LA's Photographers Can't Come Near You, But They'll Peep In Your Windows
Portrait photography often requires getting in people's faces, or at least within six feet of them. But in this socially-distanced, coronavirus-colored reality, some local photographers are having to find inventive ways of doing their work.
And it's turned into something of a mini-trend.
"I was thinking, 'Does this mean I can't take photos of anyone?'" photographer Lisa Whiteman told us. She brainstormed with her husband and came up with an idea to photograph people framed by their own windows. She started shooting with the intention of capturing reflections of the outside world.
"So you could see what was less accessible now for the people behind the glass," Whiteman said.
Photographer Ericka Kreutz said she was wondering how to keep up her work, too. "Everything I do is with people, and I got sad that I couldn't engage," she told us.
Kreutz started by taking photos of her children in their new homeschooling situation, but felt she needed to find some new subjects. She heard that a Tulsa photographer had done a newborn shoot through the window and devoured the photos she found online. She decided to put her own spin on the idea.
"It's dirty. It's messy. There's glares. There's so much imperfection technically in the photos," Kreutz said, "and I feel like that's what is perfect — because this time is so messy and crazy."
Photographer Innis Casey told us that shooting photos in this style was a natural choice — he's always been fascinated by windows.
"I always think they're these escapes to somewhere else," Casey said.
Now he's using them to tell stories of people who can't really escape to anywhere else right now.
Kreutz said she wants her photos to help people remember this time when families are all together, yet isolated. Casey looks at these photos as a time capsule for his subjects, and tries to capture details in their surroundings that say something about who they are.
"When they look back on these, they're going to remember, 'Oh gosh, we're all looking out that window,' and I think seeing a part of who they are," Casey said.
The communication aspect of socially distanced photography has required some adjustments.
"Sometimes I'm yelling," Kreutz said. "Sometimes people are two stories up and I'm taking from across the street. And sometimes I will just smile, or do a thumbs up, or I might do a gesture of, like, 'put your arm around the baby.'"
Whiteman uses her phone, or tries talking loudly enough for her subjects to hear her through the window.
Photo composition can also be a challenge.
You have to find the right combination of capturing the people, the environment, and making sure that you're not in the window's reflection yourself, according to Whiteman.
It's hard to see the subtleties of the reflections on the camera's display, especially during a quick shoot, so she's having to trust that she's got what she needs until she has a chance to review later.
"They're all different, and it's an interesting challenge to figure out, OK, how am I going to use this window? And am I going to include the house in it, or just the glass, and how is this going to work?" Whiteman said.
These photographers all started out by calling on friends to use as subjects.
"It's been nice seeing my friends," Whiteman said. "It's not the same as it used to be, weeks ago, but it's still nice to be able to see their faces."
Whiteman normally does a lot of documentary work, covering subcultures and groups of people that she doesn't know — but it's not an easy time to be approaching people on the street, she said.
To pull out what this time is really like, Kreutz asks people to wear what they're actually wearing around and not to get dressed up — jogging pants are perfectly acceptable. She asks parents to look right in the camera so she can capture a look in the eyes, often lonely or weary.
But there's no directing the kids.
"I said, 'let the kids do whatever they want to do,'" Kreutz said. "I'm getting just really genuine kids bouncing off the walls, or looking at nature, or looking at their parents, or putting their nose on the glass and doing what kids do."
"What I hope that other people take away from it is just this quiet tenderness that we are in right now," Kreutz said. "I hope that, with all the puzzles that are being put together, and card games — I know we're making a lot of slime here — that adults are going, 'this is forcing us to really be real right now, and be with each other.'"
With subjects who Whiteman often knows, she's been noticing what her photos can't actually capture.
"One of the people that I photographed is undergoing cancer treatments, and can't leave the house at all, and is dealing with this alone — but that definitely does not come through in the photo," Whiteman said. "It can only tell so much."
It's a hard time for photographers, both as they struggle with coronavirus in their personal lives and also deal with the economic impact.
"I'm worried about my parents. I hope they're going to be fine. My ex-wife's going through chemo right now," Casey said.
Taking these photos has given him hope, he said — but there are also far fewer gigs right now.
"All my weddings, all my bar mitzvahs, everything I had planned — everything's just done," Casey said. "There is no income coming in. I think maybe October is the next paid gig I have — if everything is OK by then."
Like all of us, they're struggling with the unknown.
"I wish I had an end date," Kreutz said, "so I could say, 'OK, I've got 30 more days — I've got 70 more days.' I feel scared with the uncertainty, especially since my work depends so much on being with people, and being intimate with people."
Still, there's one big upside of coronavirus lockdown photography: you can actually schedule things with people in L.A.
"I will text or reach out to a family, and I get, 'Any time, Ericka. We'll be here,'" Kreutz said.
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