As COVID-19 has interrupted daily life, people from every profession have had to figure out ways to be productive — and photographers are no exception. Each week, we’ll share stories from our members about how they’re staying mentally and technically sharp during the pandemic.
As much as anything, COVID-19 is testing our resourcefulness on a global, national, and individual level. Just about every working professional has been affected by this pandemic in some way, predominantly in terms of income. But we can all take a page out of Andrew Dolph’s book with regards to getting back into the swing of things during an unprecedented time. His ongoing personal project, Essentials Acts of Services, has its own website and features restauranteurs in Ohio sharing stories of struggle and perseverance.
After being laid off from my job of three years as a part-time/seasonal school photographer for Lifetouch due to the closure of schools in Ohio, I immediately started brainstorming ideas to stay visually fresh as a photographer. The documentary process began almost the day after notification of layoff and the eventual “Stay At Home Order” by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, with me photographing things I saw in our community.
Not only has Andrew been connecting with fellow business owners, he’s been hard at work networking with current and former clients. A photojournalism veteran, Andrew has a substantial number of contacts in his virtual rolodex. This two-pronged approach to staying technically and mentally sharp has helped the Ohioan as he — and his subjects — navigate uncharted waters.
As I made more and more pictures, I became fluent in the micro-changes affecting the average person and began pitching coverage I knew newspapers weren’t quite able to muster because of staffing issues. As a former staff photographer of three newspapers and current stringer for many locally, making those connections was as easy as texting and emailing editors. They also reached out to me. So, the communication was already a fluid, two-way street.
Once restaurants were officially shut down, I immediately turned to acquaintances in the community because I wanted to pay tribute to the essential service they were providing. From that point, I knew I had something worth continuing, and began laying the foundation for the project.
One of Andrew’s favorite words is “community,” and he takes full advantage of his. To wit: the first person he photographed for this project was a former client from years ago. And although he can’t pinpoint a favorite restaurant, he does know which portrait is tops in his eyes.
The first eatery I visited was HiHO Brewery, in Cuyahoga Falls. I knew the artisan pizza maker because I had photographed his wedding many years back. The importance of leaning on contacts, especially when a major social upheaval takes place, is critical. We are nothing without community. But my favorite portrait, by far, is of Matt Mytro, the chef at Flour Restaurant in Moreland Hills.
The photograph depicts him standing behind his service window in his chef’s whites, wearing a classic PPE mask. This was the paradigmatic depiction of our moment in time and continues to endure as such.
Still, this is not an easy project to execute because so many small businesses in Ohio and across the world are feeling the strain of the pandemic. The Akron-based photographer found this out firsthand when he interviewed the owner of Square Scullery. Like Andrew, Square Scullery’s owner is a freelancer who’s been hard-hit fiscally by the coronavirus.
The toughest story was from Square Scullery. I can’t go into great detail because most of it is off the record. However, their story is one of financial turmoil, traveling the razor’s edge of potential business closure.
They were just beginning to build out a new location to move into when shutdowns occurred. They have also run a highly lucrative food truck from mid-spring all the way through fall. All that business went up in smoke in a matter of days if not sooner. Poof. Gone.
Photography has always been about capturing moments in time, be they good or bad. Generations from now, when the dust has settled and historians are digging through archives of the pandemic to get a sense of what things were like, they’ll find work like Andrew’s — and will be more knowledgeable for it.
The takeaway is hopefully a semi-permanent record that this thing happened to us, them, everyone. More importantly, a visual record of people striving to serve through a major pandemic is critically important, especially when documentary work like this is not going to be met with much support, or funding. Sometimes, it just has to be done.
Check out more of Andrew’s work on his website.