Q&A with “Signs of COVID-19” Photographer, Jeff Larason

“Signs of COVID-19” is a series of photographs on display in the windows of CultureHouse Harvard and online at cloud.culturehouse.cc/gallery. Prints are available with a $50 donation to CultureHouse, a nonprofit that creates pop-up community spaces in vacant storefronts. $25 of every donation will go to Black Lives Matter Boston.

What inspired you to choose signs as your subject for this series?

I’m a street photographer. I spend a lot of time walking around Boston, looking for light, people, and moments. Chinatown is near my office, so I wander there often. Chinatown businesses were hit very early on when the virus was blossoming in Wuhan. I started seeing signs in their windows, very soon after the crisis began here in the states. They were poignant and sad. As the crisis spread into the shutdown, I realized these same signs would be on businesses all over the country. I thought they would be a telling snapshot of this whole sad, sordid affair.

Tell us a bit about your process for capturing signs in a variety of cities. Was the process any different than shooting your previous work?

The difference was that I was suddenly doing everything I could to avoid people. Normally my work is entirely about people on the streets of Boston. With this project I spent a lot of time driving from place to place, trying to keep my distance from people. Much of this work was shot during the early stages of the shutdown when few people were venturing out. I went early in the morning so that I wouldn’t be in people’s way, and so that I wouldn’t risk infection myself.

You play with reflection in most of your photos. Why did you make that choice?

All of these businesses are part of a neighborhood. They all serve the people who live and work in the area. They support the towns by hiring people, by paying taxes, by bringing people together and by being part of the community. The reflections show these neighborhoods. They show that the signs are not just words that a store is closed. They show that an entire community has been affected.

How did you choose which photographs to put on display at CultureHouse?

The chosen images needed to be well-composed. But they needed a strong message as well. I wanted to have a broad spectrum of businesses, communities, and messages represented. I’ve never worked in color before, so I had to learn color and to understand what worked and what didn’t.

How do you hope these photographs impact people who view them?

I hope people remember. We seem to be moving past the crisis so quickly. We forgot how much people gave up to keep each other safe and healthy. We’ve already broken into partisan bickering. It continues to be a great challenge for humanity, and we’ve already begun to forget.

What thoughts or emotions do they spark for you?

The people who work at these places were suddenly without income. The owners and employees all lost their livelihoods almost in an instant. It made me incredibly sad to know that people were being put at risk by this virus. It made me proud to know that people cared enough about each other to take that risk.

Jeff Larason has been a street photographer since the 80’s. His street photography reflects his interest in places and the ways people interact with their environment. He is a founding member of the Boston Streets Collective, a group of street photographers. See more of his work at www.jefflarason.com.

CultureHouse is a nonprofit that improves livability in local communities by transforming unused spaces into vibrant social infrastructure. Learn more at culturehouse.cc.

Order your print at cloud.culturehouse.cc/gallery. Prints will be available for pickup or delivery after June 15th.

CultureHouse improves livability in local communities by transforming unused spaces into vibrant social infrastructure.