The shop workers, cleaners, healthcare workers, delivery drivers, postal workers and ordinary people risking their own health to help those in need.
Formed of a global network of photographers and creatives, People of the Pandemic was started by friends Jaz O’Hara, Joshua Coombes and Joe Watson to amplify the stories of these undervalued yet essential workers.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do, and what compelled you to start this project?
The three of us live together. Jaz runs an organisation called The Worldwide Tribe which supports refugees, Josh founded a movement called Do Something For Nothing, which is a platform for helping people experiencing homelessness and telling their stories, and I’m a creative in advertising with a passion for purpose projects like this one.
People of the Pandemic started in our local supermarket, back when everybody was bulk buying toilet paper, just before lockdown began. When we reached the checkout, we spoke to an employee called Jarvis who gave us his perspective on the situation, and it made us realise how much the staff had been thrown in the deep end. We returned to take his portrait along with other workers and customers, and it really opened our eyes to what they were going through. Then we began to meet others in our community: postmen, delivery drivers, teachers, anybody putting themselves at risk to help others during the pandemic.
What is your aim with People of the Pandemic?
Now that People of the Pandemic has grown into a global community of photographers and creatives, our plan is to keep building it. Bringing in more amazing photographers, meeting more heroes, and widening the perspective of the pandemic through storytelling. Then in the long term, when the lockdown is over we plan to exhibit the portraits and hopefully publish them in a book.
But the overarching goal is to bring the voices that we are amplifying into the new ‘normal’. For things after this pandemic to look different, and to really celebrate and appreciate the people who truly keep society ticking long term.
Do you believe people might start appreciating the value of our key workers more after this?
I think we’re starting to see this already! All of these workers, who were once undervalued and often overlooked, are now becoming increasingly recognised by the people who depend on them. Communities are coming together, people are talking, helping, and motivating each other more. It’s amazing to see. I think when all of this is over, things will begin to change for the better; it’s struck a nerve with everybody and seems the perfect opportunity to reimagine a future.
Tell us about some of the people you’ve featured so far. Are there any people/stories that have particularly made an impression on you?
The portrait of Brittni (the ICU nurse in LA) had a big impact. She was the first medical professional that we posted, and her story gave a real insight into the struggles that the hospitals are facing with lack of PPE and the risks that the staff are putting themselves into.
Another portrait that stood out for us was of Louise, the senior care assistant in Southbourne. Her story made us realise the everyday changes that care workers have gone through and also the disconnect to family and friends that old people are facing. Louise’s story also inspired our LA-based artist Claire Salvo to draw a beautiful portrait of her, which we posted the next day. Those two stick out to me.
How does this project work? Now that it’s expanded to include people around the world, how do you organise the photoshoots and find people to feature? Is everything coordinated online?
We have a WhatsApp group chat so that we can easily communicate with the photographers around the world, and also a GoogleDrive folder in which people can upload their own images, ready to post. We use Instagram to connect with new photographers globally, send them over our photographer brief and let them do their thing! The input from every person involved is amazing. Everybody contributes ideas and introduces new talent to the group, which keeps it interesting and keeps it growing.
Why do you feel it is so important that we share positive stories at this time?
We feel it’s important to share all stories, whether they’re positive or highlighting the struggles that people are going through. It gives a deeper understanding of exactly what’s going on from a far wider perspective than what we see in the news, and gives a voice to the people who aren’t usually heard. I think that to fully understand a situation, you need to look to the individuals at the heart of it – the people on the frontline – rather than just the people at the top.
Lastly, what’s been the most fulfilling thing about working on this project so far?
The best thing is the sense of everybody being in on it together, all with equal input and equal roles. We’ve made sure that within our team, everybody has their say on aesthetics and how we tell the stories – and the team is always so welcoming when a new person joins.
On top of this, the best thing is to see a new post and new story every day, giving a whole different angle on the crisis from whichever part of the world or industry they are in. It’s always exciting to see what’s coming next.