Portraits of the Pandemic

At some point early in the pandemic, after everyone had been at home for a while, I saw a series of “pandemic portraits” done by a local artist of well connected, wealthy residents of Lexington. In those portraits the sitters seemed amused by the novelty of having to stay home due to restaurant and bar closures. They were all smiling.

I found this series very inspiring. Of course the portraits were of well connected, wealthy citizens because that’s whose portraits traditionally are done. Portraits are usually commissioned and are a dance of egos, both of the artist and the sitter. The Tate Museum’s description of the portrait perfectly describes whose portraits hang in art museums and galleries and mansions:

But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Portraits have almost always been flattering, and painters who refused to flatter, such as William Hogarth, tended to find their work rejected.

I’d never really done a portrait before starting this series but I decided to start because I wanted to do exactly the opposite during this horrible shitshow pandemic. I focused entirely upon doing portraits of individuals with no status or power or importance according to society/tradition. And capturing their story, their experience of the pandemic itself, was critical as well. I decided with my portraits I would try to capture the truth of the pandemic for those of us whose story would easily slip through the cracks of history–those of us who are poor, elderly, uninsured, LGBTQIA, BIPOC or neurodivergent.

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