Someone asked me about this project: “Why don’t you photograph the bright side of this situation?” This is a personal project about the effects of a global pandemic on a small town. Of course, there is always a bright side. Many people are enjoying time at home – in a warm house with plenty of food and no obligations. But I’ve always worried about people, even if I don’t know their stories. Do they have enough food? How long can they pay their bills without work? Will they have to close their business? Will they have to give up their beloved pet? Are they lonely?
These are the kinds of questions that photographer Dorothea Lange asked herself during the Great Depression. She was a studio portrait photographer who began to photograph people standing in line for soup outside. Could she have found comfortable, happy families to photograph during this time? Of course. We all choose what to notice. The beautiful thing about art is that every artist has her own perspective.
When you see a photo of someone who isn’t smiling, do you automatically dislike it? Does it make you uncomfortable? I’m going to ask you to look closer. What is their expression really saying? It’s almost never a matter of “happy” or “mad”. There are many other feelings in between. In this age of quick scrolling, cropped previews, and short attention spans, we have lost something important. We’ve lost the kind of connection that results from truly taking the time to look at one another. We’ve lost a little empathy. Maybe we can get that back during this time.
This is my artist statement, and it applies to every kind of work I do, whether I’m creating studio portraits for a client, or working on a documentary-style personal project, such as this:
Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
Through my work, I ask the viewer for empathy toward the subject. The invitation to look closer is key to a successful portrait. This can be done with expression, body language, composition, and lighting, among other things. A closer look creates empathy, and empathy brings people together.
You can see more from this project here: http://maundymitchell.com/social-distancing-images-of-a-small-town/