Portrait of a pandemic: documenting COVID-19’s impact

Senior Constable working at the Queensland border in May 2020. Photo: Steve Holland

Queensland College of Art (QCA) has teamed up with the State Library of Queensland to document the impact of COVID-19 across the state.

QCA photography program director Dr Heather Faulkner pulled together a group of accomplished alumni, each tasked with capturing 100 portraits from around Queensland.

A snapshot of history in the making

The Way We Live Now was inspired by the renowned photographers who documented the impact of the Great Depression in rural America in the 1930s.

Dr Heather Faulkner

“We knew we were in the middle of a significant moment in history, something that was vital to document for future generations,” Dr Faulkner said.

“We gathered a really impressive group of alumni who hit the ground running. They produced really rich, diverse stories from around the state.

“They profiled people from all walks of life, from frontline healthcare workers to school kids.

“I think they were surprised at how many people were willing to share very deep, personal stories – it was an emotional journey for all of our photographers, and many of them have said it was the best professional experience of their lives.”

A passion project

QCA alumnus Krystle Wright

The alumni photographers included award-winning adventure snapper Krystle Wright, who spends most of the year travelling the globe, documenting extreme sports and the planet’s most remote landscapes.

Since graduating from the Queensland College of Art with a Bachelor of Photography in 2009, Krystle’s work has graced the pages of National Geographic and Outside magazine.

“When COVID hit, I was forced to cancel all of my international work. I’m usually on the road 11 months of the year – this is the longest I’ve been home,” she said.

“This is a lifestyle, not a job, and I’m so passionate about what I do.

“I leapt at the chance to capture this moment in history. I think our kids and grandkids will look back on this and wonder at what a strange time it was.”

Turning the lens on regional Queensland

Photo: Krystle Wright

Krystle headed out to the bush to document the impact of the pandemic on the state’s rural communities, travelling west from St George to Cunnamulla, Quilpie and Charleville.

Photo: Krystle Wright

“You don’t often hear stories from people outside the big cities, and most of the communities welcomed me with open arms,” she said.

“A lot of these small towns have already been hit with drought and bushfires, and the pandemic restrictions have crippled their economies.

“They’ve lost the tourist trade, the farmers are suffering without the backpackers who used to do fruit picking, flower farms have lost business with people cancelling weddings.”

Capturing stories for posterity

QCA alumnus Lachlan Gardiner

Fellow QCA alumnus Lachlan Gardiner is used to being on the road in pursuit of the perfect shot. Since graduating in 2012, he has carved out a successful career as a photojournalist and adventure photographer.

Photo: Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan documented the impact of the pandemic in communities across the Scenic Rim and Darling Downs.

“I took portraits of people from all walks of life – retirees, artists, local farmers and small business owners,” he said.

“It was pretty intense seeing the impact that the pandemic has had, but people were really happy to share their stories for posterity.”

Getting out of the classroom

Dr Faulkner said the project continued the QCA’s proud tradition of giving photography students plenty of opportunities to get out of the classroom and into the field.

For the past 25 years, photography students have undertaken regular in-field trips to rural Queensland and further afield, with study tours to New York, Cambodia, India and Nepal.

“The students get so much out of it – they come back with a new way of working and a different outlook on life,” Dr Faulkner said.

“There are so many amazing untold stories in these communities and our students are helping to bring them to light.”

Contributing to state archives

State Library of Queensland State Librarian and CEO Vicki McDonald said the project captured a unique moment in Queensland’s history.

State Library of Queensland CEO Vicki McDonald

“This collection of images and interviews will help future generations gain important insight into this landmark time,” she said.

“They will help us reflect on the unique Queensland response to the coronavirus — just like we look back at events like the 1918 influenza pandemic.

“We thank Griffith University for coordinating the project and all the photographers involved — they are now among many important contributors to our vast and comprehensive collections.”

The photographs will be featured in a digital exhibition at the State Library of Queensland and form the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Queensland College of Art Galleries early next year.