Festivals called off. Classes canceled. Exhibits and shows postponed. Austin’s creative community is dealing with the coronavirus much like many of us: one day at a time.
Many people in the arts are holding tight until more becomes clear about when performing arts might be able to resume, but many artists are using this time of social distancing to start new projects to document this international crisis or to cope with it.
Austin photographers Dave Creaney and Dharam Khalsa have each started photo projects to document what they are seeing around the city. Photographers around the world have started shooting front porch portraits, including Austin’s FrontPortraits, which gives away photo sessions and portraits to people in Austin during the coronavirus shutdown.
Creaney and Khalsa are taking an artistic approach, shooting some portraits of people wherever they are sheltering in place but also turning the camera to empty streets or other signs of the times.
"I’m calling these ’drive-by portraits,’" says Creaney, a freelance photographer who specializes in events and live music, including shooting for the Statesman. "I didn't want to limit the scope at all, so some have been on front porches, or in the street in front of their house, on balconies, or even on the roofs of their homes. It's really just been a good excuse to get out of the house, take the dog for a drive, see some of my friends and make some new acquaintances."
Creaney and Khalsa say that the photo projects have inspired a sense of connection that we are all going through this together, even though our individual experiences are so different.
"As a photographer, it's easier to tell stories from your single perspective, and this project has created more of a dialogue between myself, the subject and the audience," Creaney says. "It's still really in its infancy as a project, and I’m excited to see where else we can go with it."
At the end of March, Austin singer-songwriter Ben Ballinger reached out to Creaney to see if he’d want to shoot some social distancing photos of him in the back of his SUV, which was the first photo in the series.
One of Creaney’s friends, who goes by Dossey, wore a sparkly dress on her roof for the photo. "She really went all out for it," Creaney says. "I would definitely like that to be the example to be set for anyone else that might want to participate in the series."
Khalsa, a student at Austin Community College, says he wanted to experiment with medium format film for this camera he had never used before.
"I was trying to think of ways to stay productive and to document the differences and similarities of our shared experience in regards to COVID-19," he says. "It became apparent that we would all be able to relate because we would all be affected by it, but I wanted my work to follow the guidelines for social distancing."
He put out a call on social media to see if anyone wanted photos of themselves wherever they are self-isolating, and he also started making photos of the city itself — workplaces, homeless shelters, empty streets — which has changed so dramatically during the shutdown.
Khalsa says he’s struck by how strange it feels to be thinking so much about the safety of every movement and to see his friends without a handshake or a hug. "My original plan of driving up and stepping out, shooting and leaving was much harder to execute than I imagined," he says. "I found myself talking to each person for 30 minutes to an hour because both my subjects and I were compelled to have social interactions like normal after having them all limited for prolonged amounts of time."
The inner battle of wanting to be social while staying safe lingers. "The threat of danger was causing me to be less human than I would have ever imagined or was comfortable with," he says.