When L.A.-based photographer Tom Kubik offered to shoot remote portraits for Bob Cut Magazine, a publication devoted to the cultural life of the San Francisco Bay Area, he signed up for 15 days of video calls with 23 different strangers. Although this sounds grueling, Tom actually enjoyed it.
Anthony Rogers [the founder and Editor-in-chief of Bob Cut Magazine] and I have known each other for years. We met back in photo school and have collaborated for Bob Cut a few times since. Anthony puts his heart and soul into every moment of Bob Cut both online and in print.
The project began when Tom mentioned somewhere between a pandemic-induced staycation and getting absolutely stir-crazy in quarantine he’d be interested in trying his hand at virtual portraits. Anthony took that idea and ran with it, wanting to produce an issue for the third anniversary of Bob Cut that would honor and celebrate their community. He chose 23 members, collaborators, fans, and friends, to photograph and turn into a collage to wrap the magazine.
At a pace of 1-3 shoots each day for about two weeks, Tom wondered for a moment why he was moving slower than usual. Pre-pandemic, Tom was always highly active, especially when shooting. During quarantine, however, each shoot seemed to take much more out of him.
As humans living through an uncertain and scary time full of political strife and disease, I think we all had our moments of wanting to run or hide in a cave. Having to put that aside, even if momentarily, each day for over two weeks and take some time to connect and listen deeply was quite an experience.
Tom is no stranger to deep connections or pushing himself and those around him to stay open and present. His favorite things are soulful chats and helping others get in touch with their feelings. But in such a confusing time, it was understandably a challenge to forge that connection and then do it all through a screen.
It certainly sharpened my skills when it comes to diving in with strangers, especially in a virtual setting where there isn’t that particular energy exchange that comes with personal interactions and portrait photography.
While Tom’s exposure to the outside world was minimal, shooting 23 people in only 15 days felt simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. However, as connecting with strangers usually does, the calls granted Tom more perspective. Some of his subjects relished the quiet solitude, while others were desperate to be out in the wild again. Still others were diving headfirst into long-awaited projects and creative endeavors.
There is an incredibly diverse group of experiences that exist in the world of “self-isolation.” It reminded me that we’re all navigating this time differently. There’s no right or wrong way to survive a pandemic.
And, as Tom soon realized, his preconceived notions of how the shoots would go and the photos they would produce would also defy expectation. Dealing with different phones, laptops, and video chat platforms wasn’t the most manageable set of circumstances.
Trying to get good imagery via Zoom was challenging on a few levels. The first thing I had to do was redefine what “good” imagery was going to look like for myself.
Trying not to compare his usual imagery and camera capabilities to the phones and laptops he was now using meant surrendering to the restrictions and situation at hand. He spent time with subjects asking them to walk around the house, searching for the best lighting available.
Sometimes, people had only a bedroom or a humble studio apartment to shoot in with one window, something that would make me shudder if I showed up in person.
Tom believes that creativity thrives within restriction. However, there was still an adjustment to be made. At the beginning of the project, he felt a lack of control and even shy about asking them to make small changes. Quickly, Tom realized the need to shed his discomfort. Instead of resigning himself entirely to the situation, he pushed the subjects to make the best of what they had. The trickiest part for Tom to overcome was the realization that not much could be done with the files after the shots were taken.
These screen captures don’t do well in photoshop, as one might imagine, so basically what you see is what you get. The slightest adjustments in post-production created a lot of artifacting. However, I’m a meditator and try to observe my world through a lens of surrender. The platitude “it is what it is” comes to mind.
The photos were arranged into a collage that wrapped around the tenth issue of Bob Cut Magazine and the cover story, written by Matt Charnock was titled “The Everyday Heroes.”
See more of Tom’s work at tomkubikphoto.com.
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