The pandemic brought an abrupt halt to my ability to practice street and travel photography. Trips and workshops were canceled. Neighborhoods that I typically explored were nearly abandoned. Though I theoretically had more time to make photographs, my usual subject matter was not easily found.
However, the larger reason to remain home was that I lived with an elderly parent who is immuno-compromised. As much as I might love to have wandered through the streets, I had to consider the health of my mother-in-law who is well into her eighties.
As days turned into weeks, I couldn’t live with the idea of not making photographs. The camera was always with me, even while running errands. Though I treasured the moments when I dedicated hours and days to photography, the reality was that I was sometimes satisfied with a few frames squeezed out during an average day. They were photographs made while grocery shopping, getting my teeth cleaned, or getting a tune-up on the car. It wasn’t just what and where I was photographing that was of importance. I just wanted to practice seeing and making photographs.
What others might have considered an obstacle was a creative challenge that often bore fruit. So, why not apply that way of thinking one step further? Now, the limitation was that I needed to focus on my life during the pandemic, most of which happened under my own roof.
Reexamining the Familiar
So, I took a step back and reconsidered my home. Instead of thinking of each area for the function it served in my domestic life (the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc.), I examined them in much the way I would explore scenes elsewhere.
Throughout the day, I paid attention to light and shadow. I observed the quality of the light in my kitchen in the morning. I’d see how it began as a cool blue and then slowly warmed up as the sun rose above the horizon. As the sun crested over the neighbor’s roof, the streams of sunlight brightened the kitchen and brought it to life.
In the late afternoon, the sun did something completely different on the other side of the house. It not only illuminated the dining, living, and family rooms, but it accentuated the colors and shapes and textures of the many objects that decorated those spaces.
And though I owned a variety of Fujifilm cameras and lenses, I focused on using just an X-Pro3 with either a XF23mmF2 R WR or XF35mmF2 R WR lens. Though I occasionally used wider or longer focal lengths, I knew the importance of keeping things simple. By being limited to both the space I worked in and the gear I used, I kept the focus on where it needed to be – my seeing.
As I still had work responsibilities, I gave myself the modest goal of producing a single image a day. I also abandoned the idea that any image had to be exceptional. It relieved me of any sense of performance anxiety. I just intended to have fun and enjoy the process of discovery.
What began as a struggle became easier when I stopped judging what was or wasn’t worthy of being photographed. Things as simple as my shaving kit on the bathroom counter or my jacket discarded on a chair took on a different significance and weight. This freed me to discover a sense of newness in the mundane and the overly familiar.
It also opened my eyes to the historic significance of this time not just for the world, but for my own family. The images that I made were not just a photographic exercise but also a record on how we as a family made it through a difficult and challenging time. As things progressed, I documented intimate family moments, even on ordinary as my wife laying on the couch watching the news or donning our gloves and masks to prepare for running an errand.
These photographs served not only as the means to scratch my creative itch but would also be an important record that I hoped my family would appreciate years after this crisis was over.