Covid Projects: Covid Pictures
During the 2020 pandemic, when life was out of our control, restricted and confined, when we had to cope with shifted realities, many photographic artists found whole new ways to create work. We mined our personal lives, walked empty streets and photographed our cities and towns when they were silent, we watched the light move across our spaces, and documented our experiences, large and small.
Photographer Jennifer Timmer Trail considered the importance of this moment in time and realized there was an opportunity to create a historical archive of work created during the pandemic. So she created Covid Pictures. She describes her intentions:
Covid Pictures began out of a desire to create a container where photographs made during and about the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, could be collected and shared. With so many unknowns and the overall collective anxiety, many of us found comfort in the little things that went unchanged or brought us moments of respite. The sheer number of photographs flooding social media, documenting these personal experiences, is remarkable. They felt too important not to gather them up and hold on to them, for all of us.
Today we share Trail’s curation of just a handful of images that have been sent to the archive, from every corner of the globe. It’s with appreciation of her profound efforts that we feature Covid Pictures. An interview with Trail follows.
Jennifer Timmer Trail is an Oregon-based artist, educator and book designer. Originally from Northern Michigan, life circumstances have kept her far from the idyllic small town she still calls home, and this has played a crucial role in the development of her work. Her photographs explore the longings that exist within relationships, things we wish we could hold on to but can’t, and the nostalgia that accompanies the process of aging.
Jennifer received her MFA in Photography from Hartford Art School and her BA in Art History and Studio Art from Michigan State University. Jennifer is a founding member of Small Talk, a Portland-based collective of female photographic artists, and creator of the online photography archive Covid Pictures. Her photographs have been widely published and exhibited internationally, and her curatorial endeavors have been reviewed in The New York Times. Her work is part of several private collections and was most recently acquired by Seattle’s 4Culture for the King County Public Collection.
Creating a photographic archive of this profound moment in time is not only important, but historical. How did the idea come about?
I was living in New York when 9-11 happened, and was, in fact, about 8 blocks from the World Trade Center that morning. It was total instinct that led me to grab a digital camera and head to the rooftop. I photographed the whole thing, not realizing until later, that documenting it was a way of removing myself from the terrifying event unfolding in front of me. In the days and weeks following, I remember many open calls for people to submit photographs taken on that day. There was one project in particular, “Here Is New York, a Democracy of Photographs” at 116 Prince Street in SoHo, that was building an archive which eventually resulted in a traveling exhibition and book of the collection. I never submitted mine, but I woke up thinking about this one morning early on in quarantine. That morning I decided to try to build an archive, and by the end of the day with a generous investment from my brother, I had a website and was accepting submissions with no fee.
What are your ideas for the future of the archive?
In the beginning, I didn’t really have a plan except to keep submissions open until the pandemic was over. Looking back, there really was no way of knowing how long this would be, and I think at this point, it’s gone on much longer than most of us could have imagined. Submissions are still open and will remain open until it feels like a natural ending. At that point, I’d like the project to continue to live on the internet as an open and accessible resource and reminder of this historical moment we are living through.
What was most surprising in terms of submissions?
We’ve all had our own individual challenges during this pandemic. For me personally, it’s been managing work, teaching, and parenting. I’ve had little time to promote the archive, but what I’ve found so incredible is that submissions just keep rolling in. They have been sent in by established and emerging photographers alike, as well as everyday people shooting images on their phone. The work ranges from highly personal and intimate to documentary. The thing that has surprised me most of all, though, is that the submissions have come from some of the farthest-reaching corners of the world. I get a little thrill each time I open my inbox and see locations like the Congo or Tehran.
Did you make your own work inspired by self-quarantining or Covid?
I did! At first, like many others, I was going out for walks with my daughter (and my camera) and trying to wrap my mind around the empty city streets and shuttered businesses. I added a few of those photos near the beginning of the archive. But eventually, those walks shifted into more one-on-one time with my daughter, and more time to devote to the project I had already begun a few months prior about my how our relationship was changing as she transitioned into her teenage years. I feel so lucky to have had this extra (albeit forced) time to spend with her.
In addition to that, my photo collective Small Talk created a collaborative body of work based on the prompt “strange paradise”– a phrase that we all interpreted differently based on our individual experiences during Covid. For many months we critiqued, and attempted to edit and sequence the work over Zoom, which was super challenging. In November we published and released a zine, by the same title, which we are very proud of!
Any thoughts for creating exhibitions from this archive?
I am so impressed with the work that has been submitted. There are so many beautiful and touching images. I think it would be really wonderful to curate an exhibition out of the archive and perhaps put a publication together. I’m definitely interested in doing that in the semi-near future!
To be included in the Covid Pictures archive, please visit the submission page here: covidpictures.org.
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