To state the obvious, the pandemic changed all of our lives, except, perhaps, the agoraphobic. The rest of us learned how to bake bread, cleaning out store shelves of packets of yeast, as well as tp. We made lists of things we could finally do–reorganize our closets–but didn’t. Sweat pants sales soared and khakis bottomed out. We Skype(d) and Zoomed as conference tables went unused.
We vowed to read Proust, Ulysses, and Moby Dick, but ended up binge-watching The Sopranos.
For the arts, the pandemic was near fatal. Performance arts were forced to be creative to retain audiences. Sports, when they returned, were played in empty stadiums. Museums and galleries closed, and when they were allowed to reopen, it was at limited capacity.
The Clifton Cultural Arts Center cleverly met the challenge by moving its “Silver Lining” exhibition outdoors and adding “An Outdoor Photography Show” to the title. The show features 52 pieces by 34 photographers who found a silver lining in the pandemic by making art.
During the lockdown, Tina Gutierrez “challenged herself to create characters to entertain friends online.”
The artist concocted fantastic beings, like this creature. Using a leaf from an elephant ear plant for its head, she’s dug into a bowl of soil and raised a spade’s worth to her mouth, which she, unfortunately, does not have. “Using humor to deal with difficult situations allowed a way for me to process the emotions that were otherwise distressing.”
Walking the show from left to right, it opens with K. M. Roskin’s Suspended. It is good a place to start since the pandemic put us in a state of suspended animation. A dried maple leaf floats above a sidewalk, the moment before it lands on the cement. In American Beauty, there is a scene of a floating plastic bag, carried by air currents. Like the grocery bag, the leaf is unremarkable yet possesses a poetic quality.
Eric Smith asked the question that was far from unique at the peak of the pandemic: Is This The End? In a landscape veiled in soft grays, a derelict railroad trestle in Skagway, Alaska, just ends. The photographer says, “The dilapidated structure reminds me of how COVID-19 has destroyed so much and left many wounded, flailing, and shells of their former lives, but still standing.”
Pandemic City 2020 by John Edward Blom is our city turned upside down. Filling the top half of the composition is the Cincinnati skyline. The bottom half is an upside-down blueprint of a floor. Blom explains, “The turmoil of 2020, and the subsequent pandemic, have shifted, distorted, and called into question, the norms of day-to-day life.”
Samantha Grant’s father, Carl Grant, an engineer, is one of the many who found themselves working from home when the country went into lockdown in March. As a respite from his virtual work online, he would look out his window to connect to the real world. This photograph was taken on February16th, the day after the city had been blanketed with snow. It was less than what was predicted, and so it was a letdown. Still it was enough to close schools and make for slow going on streets. From his wistful expression, I venture that Carl might have preferred to be in one of those vehicles on his way to work.
Over the course of the past year, the metaphor of seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” has been invoked by hundreds of politicians and, more cautiously, by scientists. David Rea’s photo conveys that sentiment but with a very different image. Photographed in August at Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, a silhouetted figure (a person with a hat pushed back? a cartoon cutout?) is just entering the scene. Standing on a sandstone cliff, wind-blasted trees form a canopy over the mysterious figure who gazes into the distance. It’s “the sight of a destination despite many miles to go,” explains Rea.
Linda Susman had a different artistic reaction to the “light at the end of the tunnel” phrase. In Reflections in the Mirror, she wanted to show the “silver lining of knowing there was light after experiencing the darkness of the pandemic.” The photo was made in a darkened room with light streaming through the slats of a Venetian blind and reflected in the mirror.
Two pictures beg to be compared: Liza Ollinger’s Dancing and Michelle Hagen’s Dance. In Ollinger’s work, a man wearing boardshorts and sneakers stands on the rocky shore of a lake. It is likely summer. Masked and with arms outstretched, he may be summoning divine intervention that will finally come at Christmas with the development of incredibly effective vaccines.
Sunflowers bloom in mid-summer so the six-year-old girl (her gap-toothed smile gives her age away) must be anticipating the summer after the pandemic. She wears flower-festooned sunglasses and dances with abandon, an anachronistic hippie.
There are a few more images that captivated me and have something to say about the pandemic.
Who doesn’t love kittens?
Hopefully the gentleness brought out by the pandemic will survive.
And beauty lightens all of our souls.
–Karen S. Chambers
“Silver Lining: An Outdoor Photography Show,” organized by The Clifton Cultural Arts Center and installed along the fence of the Rawson Woods Bird Preserve at the intersection of Middleton and McAlpin Avenues, Cincinnati, through June 4, 2021