Photography Through the Pandemic

A Book Review and Introspective

3 min read by
Photograph by Shane Balkowitsch. (Photography through the Pandemic, page 19).

Photography through the Pandemic is a community photo book created by Holly Gilman and produced by 35mmc (Hamish Gill). It is dedicated to John Whitmore, who passed away unexpectedly as this book was being put together.

Within its 200+ pages, the book features work by 50 artists in full colour, accompanied by a page-long statement.

I got this book as part of the Kickstarter campaign in 2021 when the pandemic was still raging in full swing, a year after it (the virus) made its way to Canada.

It’s been a few days now since WHO downgraded COVID-19’s status as, according to them, it is no longer a global emergency. The effects of the virus are still very real for thousands of people who die from it every day, as well as its numerous secondary effects on the population. Still, the world seems to be moving on — whether we like it or not.

The book was on my shelf for a few months, waiting to be cracked open, which I finally did over the recent long weekend. It felt fitting to read the stories of people I relate to dearly (film photographers) in what seems to be a different time now.

As I sat down with the book, I was greeted by a surprise in the introduction: I saw my name under a quote. It was the text from the community zine I published in 2020, shortly after the onset of the pandemic:

Surrounded by the shitstorm, I take photos in an attempt to observe and understand. I take photos to feel like my perspective is somehow valuable. I take photos, hoping that someday I can look back at them, having made it through: safe, happy, and free.

I feel flattered.

Flipping through large (taller than A4 by an inch), uncoated pages, I’ve read stories that sounded painfully familiar. Learning about the accounts of change in the contributors’ lives and their wishes for when it’ll all be finally over felt surreal.

In 2023, we know there’s no abrupt end to this fight, no parades or fireworks to celebrate the pandemic’s end. It still lingers, and the effects of it will continue to revibrate throughout our lives and beyond. Going back to the quote above, I do feel happy quite often — though also stressed, probably more than I was in 2019. Can’t say that I feel free, but I am saving up money and time for the future, which I now have the privilege to understand better and plan for.

Photo series by Lady Jay (Photography through the Pandemic, page 97).

I am also thinking about all the contributors, the people involved in making this book, and the #BelieveInFilm community at large. What has changed since they wrote their entries for this book? What have they done with the photos they made at the height of it all?

It’s been a lovely read.

This book reminded me that while the professionals deemed essential kept us fed, clean, and alive during the thick of it, the artists made life worthwhile as we read books and watched shows in our pyjamas.

I scrape the mud of bleakness from my surroundings, and challenge myself to discover the untold beauty beneath. If all else fails, I try shooting abstracts. There is always something fascinating to discover when I detach shapes from reality.

Andrea Armando, Photography through the Pandemic.