Life goes on during the pandemic. Even in the suburbs, though the visual contrasts are more striking in the once-teeming streets of Center City.
For photojournalists it is important that we not reinforce the idea that the coronavirus is just an urban crisis. Just as the opioid epidemic affects more than the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia, it is crucial we document the current crisis all over our area.
Even during the “old normal” covering the suburbs was a little trickier than the urban environment. Need a hot weather feature photo? Look for open fire hydrants in the city. Cold weather? Try pedestrians walking through the steam escaping from sidewalk vents. Or huddled in a city bus shelter. You get the picture. And so do we. I’ve shot them dozens of times over my newspaper career.
In the suburbs stores and businesses aren’t boarded up like for a hurricane. The scenes are more subtle. Like a store window in April that still has a Valentine’s Day display. (Or did workers just quit in the middle of changing over to their Easter and springtime clothing?)
But just because it’s harder don’t mean we won’t keep trying. It is important as newspaper photojournalists that we document the issues of the day throughout our area.
My coworker Michael Bryant photographed a New Jersey congregation driving by the homes of some of the church’s older or infirm members. Jessica Griffin just spent a week with paramedics and EMTs–––– on Philadelphia’s Main Line who usually respond to commuter driving accidents or sports-related injuries at the area’s schools and universities, but now are making laps between nursing homes and hospitals.
We will continue documenting this important time in our region’s history, trying to add to our visual history like social reformers Jacob Riis or Lewis Hine with their 19th-century cameras. Or Roy Stryker’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers during the Great Depression. And Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and others in the Civil Rights era.
And even Bill Owens who while working in the late ‘60s and early ’70s as a photographer for the thrice-weekly newspaper, Livermore Independent News, produced one of my all-time favorite photography books. Suburbia is his seminal glimpse into the pursuit of the American Dream in the suburbs east of San Francisco.
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: