Just a few days back, the Milan-based photography magazine Perimetro launched a project to support the Pope John XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, the city which was then the global center of the COVID-19 outbreak. Featuring a starry lineup of internationally renowned photographers, 100 Photographs for Bergamo raised $380,000 in its first five days; by the time the project reached its conclusion, $799,950 was in the process of being distributed to support the intensive care wards of hospitals in the northern Italian city.
Today, that epicenter has moved, and landed squarely in New York City. For a variety of reasons too long and complex to list, the city’s health services have been fighting to bear the weight of the epidemic, as it continues to ravage many of its poorest and most vulnerable communities. But if New York is the center of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, then, as a writer for The Guardian put it in an article last month: “Elmhurst Hospital in the New York City borough of Queens is the center of the center.” As a safety net hospital mainly caring largely for low-income and immigrant patients, Elmhurst has found itself overwhelmed, dedicating up to 95% of its resources during the past few weeks to dealing directly with the novel coronavirus, according to the Pictures for Elmhurst website.
These statistics make for painful, if necessary, reading. So much so, that they are what spurred the group of New York–based creatives into immediate action. “When the pandemic truly took hold of NYC, I was very frustrated in feeling unable to help the community around me firsthand,” says Samantha Casolari, a Brooklyn-based art and fashion photographer who spearheaded the Pictures for Elmhurst initiative. Taking Perimetro’s project in Bergamo as a blueprint, Casolari quickly connected with a group of friends and peers from the worlds of photography, art, and fashion to establish a print sale that would fundraise and provide relief for the Elmhurst Hospital.
“I reached out to a couple of friends working in the industry—Jody Rogac, Vittoria Cerciello, and Eliona Cela—who were enthusiastic about the idea, so we decided to all go ahead together,” Casolari explains. “The rest of the team—Matthew Booth, Shayna McClelland, and Stefan Dufgran—came on board right after. This would never have happened without their work, which has been around the clock. The amount of ideas we shared in such a short time is really unprecedented for me.”
The lineup of photographers participating is undoubtedly impressive: Today, the initial crop of 96 photographers are being joined by another 91, all of whom, big or small, are offering their prints for a cool $150. Alongside contributions from the cream of fashion photography—whether Vogue contributors including Ethan James Green, Tyler Mitchell, and Zoë Ghertner, or avant-garde talents like Gareth McConnell, Lea Colombo, and Michael Bailey-Gates—are works from art photographers whose prints can reach tens of thousands of dollars at auction houses, such as Thomas Demand, Richard Mosse, and Rineke Dijkstra.
“We’ve had an incredibly warm response,” says Casolari. “We really didn’t expect this level of enthusiasm. Nearly all of the photographers we contacted wanted to be involved. Everyone had a desire to help the community, and it’s so beautiful to see. The same goes for those buying prints—we’ve received endless emails of support for the project.” It’s unsurprising, perhaps, given the project’s appeal to our current, lockdown-induced urge to hunt for bargains online, but it’s the knowledge that we’re doing something good in the process that truly seals the deal.
For Casolari and her team, though, the importance of the project runs deeper. “I think this crisis is forcing photographers to reconsider how they look at the world,” she adds. “We are used to looking to the exterior, to other people and the wide world of human beings, but social distancing and quarantine have slowed us down and forced us to look to the interior, to our families and our own solitude as subjects. I’m already seeing stunning images of quarantine and isolation—how creatives are living it, what they are doing on their own without being able to collaborate with teams—something many of us are accustomed to.”
It’s true. The tried-and-tested formula for shooting a fashion spread or an art book is quickly being rendered obsolete, and in its place has sprung a return to the essence of what made these photographers creative in the first place. “I love this new aspect of the photo industry—it’s literally like being projected in photographers’ homes, and into their personal lives,” Casolari concludes. “Photography is now even more intimate and accessible—it’s healing.” Healing in more sense than one.
Photo via ITG.