A Pandemic Observed

A Pandemic Observed

Read the writeup in Vanderbilt News.



Featured Artists from Nashville: A Pandemic Observed


Artist’s Statement: Joon Powell

No one will forget those first harrowing weeks of scanning the news and seeing rates of infection dot maps and then turn entire continents red. Since the spring of 2020, the deadly virus Covid-19 has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives and altered countless more forever.

Our families navigated the crisis by going into isolation. Our homes became our workplaces, schools, playgrounds, and refuges as we tried to mark the seemingly endless time by celebrating birthdays, caring for animals, and exploring within all those parameters we deemed safe.

I have always photographed my family, but these photographs serve as a record of our pandemic experience documenting how we have devoted our time and attention. As I observed this strange season of my children’s lives, I came to understand their resilience, as they see the world in all its beauty and its brokenness. My children strove for connection like wildflowers lean toward the sunlight. May we all do the same.


Artist’s Statement: John Partipilo

Throughout my career as an artist and photojournalist my work has always been about people. The pandemic was no different.

2020 was a devastating year for most people in the country but especially for people in Nashville.  Metro neighborhoods had just been rocked by a destructive tornado when the pandemic started to spread in Tennessee. The tornado and pandemic were a double disaster on the city. Besides people losing their homes, businesses and schools were closed. Many lost their jobs and could not find work.  Others could not afford food. What was once normal life changed into something abnormal. Depression and fear set in as the virus was killing thousands of people.

Seeing people hurting and fearful drove me to document this surreal year. The dangers added challenges to my creative process. I had to take maximum precautions to protect myself from the virus, while photographing. Sometimes I was with a family. Other  times I was in the streets with large groups of people. The health risks made it extremely difficult to photograph while wearing a mask and social distancing.

My passion to create and tell compelling stories always drove me to innovate, adapt, and helped me overcome these health risks. I have always believed that fortune favors the bold when it comes to storytelling.

John Partipilo has won numerous national awards including a Best of Photojournalism award for an essay of Gangs in Tennessee and a first runner up Pulitzer nomination for the 2010 Nashville Flood.  Partipilo has photographed many essays that have documented people’s lives including the War in Iraq, the Nashville Flood in 2010, Civil Rights protests, the bombing on Second Avenue and recently the pandemic. Partipilo is also the author of 2 Photographic books CUBA, MY WORLD ENDS HERE and RANCHO BEYONDO.


Artist’s Statement: Dawn Majors

You have to give over a part of yourself in order to get what you need from your subjects, is what I tell anyone that asks me for advice on photography. A good friend of mine once described the relationship between subject and artist as a seduction. He called us beautiful liars.

I had fairly humble beginnings as the daughter of a hog farmer and brick masons son, who married a girl from the “good” side of the tracks. They had four children and I’m the second of the brood. I’m a serious sort, always have been. As a child I was considered “quaint and curious,” by my parents and I suppose that same curiosity fuels my photography. Well, that and emotions. I need moments like I need air, my aim is always to capture the spirit of the subject. Basically, I’m a storyteller.

Dawn Majors is an African-American Photographer, a shy dreamer who began her budding interest in photography as a sophomore in high school. A graduate of Western Kentucky University’s Photojournalism program she spent nearly a decade working at the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, where she documented everything from abject poverty to politics. With majors in both photojournalism and anthropology, when people ask why she chose to study both she says,”I figured with both skills I could always take pictures of people, or their bones.” A native of Nashville, she is currently working as a photographer for the State of Tennessee.


Artist’s Statement: Bill Steber

Covid 19 changed many things, but none more than our relationship to time itself. After decades of life constantly speeding up in the information age, a year of lockdown and isolation brought the Great Pause. Time often seemed interminably slow, suspended in solution, and then suddenly, weeks, even months were gone in a flash. Time was mutable, elastic, elusive.

My contributions to this exhibit were all made with antique cameras utilizing the wet plate collodion photographic process from the birth years of photography, a much slower time.

These portraits and still life are about the pandemic, but they are also about time itself. They are contemporary images cloaked in the visual artifice of an earlier age, connecting the two via silver on metal plates exposed through old brass lenses.

During the long exposures required to make these images, ranging from several seconds to several minutes, the sitter must be very calm and still, dropping the easy snapshot expression for something deeper and more self-reflective, not unlike the experience of the past 16 months.

Now, as the treadmill of life begins its relentless forward motion once again, demanding speed and productivity, it is my hope that we can retain some of the benefits of slowing down, of keeping still, so that our daily experience can momentarily hold itself in a suspended solution and make for each of us those important moments into permanent, if imperfect, images.



Sponsored by:

  • Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture
  • Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Vanderbilt University Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries
  • Vanderbilt University College of Arts and Science

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