‘My corona diaries are about letting go, embracing what’s in front of me’ - Corona Diaries by Caleb Stein - whynow

In the midst of COVID-19, photographers around the world are having to navigate the unknown and find novel ways to work and document events as they play out.

For the third of our lockdown photography features, we speak to Caleb Stein who has been documenting his daily life throughout his strict self quarantine. Shot in black and white, his pictures have a striking calmness to them, a sense that life continues regardless of a global pandemic.

Caleb, can you introduce yourself and tell us how COVID-19 has impacted your work and daily life?

I’m an artist currently based in London. I was visiting family in London, with plans to  make my way back to the U.S. to continue work on my ongoing ‘Down by the Hudson’ [project] in upstate New York when everything went into shutdown. 

COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on my life. My grandfather, who I count as one of my best friends, died two weeks ago from complications exacerbated by the virus. And I’ve been strictly quarantining (no social distance walks) ever since we heard he had the virus. None of us could visit him in hospital. I think that one of the most tragic things about this pandemic is that this is the story for millions of people now.

In terms of my work, it has delayed a number of scheduled projects and meetings. Usually, my work focuses on a long-term engagement with a subject or a community; it’s often a celebration of what makes that subject or community dynamic and energetic. COVID-19 jolted me into a very different type of workflow – I hadn’t given this type of apocalyptic lifestyle much thought before, and I haven’t photographed my home and honed in on details in a while.

Why did you feel compelled to document your daily life during this time in ‘Corona Diaries’?

It came out of a necessity to continue making work. It’s what keeps me going and it helps me to stay engaged with life, the world, and myself. 

It can be challenging sometimes to photograph the familiar things we’re used to seeing day in, day out. Are you finding that you’re beginning to see your surroundings in a new light?

I am. It’s been strange, because as the world has ‘shrunk’, every detail – every bit of light, every previously neglected object around the house has amplified itself. 

My corona diaries are about letting go, embracing what’s in front of me, and taking things slow.

What’s your daily routine like now and how are you spending your time? How do you stay motivated? 

Each day is different in some way, but there are things that feel repetitive – the cooking, cleaning, reading, memes, the seemingly endless calls checking in with people (I swear I’m more social now than I’ve ever been!) 

What I’m surprised by, is that this repetition leads to these wonderful moments of deep calm. Everything else fades away. These moments come and go on their own terms, but I’ve been trying to spot them and enjoy them when they show up.

Lastly, do you have any exciting projects planned for after lockdown ends?

I plan to continue developing ‘Down by the Hudson’, my ongoing ‘ode’ to a Poughkeepsie, a small town in upstate New York where I lived for several years. Poughkeepsie was almost neck-and-neck in the 2016 presidential elections, to the point where you could have almost fit the difference into a crowded bar on a Saturday night. A lot of the work is about searching for this inherited, almost mythologized sense of American-ness and reconciling that political tension by finding spaces where there’s still a promise of an Eden.

One of these places is a watering hole on the outskirts of the town that my wife introduced me to when we were in university. It’s a place where many people come together with the common aim of cooling off. People end up letting their guard down and that interests me. 

I’m also collaborating with my wife, video artist Andrea Orejarena to make a book out of our recently completed ‘Long Time No See’, which is a two-year collaborative exploration of the memory of the Vietnam-America War made with Vietnamese veterans and younger generations affected by chemical weapons used by the U.S. during the war.

The work focuses on a residence for veterans and the younger generations in Hanoi and it brings together photographs, drawings made by the younger generations from a workshop we hosted three times a week for two years, and dream-like video vignettes created with the veterans using animation and found footage. 

See more of Caleb’s work on his website: www.caleb-stein.com and find him on Instagram: @cjbstein.

Rampa  They Will Be