On Assignment: Feature Hunting during COVID-19
The Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper recently contacted me to make images to be used without a story attached. These types of photos can be called ‘features’, ‘spec photos’ and ‘wild art’. There have been so many photos focused on coronavirus that the challenge was to find something that wasn’t the typical photos of people cleaning something while wearing masks or portraits through windows. There has been some amazing work done in these areas, it’s just not what I was looking for. There are many ways to approach feature photos; there are probably as many ways as there are photographers, or at least close to it. Driving around can obviously be a good way to canvas a large area while looking. However, my preferred method, when possible, is to move the feet on the sidewalk. Walking offers a photographer the opportunity to notice details and get into a photo mentality of slowing down a bit and observing. Being in an environment, in this case; smelling fresh spring sprouts, listening to the seemingly-labored sound of geese wings flapping as they honk and patiently waiting for an individual or people going about their lives, can aid in being in the moment for photography.
Downtown is where the majority of people are so that’s where I went in order to increase my odds of photo success. As soon as I crossed under Grandview Parkway and made my way to the marina, there were two men putting on scuba equipment—success! There are a number of steps in order to get certain photos. In this case, I wanted to get close for the pictures so I knew I’d have to receive their permission in order to make the pictures I wanted. Legally, being in a public place, it’s not a requirement to obtain permission of someone for photographic purposes if it’s for editorial reasons (for commercial purposes, I’d need not only their permission but model releases also). In this situation, the mens’ permission was important to me because it allowed me to get close to make pictures and also to talk with them in order to gather additional information about what they were doing and to get their names. All of this information is important to add to the caption. The time between I saw the men and the time they dove in was short so I was glad to have found the scene unfold as soon as I did.
After the divers were on their way, my goal was to find a solitary person walking. The governor of Michigan, after announcing the stay-at-home orders, said that although staying inside was crucial, it was ok to get outside, get exercise and walk dogs, as long as social distancing was observed. An individual was walking in the distance and I made a photograph of them showing the vast space around them without people. In this instance, permission was not needed since they were not identifiable.
Being pleased with what I’d captured so far, my goal was to find something showing spring since I knew it’d be a welcome visual treat compared to the constant barrage of COVID-19 photos. A local lake was my setting and I stepped out to walk on the path toward a small, nearby bridge. Although I do prefer people in my photographs, there’s an abundance of natural beauty in the area so I crouched down to photograph waves as they approached the shoreline. The light was nice and I wanted to capture it so the wave was frozen in time as it reached the shore.
Wave photo captured, I continued walking along the path until I heard a song sparrow singing. Not only was it singing, but as I walked past, it wasn’t flying away, it was singing more and more. This seemed like a nice spring photo so I framed the bird in a way that it would be framed by the surrounding branches. If you look at the photo, my objective was to have no branches or twigs “sticking” (pun intended) out of the bird’s head. I’m thankful for how close this bird allowed me to be.
The next day, I traveled downtown again to photograph the marquee of the State Theatre. Since social distancing is crucial and the marquee addressed that, I wanted to take a photo not because it’s the most visually interesting photo but because the content will be socially important and interesting during this world-changing time.
Here is some photo inspiration in case you’re searching for some; the International Center of Photography has been showing some really good, curated work from photographers who have been selected and are using the hashtag #ICPConcerned. Check it out here. Also check out the Instagram gallery for The New York Times here as they continue their tradition of superb visuals and storytelling.
The way that we’re all being forced to adapt has been changing daily. I took these photos a couple of weeks ago and it seems like a lifetime ago. As the cases of COVID-19 in Michigan rise, I try to limit my exposure and outings more and more. There are some excellent routes for walking in our neighborhood so taking walks, with camera, have offered some escapes in this funky time. I hope you’ve all been finding ways to stay creative and breath some fresh air when possible. It’s important to not stress too much over creative outlet though because at this point we’re all trying to get sanely through this while thinking of family, friends and the world. It’s all about balance; thinking of you all and take good care.
The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.Robert Rauschenberg