Art + Science: The Pandemic: Neil Kramer
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the artists who were able to avoid severe illness or hospitalization were given a unique gift of time to respond to our world in a state of upheaval. Many were inspired to create new projects that responded to the unique time in our world. Others had the opportunity to revisit archives and return to unfinished work. This week features photography projects created during this time, focusing on unique connections that emphasize a calling for empathy, friendship or love.
Neil Kramer is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in Queens, NY. He lived in Los Angeles from 1990-2012 writing fictional stories for Hollywood. During the Pandemic, due to unexpected circumstances, he lived (and still lives) in the small apartment he grew up in Queens with his ex-wife and mother. His series Quarantine in Queens documents his experience of life during the pandemic. With a comical approach, one can relate to this time of uncertainty, insecurity, and upheaval. We had the good fortune to see his work recently at Review Santa Fe.
Kramer continues to shoot every day since the pandemic hit in NYC. After it became more difficult to find humor in the situation, he began to express his own feelings of isolation and loneliness. When asked why he is continuing with this project when the pandemic is on the decline, he stated: “The truth is I’m still “quarantining” in my mind. I’m still living with my mother and Sophia, and the pandemic is constantly on my mind in big and small ways, even on the flight to Santa Fe, as I was sitting next to an unmasked guy who was coughing the whole time.”
I asked him when he thinks the project will be complete. He said “I’m thinking of ending at either 1001 days, like the Arabian Nights, or going to the third year. My friends think I am crazy and tell me that doing this project for so long is not good for my mental health. It’s interesting that the reaction to the piece sometimes has political connotations, even though I never intended it. I get messages from crazy people telling me to stop wearing masks. I’ve also gotten very private messages from people who say their mother died of COVID and they are very touched to see us with my mother.”
In March 2020, my Queens, New York neighborhood became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Through unusual circumstances, I found myself living in my small apartment with my 86-year-old mother from Florida and my ex-wife from Los Angeles. We couldn’t go out to shop for food, and I couldn’t even take a bath without my mother or ex-wife walking in on me. “Quarantine in Queens” became a photography project exploring our experience together. We re-staged our daily experiences for the camera, focusing on the humor and absurdity of our situation, sharing daily photos and text on Instagram. As the months passed, the tone of the images turned darker, reflecting not only our changing states of mind, but the mood of American society. Almost 1000 days later, my family is still working on the project. What started as self-therapy has become a visual commentary on care-giving, love, and family responsibility.
Neil Kramer was born in Queens, New York and studied English Literature at Columbia University and Film Production at the USC School of Cinema/TV. He moved to Los Angeles to write funny fictional stories for Hollywood. He never expected that one day, he would be back in Queens, living in the same apartment he did as a child, writing and photographing funny stories about his own real life. His photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York, the International Center of Photography, Photoville, the Los Angeles Center of Photography, the Headon Photo Festival in Australia, and the Donggang Photo Festival in South Korea. His ongoing project, Quarantine in Queens, about living with his mother and ex-wife during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, NPR, The Washington Post, and media outlets worldwide.
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