For almost the first time since mid-March I spent the day shooting an assignment this week that had nothing to do with the coronavirus or protests. It was for a weather story about how farmers’ crops are faring after our mild winter and cold spring, and it wasn’t even remotely related to the pandemic (well, except some of the people, and myself, were wearing masks).
After I finished photographing - at a pick-your-own strawberry farm in the country - I just lingered in the area, driving around with my windows open to soak in the exhilaration I was feeling being free for a while from the world we’ve been living in.
I was really hoping to channel twice-Pulitzer winning Washington Post photographer Michael S. Williamson, who is always finding the perfect abandoned pickup truck in the weeds in front of the most awesome-looking old barn showered with absolutely perfect light. I was not that lucky. But that’s okay. I was a wonderfully peaceful evening.
It did make me think about how much, once more, news events continue to change our daily lives. And how rare those feeling of innocence are.
When I was growing up - and even when I started working - children would play by themselves for hours without adult supervision. Newspaper photographers would even capture those images on the streets and in parks. That changed in the early 1980s, after advertisements on milk cartons publicized missing children, and “stranger danger” became the new normal.
After an American domestic terrorist bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people in 1995 and the coordinated attacks by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, photographers were stopped and told by many officials who believed it was “against the law” to photograph federal property, bridges and even subways.
Will demands that photographers “blur faces” of protesters demonstrating in public spaces someday lead to the end of street photography? What will it be like when people fear their images are being fed into a colossal data base in the cloud ready to be scoured by big business, the government or law enforcement using face recognition software?
Photographers continue to adjust. Someday people will welcome us back into their homes - to document their lives up close and intimately. For now, months of photographing people on their porches has forced me to concentrate on making better portraits. And opened me to seeing people in new ways.
I would have never made the portrait at the top of this post before the coronavirus. My picture of Janine Beckles, a dancer with Philadanco, would have looked like most every other dance studio portrait: stretching and moving with her reflection in mirrors.
Or my portrait illustrating his Op-ed piece reflecting on giving “The Talk” - about black people and police - would probably have been made in his office at the University of Pennsylvania, where attorney and former City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante is a professor of law. Instead, I was able to talk with Tulante in an unofficial setting, and use the lighting there to (I hope) reveal just how “drained” he felt when he spoke to his children about the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the most recent, in color: