The day when they shut down the restaurants. That’s when I started photographing COVID-19 obsessively. An editor
directed me to a row of restaurants downtown.
It was so quiet on the street that day. Very few people were out. It felt real. I photographed the empty dining room of a Mexican restaurant, complete with that framed Día de Muertos presiding:
I haven’t stopped documenting the impact of COVID-19 since that afternoon.
I started photographing every empty business and restaurant, school or church that I could find. The sheer size of the economic impact is beyond my comprehension. Impacts more cruel are approaching fast.
At this point the photos blur together. I have taken so many.
Like a jaded collector, I only notice when I get something different, Now certain shots of these empty and dark establishments will stand out for a moment, like the church I hadn’t seen before or the bar that announced they had removed all alcohol from the building or the beautifully simple reception area at a place that hooks hooked you up to an IV for, “total wellness.”
Everything I’m doing is from my car or my bike or the street. I’m not going inside anywhere, anymore.
In the car I’ve got a 400/2.8 lens on my lap. Somehow I’ve gotten used to its weight (10 pounds)
– its presence has become natural. Also in use is a 70-200 lens and a Leica Q. My Leica M and new 21/1.4 lens have been sadly put away for now. There are very few ultra-wide shots to be made.
Yesterday I biked 31 miles around the city. On the bike I carry a Nikon with a 70-200 and a Leica Q. No bag. Both cameras are on my shoulder and ready to shoot. The new bike is a game-changer for my photography- the RadMini.
I can cover so much ground on this bike. It’s like I am flying.
Let’s talk about speed.
There was an old line photographers said when hating on photographers who used zoom lenses:
“I’d rather zoom with my feet.”
Like most photography sayings it’s a good thought but doesn’t hold up to reality. Its real message is obscured.
The thing a zoom lens gives me over a prime lens is speed of movement. Speed can be the most important thing when photographing a fluid situation.
You can’t always “zoom with your feet” in photojournalism. Sometimes you’re locked in position. Other times running across the room for a photograph would be bad form or even insensitive to the situation. And even when you can zoom with your feet, you can’t run as fast as I can zoom. When I zoom in from 70mm to 200mm I’m teleporting myself over great distances, instantly.
The bike is another tool to boost my speed. Riding through the city, I see shots in the distance and get there quickly. If I see a different angle I can adjust on the fly. If I need to be across the street, it takes a couple seconds.
In the first two weeks on the bike I’ve made many photographs that wouldn’t exist otherwise. It’s a secret weapon.
When someone tells you, “I’d rather zoom with my feet,” or some other nugget of photo wisdom they are almost always telling you this:
Think about what you’re doing.
Now that is great advice.
The goal is simple: great photographs.