This spring, Graduate Liberal Studies student Kristen Cardona enrolled in her first-ever photography course, ARTS 613: Studies in Portraiture and Self-Portraiture. While learning how to better use a camera, she practiced taking images of herself, family, friends, and neighbors.
Heading into early March, the assignment was to photograph strangers.
And then the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation. All Wesleyan courses moved to an online format.
“This threw a huge curve ball! Obviously we couldn’t finish photographing strangers,” said Cardona, who is the program coordinator for continuing studies at Wesleyan. “People are scared. Simple requests to take a photo seem to be more pressure than many people are comfortable with during these trying times of quarantine. That shift was obvious during the semester.”
Consequentially, Cardona and many of her classmates shifted their efforts back to self-portraits. And in-person classes were rescheduled via Zoom on Wednesday evenings.
The course instructor, Marion Belanger, visiting assistant professor in liberal studies, encouraged the class to push their own boundaries and make pictures that reflected their own reality, including documenting life in quarantine.
“I told them to disregard the syllabus, and to just photograph their everyday,” Belanger said. “Documenting the everyday is also useful when photographers feel like they are in a creative limbo, or blocked in some way. I thought this could be a way to move through the fear and disruptions. How could something so dire and devasting be ignored?”
Belanger expected that each student would end the class with a cohesive body of photographs.
“Sometimes creativity thrives under restrictive requirements, and I am very impressed that each student has continued to push their photographic boundaries despite such confinement,” she said. “Some work is very much about the transition to the epidemic and I’ve seen themes of loneliness, fantasy, family portraits at home, portraits at a distance, and masked portraits.”
In Cardona’s self-portrait, “Unmasking Dismay,” left, the mask symbolizes “better days when masks were used for masquerade, simple playful disguises—and not for personal protection,” she says. Cardona surrounded herself with blue: “the blue room, the blue mask, my blue eyes, my blue feelings—me, enveloped in blue. [Being] dressed in black reflects how I feel isolated in quarantine. Yet there’s still an aspect of whimsy to my nature and a glimmer of hope. The sun coming through the window reminds me of hope; the cross behind my head, although blurred, reminds me of my wavering, yet ever-present faith. The wispiness of my hair reminds me that life can still be playful even during quarantine.”
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