During COVID: Lou Bopp Goes Back to His Photojournalism Roots for a Personal Project
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.
To amend an old saying, you can take the photographer out of journalism, but you can’t take the journalist out of the photographer. Now crushing it in the commercial field, Lou Bopp began his photography career in journalism and has never forgotten how he started. The Midwesterner recently returned to his roots via a personal project that documents the people of St. Louis County in their homes.
I started shooting Portraits of Mandated Isolation in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Beginning March 21st, St. Louis County residents were ordered to stay at home. There were exceptions, of course— journalists being one of them.
This is a never-in-a-life-time event, and I knew that I had to capture and document the mood of this scary, uncharted, and bizarre crisis. I’m still a photojournalist at heart. Currently, I shoot stills and direct video for commercial brands, but the photojournalist in me remains.
Now, we’ve seen and read about numerous projects that revolve around the concept of photographing people on their front steps, or something to that effect. What makes Lou’s work unique is the challenge he presented himself: instead of having the subjects come outside, he captured them through windows, screen doors, and other barriers. Though more difficult to navigate, this setup ultimately gave Lou the imagery he wanted.
Shooting through the various substrates created a lot of maddening challenges and happy surprises.
I ultimately used the barrier between us as an advantage. There were great reflections in the glass, the screen barriers at times added a beautiful textural element to the photos. In some ways, the barrier added an extra element that allowed subjects to express themselves a little differently. It’s hard to describe, since I’m still in the midst of the project. However, I do notice an authentic, emotive, introspective quality in many of the photos.
This project was purposefully impromptu in nature. For example, Lou would contact his subject right before showing up. He also didn’t want them to dress up, clean their house, or get rid of smudges on their windows. The less both parties did in preparation for the shoot, the more authentic the final product.
It's a new way of seeing things, I'm always trying to keep my mind open and evolving. For example, the reflections of my legs underneath one of the subjects gave him a unique look.
The banjo player in the doorway with bare tree limbs reflected underneath him gave a feeling that he was rooted, at least to me.
And there was a great texture shooting through the screen window of the man and his dog, something that I probably wouldn't shoot through, but I love the tone.
When I asked Lou to share some anecdotes from his time doing this project, he mentioned that he’d seen more of his friends and family during quarantine than in the past few years combined. A self-professed travel junkie who keeps a busy work schedule, Lou is seemingly either on the road or in his house decompressing. But just because he’s seeing members of his community more and more doesn’t mean he’s doing so negligently. Lou stressed that safety was the most important thing here, even going so far as to treat screen doors and windows as “non-barriers,” even though they were. None of these precautions prevented Lou from putting together and fantastic batch of photography.
I would like people to know that I have been extremely responsible in making these images. I am cognizant and respectful of the global COVID-19 crisis and social distancing. I follow all guidelines mandated by my state and city. I maintain a good 11+ feet back, with a mask, and I work solo.
Inspiration: Mara Serdans
Check out more of Lou's work at loubopp.com.
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Check out how WM is helping photographers during the pandemic on our COVID-19 Resources page.