By definition, street photography is the candid documentation of public spaces and the movement that occurs therein. It’s an art form that requires constant observation of—and presence in—urban areas from the person behind the lens. In other words, strict measures for quarantine in Peru during the Coronavirus outbreak simply went against the nature of street photographers.
Raul Burbano and Jean Paul Merino, administrators of the collective Perú StreetPhotography, discuss what it means to document the current pandemic and share a selection of photos from the first 45 days of quarantine in Peru.
TLIP: How has the period of quarantine in Peru challenged street photographers? I imagine it would be more difficult to find a pleasing shot with less movement and people outside. Have you had to shift your focus or style at all?
RB: Since it began, the quarantine has made street photography that much more complicated—and risky. By no means are we promoting that people head out into the streets to take photos, but little by little members of the group [Perú StreetPhotography] began to share images that demonstrate how the pandemic has been lived and felt by different neighborhoods throughout Lima.
At the moment, street photography has the ability to narrate how the pandemic continues to change our habits and interaction with public spaces. In Lima, specifically, the images also reveal how the orders to stay at home were largely followed during the first few weeks yet, with each extension of the lockdown, the population began to rebel against such protocols.
JPM: In my case, I try to document the daily life of people every time I have an on-street commission with the Municipalidad de La Molina (Municipality of La Molina). I have an accreditation by the public entity and that makes it easier for me to capture images every day, but I try to be discreet and I often use zoom lenses to be able to capture the images without disturbing people who are already quite stressed out at this juncture.
TLIP: How has photography in general been affected by the pandemic, both in terms of short and long term?
RB: This is our reality, and we’re conscious of the fact that the impact will last years. Our photos are creating a collective memory of what we’re all going through.
Undoubtedly, the work of photojournalists that is shared by national and international media is focused on how the current pandemic has affected society—but also the citizen’s gaze needs to be present to make us notice what happens in the neighborhoods and often overlooked communities.
In the end, we are all building our version of events through our images and photography becomes a vehicle to communicate what we feel, think and fear.
From another perspective, we know many colleagues who make a living from photography—shooting weddings, events, portraits, etc.—and at this juncture many of them have to reinvent their work. And in other cases, even change their profession. This is the dramatic part that we all aware of, but it is hitting many families hard.
TLIP: Have any members of Perú StreetPhotography had health or security issues while taking photos?
Several people who share their photos in the group have accreditation to be out because they work in the media or for state institutions. Taking photos at this time is valuable registration but it is also a risk for photographers to be out on the streets where they face a high risk of being infected.
Five Peruvian journalists have died since the state of emergency began. Recently, the Association of Photojournalists of Peru (AFPP, Asociación de Fotoperiodistas del Perú), issued a statement seeking professional improvements such as access to testing and optimal working conditions.
TLIP: What changes in societal behavior have you observed while documenting the last few weeks of lockdown?
RB: Behavior in public space has changed dramatically, and not just the use of protective gear (masks, gloves, etc.). The ease and simplicity of daily activities—going to the corner bodega or supermarket; using public transportation—has become a complicated issue. Behind that there is a latent fear and a concern to keep distance.
The discomfort of people being photographed on the street is also more visible, which could be understood by the anxiety and confusion that everyone is facing.
JPM: Walking through the streets I’ve noticed the fear, the stress of people when queuing to buy food and supplies they need to be protected by this terrible virus. But I have also been able to observe the solidarity of people with those most in need, giving donations or basic food baskets to those who have the least.
Check out the full selection of images from the first 45 days of quarantine in Peru, from the Perú StreetPhotography community below:
Cover photo: Orache Callejero (All other photos submitted by members of Perú StreetPhotography)
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