LAUREN KESLER

COEXISTING

COEXISTING | In December, I apprehensively traveled to the United States to spend Christmas with my family. After receiving a negative test result at the airport and fully stocked with masks and sanitiser, I boarded a plane en route to the global epicentre of the pandemic. I embarked on creating a photo project that embodied daily life amid the deadly virus that has killed nearly 350,000 in the United States alone. But upon arriving, an unanticipated attitude of business as usual met me.  Besides mask-wearing (which some were not doing well), the travel experience was similar to the countless other trips I have taken to my hometown of Orlando, including being seated next to a young girl excitedly heading on a Disney vacation. I began to think about the paradox of the pandemic. While this virus has been killing hundreds of thousands and leaving many with financial, social, and mental health woes, it remains challenging to visualise the pandemic scale as daily life persists for many despite it all. 


Given the varying faces of the pandemic, I shied away from traditional documentary or photojournalism style for this project and set out to create a more conceptual series, which combines image and text in a mixed media collage format. The project, entitled COEXISTING, consists of twenty digital images that have been digitally altered to include twenty current newspaper headlines. The work strives to visually represent this dichotomy between the pandemic experienced firsthand as an observer through photos, with headlines from a local paper in Orlando during the same time. The project is structured to show the contrast between the seen simultaneously alongside current events in the news cycle. The result shows the disconnect between the pandemic’s realities, including recent social and political news, with the observer’s visual scenes. This project is not intended to condemn or alienate individuals who appear untouched by COVID-19 or striving for normalcy during the pandemic, but to portray the camera lens’s inability to show the anxiety, depression, and suffering that may not be visible to the human eye. The project captures the humanity that persists on, despite adversity. It is not dismissive of the pandemic’s scale and gravity but rather illustrates the reality of the experience for many Americans and other individuals across the globe. 


I hope the project will appeal to a broad audience interested in the contrast between the COVID-19 pandemic and daily life for many individuals. It will challenge people to practice self-reflection and come to a deeper understanding of the coexistence of the varying faces of these tumultuous times. It is a war zone for those on the front lines, but this is not a war where bombs are being dropped in public spaces, visible to all. It is a battle fought mostly behind hospital walls and in private mourning. COEXISTING reveals an invisible enemy living alongside eerily surreal scenes of normalcy, interactions between friends and family, and sunny, sandy days by the ocean. 

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