Pedro Oliveira Speaks with Nine Older Couples About the Coronavirus
Pedro Oliveira was in a bit of a rut. This is a person whose energy you can feel even through email, so it was surprising to read this sentence from him the other day:
I had gone 40+ days since I held my camera close to my face, my elbows close to my chest and pressed the button aiming at someone's expression.
More than a month without taking pictures! For someone like Pedro, that’s unheard of — but it does speak to the effect this pandemic can have on people even if they’re unharmed by the virus itself.
Despite the fact that I haven't been (or so I believe) physiologically affected by the virus, it did affect me deeply in a different way. It affected my sense of carrying and had an effect over my creativity. Yes, I believe it now, creative blockages are a thing and, like a dementor, this one drained my curiosity, will power, and energy — vital features for anyone who considers themselves a creative.
Ultimately, Pedro got up off the couch and got in touch with some of his best friends. These people, as it so happens, are also senior citizens. Most of Pedro’s closest companions are individuals in COVID’s most susceptible age bracket, which basically set the tone for a wonderful personal project called “9 Under the 19.”
Pedro spoke with nine local couples, getting their thoughts on the pandemic and all that’s ensued since. Since he was getting somewhat near 18 people over the age of 60, he made sure his precautions took precautions.
I was careful. Very careful. Annoyingly careful. We’re talking windbreaker, five pairs of gloves (one for every home), masks, alcohol, Lysol, stood 15 feet apart from my subjects who were only allowed to get out of their homes and under my light once I was very, very far from them (thank god for the remotely controlled triggers).
The extra carefulness was exhausting but worth it. It did allow me to go out for the first time in a month and a half — other than to buy groceries a block away from home — and register how seniors I know and care about are living through this unique example.
I saw frustration, generally, but I also saw a lot of hope and optimism too. Some of them are sewing masks for their families and neighbors, some are learning Spanish; some others are spending time learning technology or cooking healthier meals.
One of the biggest hurdles for Pedro to overcome was that he had to fundamentally change the way he takes pictures. A personable Brazilian — which I’m learning is a redundant phrase — Pedro had to stop himself from getting up close and personal with his subjects, which is what he’d usually do on a shoot.
For this particular project, I had to exercise distancing and for a Brazilian, that's harder than I ever care to admit. In order to stay at a safe distance, I had to "learn" how to use my long-range lenses. I am a 35mm kind of photographer. I hold hands, I pat on the back, I talk closely and hug people. I want the subject to feel that I am there to have fun with them and capture frames of us doing it.
So, more than technical skills, I had to learn how to adapt my very essence of eliciting genuine actions from the subject, doing so from afar, with words, as opposed to my regular closeness.
That said, Pedro isn’t going to let the proximity restrictions stop him from keeping in touch with his friends. Phone calls, Facetime chats, and other methods of communication are a regular part of the man’s schedule. However, there’s nothing like in-person interaction, and, if nothing else, this project gave Pedro the opportunity to experience that.
Through my prior project or just life itself, most of my close friends are over the 60s, so it is particularly concerning to me to know that they're at risk. I understand that my physical presence can do more harm than help, so I try to check on them all at least once a week via phone, email, Facetime, or Zoom.
With all that being said, I was delighted to be able to see them in person and catch up even if from 15 feet away. Gosh, the little things we take for granted! The good part of it though is that there's no (for the most part) stubbornness. All my senior friends believe in science, and trust what the health authorities say. So, they're pretty good at following the instructions issued at the state and national level.
Check out more of Pedro's work at pedrontheworld.com.
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