Pre-pandemic, I documented rock stars and academics. I've been the house photographer for The Fillmore in San Francisco for the past decade. In early March my career as I knew it, like so many other things in this world, came to a crashing halt. Every single one of my clients was shuttered and closed for the indefinite future. I spent the first weeks in a daze, doing nothing (and I do mean NOTHING) but digesting covid-19 related news and research or almost a month. I felt hopeless. What can I do? How can I help?
And then - while watching the weekly Stanford School of Medicine’s Grand Rounds on YouTube an image grabbed me. It was a medical worker shrouded in PPE, wearing a sticker with a picture of herself over her heart. These portraits aide in connection and trust between patient and provider. I felt an immediate calling to be a part of whatever was making those pictures happen.
It turns out that sticker was a "PPE Portrait". The PPE Portrait Project (https://ppeportrait.org) is a social practice art project conceived by Professor Mary Beth Heffernan at Occidental University, and expanded by Cati Brown Johnson at Stanford University. They warmly welcomed me into their project, and for the past 6 months, I’ve not only been photographing first responders, but have also been expanding the design from the initial one-time-use stickers in hospitals to reusable, decontaminatable laminated portraits that are more environmentally friendly. I’ve also expanded the project to make PPE Portraits for nursing home staff, elementary and preschool teachers, as well as dental office staff.
I used to capture a moment to provide a memory. Now I'm providing moments for future connection where I won't ever be present.
It is someone else's experience entirely. I hope my photography will make that connection more familiar, more human, more tangible, more visually comforting and present. I am bringing the face of the caregiver or teacher that is otherwise hidden behind the layers to that present moment.
The love is there, the care is there, I am just making sure that the compassionate face is there, too.
Paige P.S. I gave a short talk via zoom to Professor Heffernan’s students in October explaining how I came to be a part of the project. I recorded a short (10 minute) film that explains in pictures what I tried to convey above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6jc0l5iDps