Iaiela Saldivar misses her friends. She misses school and her daily routine, the sense of community and purpose they provided her.
But three months into what is now “COVID-19 life,” the Pierson High School junior has found fulfillment elsewhere — whether in front of her computer, at home with her family in Sag Harbor, or out in her neighborhood, camera in hand.
“The online classes, they’re good,” the 18-year-old said, taking a break from her homework. “And just taking pictures — having a reason to go out and take pictures and still trying to move forward, even if we have this pandemic going on.”
It is with that intention that Pierson art teacher Peter Solow encouraged his high school photography students to capture day-to-day life around them, turned upside down by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and recent anti-racism protests.
And while the photos may reflect current events, it’s the nuanced moments in between that will largely dominate the student exhibition “Community in Crisis: A Visual Diary,” to be on view later this month, online, in partnership with the John Jermain Memorial Library and the Express News Group.
“The purpose of the exhibition is to create a visual diary of life on the East End of Long Island during the pandemic, from the perspective of high school students documenting their personal — and our community’s — experience living though this extraordinary, unforeseen circumstance we find ourselves in,” he said. “It’s a way of documenting and making more concrete what’s happened, so that we don’t forget what things are like.”
Since the start of this year, there has been no shortage of material for photography students across the region, including East Hampton High School and The Academy at the Bixhorn Technical Center, which will also enter work into the show. Each of the four participating teachers will submit 20 to 30 images — “We don’t want it to be endless overwhelming,” Mr. Solow said — with a unifying theme.
“This is a pretty terrible experience, and there’s a lot of negative things about what’s going on, and having to close the schools down,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 crisis specifically. “And it was also, in some ways, an opportunity for the kids to do some stuff that was really positive and constructive. And one of the things was basically documenting what their experiences were like during this really bizarre spring that we’ve had.”
For graduating Pierson senior Gianna Tordo-Leonard, some of her slower school days afford her the freedom to help her mother with her mobile dog grooming business, and she is rarely without her camera in tow. And while her true passion is fashion, photography has proven to be her creative outlet — especially during the statewide shutdown.
“During lockdown, I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, so I’ve been trying to bring my outfits to different areas,” she said. “Whether I’m hanging them, if I have a model or not, depends on social distancing and everything, but I try to continue the work that I’ve been working on and also maintaining proper distance and everything.”
If New York’s reopening goes as planned, Ms. Tordo-Leonard will be headed for the Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall, she said, where she expects her photography education to come in handy.
“It will be helping me along the way,” she said. “I’ll be working on my own line and doing the photo shoots and all the editing. It will definitely be a helpful skill to have.”
Photography is never objective, nor without perspective, Mr. Solow said, which he will take into consideration while selecting the final lineup of work for the show.
“The kids’ choices, of what they took pictures of, reflects a kind of decision-making. There’s nothing random about photography,” he said. “And, in a way, just simply taking pictures and looking around them is one of the best kinds of education the kids can get, in a sense.
We’ve always felt it was important for them to reflect on who they are, reflect on our community, and reflect on what’s important.”
For Ms. Saldivar, the last three months have taught the 18-year-old to slow down, she said, especially as she looks toward her senior year. She now harbors an even deeper sense of gratitude for her education, her family and her friends, as well as some of the everyday joys that previously went unnoticed.
“I appreciate taking a walk in the morning and just hearing the birds. I’ve even done bird watching now,” she said with a soft laugh. “So I’m just appreciating life around me, and being able to spend time with my family, and how everything’s going. And photography has just been helping me a lot with this entire crisis at the moment that we’re having right now.”