As people around the world came together to stop the spread of the coronavirus, face masks became a part of our daily lives. But just because our faces are concealed by a piece of fabric doesn’t mean our emotions should be masked with it — in fact, quite the opposite.
For photographers, this adds another layer of complexity to an already intricate practice — capturing the inside from the outside. There are, however, a few simple techniques you can use to help bring out the person — and the story — behind the mask.
Use Surroundings for Context
At a time when New York City’s streets were chillingly devoid of people, save for the city’s essential workers, portraits that captured the stillness in the background spoke volumes. Within these images, especially of those on the frontlines, we can see a plethora of emotions — courage in the face of fear; perseverance and hope amid grief and exhaustion. The facemask will inevitably be a symbol of the time, which automatically gives the audience perspective; capturing the broader scope of the moment will help draw the connection between subject and surrounding.
Let the Eyes do the Talking
Often, a person’s eyes can convey much more than a facial expression alone. And in the age of the facemask, photographers must rely heavily on the eyes to tell the story. New York City photographer John Saponara understands this phenomenon firsthand. Saponara, part of a team producing face shields for frontline medical personnel, has been documenting the initiative with his camera and sharing the stories of those involved. “Everything has to be communicated through your eyes,” he explained. “It’s the new norm we’re living — seeing people through their eyes, because we can’t see their face.”
Find & Share the Little Moments
The story of the pandemic is different for everyone, and there is often far more to it than meets the eye. Photojournalist Peter Turnley captured this brilliantly in his series, “A New York Lockdown Visual Diary,” which documented, in black and white, the faces of the pandemic in New York City.
What is particularly striking about Turnley’s photos are the circumstances behind each image, which he explains through writing. A quiet moment between two men outside of a hospital, for instance, turned out to be two brothers waiting for their elderly father to be discharged after a long battle with COVID-19. In today’s environment, even seemingly unsuspecting moments are likely to be much more profound than meets the eye.
Whether you’re sharing your photography on Instagram, your personal blog or here on Your Art Gallery, finding those opportunities and getting the backstory (while exercising sensitivity and discretion, of course) will help transform your images into powerful visual archives.
On Your Art Gallery, you can accomplish this just as you would through an in-person exhibit by selecting the images you want to feature and providing accompanying text. Visit www.yourartgallery.com to browse examples from thousands of artists worldwide and begin curating your own exhibit today.