with me asking a few friends if they would pose outside. I’ve been biking an average of 20 miles a day, with this backpack, which is really heavy. It’s let me reassess what I really love about photography in general, and create something meaningful to me.
That couple is Lucia and Dom. She’s a hairstylist I know through the music scene. They’ve been making tie dye with their kids every day. I had to find a way to bring the energy down, because kids tend to run around. When I would shoot families pre-COVID, I’m on the floor with them, getting really intense action shots. This has been an experience in trying to find stillness and quiet.
I want these to feel timeless, so I’m asking people to relax the muscles around their face, and look into the distance behind me. I tell them to take an inhale and an exhale, and let their shoulders fall down. I want to bring about thoughtfulness, meditativeness. There are a lot of heightened emotions right now. I really want to find a pause, some sort of solid resilience, and something slow and methodical. Life is so insane right now.
I shoot a lot of portraits for local musicians, promotional photos, stuff like that. None of that has been happening. Because I haven’t done any paid photo work during this time I’ve just been working creatively, artistically. I like to shoot in nature. The dark-haired woman is my friend Sophia, she’s a model and an actress.
I use myself as a subject when I don’t have anybody else, just using a self-timer on a digital camera. In hindsight, I feel like they capture a feeling of this childhood innocence, like being out in the woods by yourself, having that time to be in your imagination. I was always going towards a lighter mood, a little bit of escapism.
Instead of documenting this quarantine period, I’d rather do more of a fantasy, a daydream, embracing the fact that it’s spring and we can be outside. As an artist if you want to keep going and not get bogged down you have to be able to maintain some kind of inner world where you have creativity, inspiration, even if it’s on a small scale.