Atlanta photographers find creative ways to document this moment

Amid the pandemic, Atlanta photographers get creative in documenting the moment for posterity

Major events in history tend to live on in our collective memories through the iconic photographs that capture them: From wars to natural disasters or terrorist attacks. But when the world grinds to a halt amid a pandemic, the culprit isn’t visible to the naked eye.

“There's only the effects that are caused by this invisible entity,” Atlanta artist Brock Scott said.

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The obscurity of the coronavirus outbreak has left Scott and other photographers with the challenge of how to document this undeniably historic moment for posterity.

“I think that when this first started happening, a lot of artists realized that this was a very historical moment in our lives,” Scott said. “And for people like me, and I think people that like to tell stories, our initial drive was, ‘Alright, well, how can I create impactful art in these times?’”

As he set out to answer that question for himself, Scott began visiting people in his circle with his camera in tow  — folks in Atlanta’s art scene, restaurant workers and musicians — to take their portrait and hear how they were faring.

While stills of empty streets, health care workers and people in masks are sure to mark this moment for the history books, Scott was thinking of other ways to document the pandemic, which has grown into a project called "Silver Lining Atlanta."

And it has quickly grown beyond his own network to a broader attempt to catalog the state of life around the city and beyond.

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“My focus became to tell the small stories, the slow stories, because everyone's stories are slow right now,” said Scott, who is also a member of the band Little Tybee.

“I've really enjoyed talking to these people and think that they could serve as a way for others to identify with their experiences and that they're not alone in the way they're experiencing it compared to other people who might be in a very similar situation to them.”

Credit: Brock Scott

Credit: Brock Scott

Logistically, being a portrait photographer in the era of social distancing does present some challenges. Although, Scott has gotten into a rhythm.

Once agreeing on a time and a place to meet someone, he gets his camera and lights set up, then shoots them a text to let his subject know he’s ready. From there, he’s on a mission to capture their story in both a portrait and audio.

To date, he's talked with a wide variety of people, including a friend about the world of online dating amid a pandemic, an airline pilot about what his future may look like and local politician Ted Terry.

Credit: Brock Scott

Credit: Brock Scott

Scott said his goal is to tell stories beyond the data and statistics that he feels are driving the narrative.

“I think that that's my main focus for all this is to kind of show people that there is a name to this experience,” he said. “I think it has billions of names that we aren't hearing and I want to amplify those names and hopefully be a positive influence on the way people are handling the situation.”

Capturing life at home

Sharing that sense of connection is also what is driving the work of Kirkwood-based photographer, Chanda Williams.

In the world before the coronavirus outbreak, Williams worked as a family photographer, which usually meant spending a lot of time up close with families in their homes to capture the little moments of day-to-day life.

However, when the virus reached Georgia, she knew she needed to shift gears. Pretty quickly, Williams started documenting what life looks like in this moment in her neck of the woods through her project "A Portrait of Kirkwood."

Credit: Chanda Williams

Credit: Chanda Williams

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“I knew I had to come up with a personal project just to keep myself sane and busy,” she said. “And when I started noticing that my family was really connecting in a way that we hadn't before, because of our busy lives, I just started thinking about how the pandemic is causing beautiful things to happen.”

In the last several weeks, Williams has documented hundreds of families in her neighborhood through free front-porch portrait sessions: Her subjects have ranged from families with new born babies recently home from the hospital to seniors about to graduate high school.

Williams said she doesn’t have some grand plan for her efforts, other than to give herself a purpose amid the upheaval and to continue to reach out to her Atlanta neighborhood.

Credit: Chanda Williams

Credit: Chanda Williams

And as she posts her portraits to social media, she said she’s heard from others who feel a greater sense of unity through her efforts as well.

“I think my favorite reaction is that people are feeling connected to the community. During this time that everybody feels so disconnected, that people are loving scrolling through and reading what people are saying and feeling some sense of we're in this together that I didn't expect that response at all,” she said. “You know, it's not what I set out to do. And that's more than I could have hoped for for the project.”