Just a few months ago — think early March — most Americans had no idea what the coronavirus was, let alone what it could do. While some states ended up being hit harder than others, one state that hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity is Hawaii, which makes sense. The state is far away from the continental United States and simply isn’t as prone to the kind of quick interstate travel that can really spread the virus. But the coronavirus seems to show up everywhere, and it still made its way to Hawaii. During the early part of lockdown, Marco Garcia went around photographing people wearing masks as well as masks that had become litter.
Throughout our stay-at-home state mandate, we were allowed to venture out to exercise. I began to walk around Waikiki and the beaches and was struck at seeing so many people wearing masks in public.
While many people wear masks for health and safety reasons throughout Asia, it was very strange to see people walking around Hawaii wearing these masks. In early March, fear and confusion about the spread of the coronavirus pushed many to take precautions that seemed drastic. I decided I needed to document this eerie time in Hawaii.
I went to Waikiki over several days searching for people walking around with masks. I approached this as a street photographer and did not interact with any of the people I photographed.
Marco used a long lens to get the candid shots of tourists and natives, ensuring he wouldn’t be anywhere near a potentially infected individual. He got a little closer to the littered masks, getting those shots with his iPhone.
The discarded masks on the ground were just a byproduct of everyone wearing one to protect themselves from the coronavirus. I was disheartened by the cavalier attitude of people taking the time to protect themselves yet caring little for others as they discarded their worn masks anywhere.
These masks are the leftovers from many of these same people not taking the time to through away their byproducts of protection. I found the two stories to go hand in hand as both show selfishness in two different ways.
As has been the case around the world, normally packed places in Hawaii resembled ghost towns in the wake of the global pandemic. Though Marco didn’t speak with anyone about their feelings regarding the coronavirus, his shots allow us to see what they’re thinking.
For a few weeks, the normally packed beaches in Waikiki were empty. Hotels were shut, as were all entertainment and tourist businesses. Waikiki was a ghost town eerily absent of human noise. It was the first time I could hear waves rumbling in the distance. Match this scene with these apprehensive people wearing masks, and it makes for an alarming prophetic vision. It was a scary time.
My favorite shots are of the faces hidden behind their masks. We were all going through a tough time of not knowing what was next. While all the faces are covered, their eyes tell much more than an uncovered face can.
Upon posting his work on social media, Marco got some responses from other creatives who wondered aloud why he went and got these shots. After stressing that he never once put himself in harm’s way, he mentioned that he was out there documenting history. Hawaii’s battle with COVID-19 hasn’t received much publicity because the numbers aren’t as high as many mainland states. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of capturing a moment in time.
I had several artists and photographers contact me once they saw some of my pictures on Instagram. They asked me why I went out and took pictures as they were too afraid to do so. I expressed to them that while many might not like that I was out in public during the middle of our pandemic, I refused to interact with people and gave myself great distance between everyone. My long lens helped achieve that as well. But more importantly, I told people I was out capturing part of Hawaii’s history that hopefully will not return.
See more of Marco’s work at marcogarciaphotography.com.
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