During this pandemic, a photographer’s creative opportunities have shrunk as the restraints of social distancing remove her usual subjects — in my case, Bates students.
But as we’ve seen, the coronavirus can’t stop creativity, and soon I was seeing photographers execute a new and more collaborative kind of portraiture using FaceTime and iPhone technology.
Before trying my hand at FaceTime portraits with a group of Bates students, I did a few test shots, first with my out-of-state daughter, then with my out-of-state brother, and finally with an out-of-Lewiston colleague. They were all patient with the process, but it proved to be a lot harder than I had anticipated. My results were pitiful, I thought.
Surely, the pictures could only improve, so I forged ahead, inviting a few members of the Class of 2020 to take part in FaceTime portraits, letting them choose the setting for their portrait — a place that felt special — and letting them choose a close-up or something more environmental, with or without surroundings and/or companions.
Typically, a photographer gets to exert a lot of control in a posed situation. While ideally there’s a partnership between subject and photographer, clearly the scales are weighted in favor of the photographer, who can make decisions about framing, lenses, and light.
But with FaceTime portraits, the subject has the upper hand, literally, since they’re holding the phone that will take the picture. After joining the FaceTime call, the subject gets to position the camera and present the background.
The photographer can make requests — “A little to your left” — but the control has shifted. It makes for interesting creative dynamics, and that was fun to explore with these seniors. (The image itself is taken by the photographer, who presses a white button on the FaceTime display. That yields a 3-second video clip from which still images can be selected.) And of course, the photographer exerts further creative control with cropping, toning, and sharpening.
In the end, these 10 individuals blessed me with their willingness to go on a creative journey with me. They were patient and generous with their time and ingenuity. Ditto for their loved ones, who in some circumstances positioned the camera or posed with them.
In one sense, the photographs might lack typical “quality” as measured by sharpness, resolution, whatever. But in another sense, these photographs — showing hopeful and resilient soon-to-be-graduates who have faith in themselves and in others — help give us confidence in our future.
There’s no finer image available.
Maya Seshan ’20
Hometown: Wilton, Conn.
Setting: Family room
Maya says: “Arriving at home, I found it extremely difficult to give myself the structure and environment I needed to get work done. At Bates, my favorite spot to work was always the large tables by the windows on the first floor of Ladd Library. I loved being surrounded by the light-filled windows and in an open space buzzing with noise. As an academic and social space, the first floor was somewhere I could always find at least two tables of my rowing teammates and plenty of other friends to work (or chat) with. Somehow, despite the noise, I was always the most productive there. It is where I worked on group projects, finished chemistry homework, came up with my thesis topic, and where I really began writing my thesis. At home, our family room with big windows is about the closest I can get to that.
“Though finishing my politics thesis was certainly a challenge at home, I am thankful to have had so much support from my adviser, Professor Stephen Engel, and to have been able to write about something that felt truly relevant right now. My thesis looks at the resistance to technology adoption and to reform in the U.S. healthcare system. I also analyze whether the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the adoption of technology in healthcare, and as a result, whether it presents political opportunities for reform. I’ve been able to reflect on how this crisis may permanently change our world, and the possibilities for change that may come out of it.
“It is undoubtedly painful to not be at Bates ending my senior year with my friends. Not being able to bind my thesis on the library terrace, finish my final rowing season, or even enjoy a final Short Term really hurts, but I am of course extremely grateful for the moments that I did have. I wish everyone health and safety at this time and to my fellow 2020 seniors say, ‘Congratulations.’”
Analea Angot ’20
Hometown: Hampton, N.H.
Setting: Childhood home
Analea says: “As I’m confined to my small childhood home, I find comfort in this large-scale painting, now the center of my visual world. It breathes air into the house and brings the outdoors in — often a jumping-off point for my daydreams. I sit and drink my coffee, admiring the way the morning light beautifully illuminates the trees bursting with pink blossoms, filling my heart with hope and anticipation of better days ahead.
“A family heirloom, it also signifies the artist Tom Cooke’s adjustment of artistic expression after a stroke that robbed him of fine motor skills but granted him a deeper connection to color. How apropos — a great reminder that we all possess the power to adjust to change, overcome adversity, and see the forest for the trees.”
Madeline Fagundo ’20
Hometown: Boulder, Colo.
Major: Rhetoric, film, and screen studies
Setting: In her parents’ bedroom, looking out on Mount Sanitas, with her sister, Melina, 16, and golden retriever, Georgia
Maddie says: “I am so grateful for my sister, Melina. Since going to college all the way in Maine, we haven’t been able to see each other as much as we would like, so it has been nice to make up for lost time. I’ve really missed the Bates community, and Melina has been really supportive and comforting — she is actually going to bind my thesis tomorrow!
“Since being home, we’ve learned how to cook, bake, scrapbook, make homemade ice cream, do woodworking, and learn remotely together. I think we have taken on recipes and projects way beyond our skill level, but we’ve had fun with it. We’ve truly been inseparable during quarantine — I even moved into her room.
“Behind us is Mount Sanitas, which has some of my favorite trails in Boulder. Getting outside during these times has been really important for our wellness and health. Thankfully, the Colorado Public Health Order says it is safe to recreate close to home while following social-distance protocol. I am really grateful that Melina likes to hike with me — especially since there have been a lot of mountain lion sightings in Boulder (possibly because the city is so quiet as everyone is at home).
