Heidi: Which was your first image, and how did they build on one another?
Joe: I started with a couple of my immediate neighbors, who are longtime friends and collaborators. As with all personal work, for me the biggest challenge is just getting the ball rolling. There is a huge unknown of what it will feel like to make the work and how the subjects will receive the experience. As I did a few of them, it became clear that it felt good and that I was being responsible in terms of my safety and that of my subjects, so I continued to reach out.
What was going through your mind during these portraits?
I tried not to overthink it. I had to disengage completely with any normal approach that I am used to, and that was challenging but refreshing. For instance, when my friends would come out to see where I was, they pretty much landed in a place that looked perfect for the photo. I did make some suggestions of moving to the left or right, etc but it was shouted from so far away that it was easier for the subjects to just be however they wanted to be. For the images of people inside looking out, I suggested that and they had to direct themselves since I was too far away to make any changes. The whole experience was fairly organic.
The magic of a portrait is the intimacy, describe the distance.
The approach here was to just record my friends in this odd moment. Luckily, there was a built-in trust that already existed since they are all close friends and know that I will not be taking advantage of them for my purposes. So even from 30 feet away there was this delicate exchange and I was surprised how similar it felt to an intimate portrait. In some ways, it may have made them more comfortable that I actually wasn’t so close. I’m learning a lot through this, and one of the things is that it takes radical change to understand how or why we do anything the way we do.
How much did you responsibly interact with each person?
Knowing that we are encouraged to get a moment or two of fresh air each day helped me wrap my head around the fact that I could do this in a very responsible way. The guidelines say to stay 6 or 10 feet from each other when outside but I wasn’t interested in pushing that in any way. I don’t think I got closer than 20ft to anyone that I photographed. I strongly believe in strict quarantine measures to quell this problem so I didn’t want to exacerbate the situation in any way. I also wanted to point out my distance and solo approach when I wrote the captions for my posts. I’m trying not to encourage a wave of photographers practicing unsafe methods to document the people in their lives.
Why do you feel people resonated with this work?
I think that it was inspired by the feeling I was having of not seeing new work of people for a couple weeks. Most of the photo coverage revolves mourned emptiness, empty streets, empty shelves, anonymous people wearing masks, etc and I craved some honest images of people doing what needs to be done, and maintaining dignity while doing it.