Grace Church in New York
On March 10, 2020, COVID-19 knocked me out. What scared me most during my illness–and 25 days of solitary quarantine–was my occluded breathing. For days it felt as if I were inhaling through a heavy, wet, woolen blanket. I recovered, grateful for my housemates’ care, and yearning to remedy the helplessness I felt while trapped inside my bedroom.
These images began as pandemic portraits of my housemates and friends. And then, on May 25, after this virus had stopped the breath of so many worldwide, the police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to the neck of George Floyd, permanently stopping George Floyd’s breath.
Amidst the pandemic, and our country’s long overdue reckoning with racism, I am engaged in an ongoing project with over 900 New Yorkers, all of whom have chosen to wear masks to protect one another, and who agreed to be photographed masked. I created these portraits with each subject’s or parent’s permission, using a telephoto lens to remain socially distanced. Even as they hinder breath and hide expression, the masks are endlessly varied and express personality. The eyes of those pictured offer intimacy and bear witness.
Masked NYC is my effort to share the resilience, radiance, diversity, and dignity I have witnessed in my fellow New Yorkers in this exceptional moment in history. My hope is that we will continue to strive for justice, health, and empathy toward one another moving forward–and that we may daily seek to see, respect, and celebrate one another’s radiance.
Any profits realized from this project will be donated to the Know Your Rights Camp COVID-19 Relief Fund, founded by Colin Kaepernick to help address the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on our communities of color.
Following the honor of Governor Cuomo’s endorsement of this work in the Deep Breath Moment of his email to New Yorkers on September 4, a free, outdoor, COVID-Safe revolving exhibition of more than three dozen of these portraits of masked New Yorkers were displayed as four-foot tall vinyl banners, every day, sunrise through sunset, from September 9 through October 7, six feet apart on the historic cast-iron fence of the Quaker Meeting House on East 15 Street and Rutherford Place.
Work from Masked NYC is currently in an exhibition at the Art Gallery at Pace University across from City Hall. From October October 25 through January 31, it will be part of Art on the Ave NYC, along Columbus Avenue and on 76 and 77 Streets. Portraits from Masked NYC have been selected to be part of the 2019/2020 Chelsea International Photography Competition Exhibition, and BlackBoxGallery.com.