“Inside or outside, the ‘buddy system’ has done so many wonders.”
Maya Church ’20
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Major: Gender and Sexuality Studies
Setting: Her back yard
Maya says: “I love being home — not just the actual home but the feeling of home, too. Whether I am having my best or toughest days, you will find me at some point in the day sitting in my back yard, always in the same seat. When I am outside, my thoughts become more clear, and I truly feel like I’m given peace of mind, especially when there’s a lot of noise in my head.
“Having this time has really made me think about what’s important in life. For me, that’s having a home, a foundation. Amidst all of the problems that are happening right now, I am blessed to be at home.”
Andrew Garcia-Bou ’20
Hometown: Eastchester, N.Y.
Setting: Bedroom at home
Andrew says: “This is where I spend a lot of my time now. There are not many places that I can go and feel productive. If I am not sitting here, my day is usually filled with other small, miscellaneous tasks or projects to help move the days along.
“The concept of time is so interesting to me now. We have all the time in the world to enjoy doing nothing — but also all the time to try and do everything, if that makes sense. I try to stay away from thinking how this time could have been used soaking up the final days as a senior with my peers. Once I get past that, sitting here isn’t so bad.”
Charlotte Karlsen ’20
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Majors: Politics and Rhetoric
Setting: Kitchen at home
Charlotte says: “I study here in the kitchen while my dad works and my mother, a nurse, trains to work with COVID-19 patients.
“I’m sitting in front of cookbook-filled shelves that include some favorites such as the Joy of Cooking and volumes by chef Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli chef. I’ve found cooking to be a source of peace in a stressful time.
“Although cutting short my senior year and returning home was not how I wanted to end my final year at Bates, I know I am lucky to have really great parents. So I am not completely miserable.
“I talk with my Bates friends every day, holding Zoom parties, and continuing a book club with female friends where we read works by women about women our age and the transitions that occur during this time in their lives.
“The best thing I’ve learned during this quarantine period is that my relationships with friends and family will sustain me through a future of uncertainty.”
Ryan Clermont ’20
Hometown: Lincoln, N.H.
Setting: Gas station in Beaufort, S.C.
Ryan says: “I think most of my friends would agree that I am a very spontaneous person. I have a hard time saying ‘No’ when someone says, ‘Hey, you wanna…?’ So when my dad and brother asked if I wanted to drive down to Florida with them to pick up the boat, I didn’t hesitate, even though I still had to submit my thesis, watch three classes’ worth of video lectures, and take the final exam for my psychology class.
“Four hours into the trip, I had wrapped up the final edits to my thesis and submitted it. But taking the psych final was challenging. When a tire on the boat trailer exploded, I was left wondering whether I should begin the timed exam on the side of the highway. I ended up doing the exam — and ending my college career — from the comfort of the breakdown lane on I-95 and a hotel in Vero Beach, Fla.
“I had always envisioned my college experience ending in Ladd as I bound my thesis, or in P’gill as I walked out of my last exam. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and an email and an online exam from the back seat of the truck were perfect alternatives.”
Lauren Hernandez ’20
Hometown: Chester, N.J.
Setting: Amidst the Christmas trees in her backyard
Lauren says: “My family moved to Chester, N.J., in 2003 when I was 5 and my sister was 3 years old. The property used to be a Christmas tree farm and was filled with evergreens as tall as my sister and me. Although people in the area suggested my family cut down the trees, my parents decided to let them grow. Seventeen years later, those same trees tower over us.
“When I was 5, I remember when I saw the first blade of green grass sprout in our back yard. It is a very special memory. For me, it symbolizes the start of certain growth for both me and my back yard. Now that I am graduating from Bates and will be moving away, I look back at this back yard and these memories with gratitude and peace, knowing that this is where my true roots lie. I hope that everyone is safe and their families are well.”
Graham Bonnell ’20
Hometown: Southport, Conn.
Setting: Cold Garden Spirits distillery, Canterbury, N.H.
Graham says: “I’m originally from Connecticut, but since leaving Bates I’ve been living at Canterbury Shaker Village, a historic site and museum. There’s no Wi-Fi, and it’s in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, in addition to working on classes and writing my thesis, I’ve been able to keep myself busy by working part time at the Cold Garden Spirits distillery, a 10-minute walk down the road.
“The work has been incredible — socially distanced, letting me spend hours outside clipping weeds, stacking wood, digging post holes, and tending to distillery operations. I also created an online store so that the business could continue without in-person interactions. I have also learned a lot of cool new things. I routinely drive a tractor, a pickup truck, a forklift, and I even have to use a chainsaw from time to time.
“I have never experienced rural life. I am not accustomed to working in fields or driving tractors, but I am happy to learn. As painful as it was to leave all of my friends and the community of Bates, I’ve found a new purpose here in New Hampshire.”
Maya Wilson ’20
Hometown: New York City
Setting: Amenia, N.Y.
Maya says: “I’ve been quarantining with another Bates student, Ben Hinton ’21, which has been nice, although I’ve been spending a lot of time outside to avoid being forced to play Magic: The Gathering. Tomorrow I plan to make Ben do an hourlong EDM dance workout with me as payback (he doesn’t know this yet). And being outside has been good for both of us. It is definitely comforting to hear cars on the road, or see people walking, a sweet reminder that life continues around us.”