Pandemic Portraits

Ken Gonzales-Day, Pandemic Portraits, 2020

With over 585,000 lives lost, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of us. Like many, I have found it difficult to create work in the manner I had prior to the pandemic since much of my own work takes place 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 saw very few people after Los Angeles was partially closed down in March 2020.

I was thinking about community, isolation, and mortality. In the summer of 2020, I set up my photo studio in keeping with existing safety standards and began taking portraits of individuals. The studio had a wall of windows, a fan, and enough room to place a backdrop and a camera 16 feet apart. I wore a mask and invited the sitter to pose with and without a mask.

The portraits were of actors, artists, arts professionals, an attorney, dancers, influencers, models, trainers, writers, and friends. The setting offered a chance for human connection. The space was very tight and the lens very long. Conditions that were both a challenge and a lot of fun.

Afterward, I shared the images and they let me know their favorites. There was a degree of trust required as our understanding of safety conditions changed daily. I greatly valued the opportunity to photograph these creative and giving spirits even as so many of us faced challenges. There was a blistering heatwave, a small earthquake, smokey skies from fires, and no small amount of hand sanitizer.  For me, the portraits were about all of it. The last portrait was taken on November 27. On November 28 Los Angeles County announced the “Temporary Targeted Safer at Home Order,” and I canceled future appointments.

A selection of the work was launched in an online viewing room at Luis de Jesus Los Angeles during the height of the Pandemic.

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