Photographers around the US continued to make art as the world around them devolved into chaos. The pictures they made are poignant, harrowing, and eerily beautiful. (Vanity Fair)

“My creativity kept me going,” photographer Rachel Elise Thomas writes of her work over the past year, making art in a world upended by Covid-19. “It was my answer, solution, shield, and distraction.”

For a year now, photographers around the country have chronicled the impact of the pandemic from their unique vantage points, resulting in images that are poignant, harrowing, and eerily beautiful.

Some focused on the dead, some on the living, and some on the liminal space between the two, capturing scenes in New York City hospitals last spring. Below, six share how COVID shaped their work—and what they took away from it.

Philip Montgomery

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year

In April, as New York City became a global epicenter of the coronavirus, I was commissioned by The New York Times Magazine to document the unfolding crisis. Life in the city was transformed overnight. Stores closed; the streets emptied. The energy that defines New York was concentrated in its hospitals, where a chaotic struggle was underway.

In quiet, medical staff ritually layered protective equipment, as if preparing armor for a battle. The hallways were chaos—gurneys, ailing patients, a cacophony of beeps and groans, violent chest compressions, muffled shouting, those telltale, deadly coughs.

There was barely space to walk. Each day more patients arrived, gasping for air. By the end of my first day in the public hospitals, it was clear that the loss of life would be incalculable. Wanting to follow the story further, I then turned to New York’s overburdened funeral homes.

For the first time since September 11, 2001, funeral directors had to turn away clients. “There has to be some dignity in this, otherwise I might as well be a garbage man,” said Sal Ferenga, a funeral director in the Bronx. —Philip Montgomery

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year

Elinor Carucci

Clapping for essential worker. Corona days 2020.
Clapping for essential worker. Corona days, 2020.ELINOR CARUCCI/EDWYNN HOUK GALLERY.

This past year is so complex, filled with contrasts, and each day feels different.

This experience is defined both by the empty city, the isolation, fears and anxiety, but at the same time by the intensified closeness we feel as a family, the deep love, commitment, and responsibility, the hours spent together, getting to know the corners of our souls, corners we thought we knew…but now we had the opportunity, the hours and hours, to dive deeper, with some new urgent sense of bonding and closeness.

With all the challenges coming to us from the outside, we must love and care for one another. Maybe this is my way to fight this COVID time. To love. —Elinor Carucci

Love and soap Corona days 2020.
Love and soap, Corona days, 2020.ELINOR CARUCCI/EDWYNN HOUK GALLERY.

Rachel Elise Thomas

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
© RACHEL ELISE THOMAS

These photographs taken in my home at the beginning of quarantine resonate with me the most because they set the foundation for me to be more transparent and honest with what I was creating and with personal work.

I feel that in order for it to be successful, you have to let your guard down. I’m very thankful that my creativity kept me going. It was my answer, solution, shield, and distraction. It helped me process and understand the things that were going on around me. —Rachel Elise Thomas

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
© RACHEL ELISE THOMAS
My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
© RACHEL ELISE THOMAS

Philip Keith

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHILIP KEITH. 
My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHILIP KEITH. 

When I’d go out on walks, I would seek out the natural world as it exists in urban spaces, something of an escape from the static time imposed on us through lockdown, to find life unaffected by the pandemic.

I don’t usually linger on snapshots for too long, but somewhere in the silence of these small moments, I can find resonance still. Viewing the images as I write this, I’m transported back to the days when they were made. —Philip Keith

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PHOTOGRAPH BY PHILIP KEITH. 

Peter van Agtmael

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PETER VAN AGTMAEL/MAGNUM PHOTOS

These images are a symbol to me of both the horror and resilience of people living through the pandemic. The occasion was a funeral service with a limited number of mourners.

It was loving and intimate, but because of limitations on the size of gatherings, it missed many of the people who would want a last chance to say goodbye. Yet that day also reminded me of the hard work of the funeral home staff working in harrowing conditions to bring dignity to the dead, and the way that the family members came together despite the invisible threat.

There’s no real modern precedent for this pandemic, and while depravity and callousness have often been on display, so have courage and love. —Peter van Agtmael

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PETER VAN AGTMAEL/MAGNUM PHOTOS
My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
PETER VAN AGTMAEL/MAGNUM PHOTOS

 

Franck Bohbot

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
FRANCK BOHBOT
My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
FRANCK BOHBOT

If I can describe this year in one word, I would say: apocalyptic. This will change forever my vision of life, and I hope that after the end of the pandemic, people will realize how much every detail in our lives is and was important. Hugging your family, talking to friends over coffee, traveling, picking up your kids from school, partying in a club, or going to a movie theater. I love life and will always be optimistic. The only thing that is important to me is good health for my family, seeing people pursuing their dreams more than ever, and trying to enjoy every moment at a time. My role as a photographer is to preserve the soul of a real person or a place by making it singular and timeless. —Franck Bohbot

My Creativity Kept Me Going Six Photographers Share Images From Their COVID Year
FRANCK BOHBOT

.