Pandemic Portraits

Ken Gonzales-Day, Pandemic Portraits, 2020

With over 532,000 lives lost, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of us. Like many, I have found it difficult to created work in the manner I had prior to the pandemic since much of my own work takes places in archives, libraries, and museums; most of which have been closed or have restricted access due to the pandemic. As the weeks and months continued to roll by, I was reminded of those lost or impacted by the A.I.D.S. pandemic, and like many, I have seen very few people since Los Angeles was closed down in March 2020.

As a result of these conditions, I began wanting to make art again. I was thinking about mortality, community, and isolation. In the summer of 2020 I set up my studio to be as safe as I could and began taking portraits of individuals. The studio has a wall of windows, a fan, and enough room to place a backdrop and a camera fifteen feet apart. I wore a mask.

The portraits were of actors, artists, arts professionals, an attorney, dancers, influencers, models, trainers, writers, and friends. I shoot them mask-on and mask-off. The setting offered a chance for human connection, a chance to catch up, or meet someone new, and has been both an incredible challenge and a lot of fun.

I offer to share the images with the models and they often let me know their favorites -- or least favorites. There is a degree of trust required in even the safest of conditions and I have greatly valued the opportunity to photograph these creative and giving spirits in a time when so many of us are facing unimagined new challenges every day. In this period, we had had a small earthquake, unbearably smokey skies from fires, a blistering heat wave, and no small amount of instability.  For me, the portraits were about survival, celebration, but most of all, the beauty of the everyday.

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