I’m a Philadelphia photographer and filmmaker who’s been working closely with nurses since 2018, developing curriculum and training materials. Throughout I’ve seen a cadre of people extremely dedicated to the task of helping others for purely altruistic reasons, people who every day put their own personal lives on hold to relieve the suffering of people they don’t know. When the pandemic hit I think everybody wanted to do something to help but very few had the skills necessary to actually make a difference, and it’s a frustrating feeing. I’m not a medical professional, I can’t heal anyone. I really only know how to do one thing and I wanted to use whatever skills I did have to focus attention on the work that nurses are doing on the front lines — standing, bodily, between us and this virus, obviously the heroes of Covid-19. But as I went forward with this, I started to meet other people who were essential to keeping us alive — delivery people, cashiers, postal workers and I became more cautious about using the word “heroes”. Because while nurses and doctors did sign up for this, a lot of people on the front lines didn’t get to make that decision and were never asked the questions that we ask doctors and nurses and soldiers and sailors … are you willing to risk your life and the lives of people you love for this job? Some people on the front lines are economic hostages who are at risk because they can’t skip a rent payment or don’t have health insurance. Our country is being hit by a medical emergency, to be sure, but that is sitting on top of an existing social emergency that has stratified risk.
So do thank the doctors and nurses you see, clap for them in the evenings. But be sure to tip your delivery person, thank your letter carrier, thank every FedEx driver who walks past your porch and put your mind to thinking about how to make everyone’s lives better and more equitable.
I’m grateful to the people who believed in this project from the beginning and were eager to help me share the stories of people on the front lines: Mayor Jim Kenney, Linda Huss, Kelly Cofrancisco, Deana Gamble, the Philadelphia Streets Department. And also my friends in the nursing field, especially Kirsten Hickerson who’s been cheering for nurses since as long as I’ve known her.
Do you know someone in West Philadelphia I should photograph? (From a distance.) Let me know.