by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
A new digital photography book provides intimate and personalized views of an extraordinary moment in history, as recorded by members of the Dickinson College community. SNAPSHOTS: How the Dickinson Community Experienced the COVID-19 Pandemic presents COVID-19-themed photos submitted by Dickinson students, faculty and staff. Together, the photos offer a unique view of everyday struggles and triumphs, including those particular to students.
The book arose from Dickinson’s 2021 student-curated art-history exhibition, offered virtually this year, which includes select COVID-19 photos. All students, faculty and staff members were invited to submit snapshots in December through an email sent jointly by the college’s Trout Gallery and Archives & Special Collections.
One-hundred Dickinsonians responded with images representing the triumphs and challenges of the moment. Some shone a light on unique issues faced by students and educators—and staff at residential U.S. colleges—from March to December 2020.
A bare mattress and a residence hall room key, after a midsemester move-out. Photo by Elizabeth Krause '20.
Students sent photos of emptied dorm rooms, apartment pods and trips they organized after study-abroad summer plans were dashed. There’s a portrait of a lone grad in cap and gown and a shot of a family member, trying on a wedding dress for a postponed ceremony. We also see a social-distance internship, cut-out photos of audience members filling the seats during a video recital, and a Zoom college choir rehearsal.
“It shows how we were able to continue to make music, even though we were spread across time zones and continents,” writes Clara Giorgis ’21, a College Choir member.
Faculty and staff documented technological triumphs and sent screenshots of Zoom classes and snapshots of home offices and special events, including an all-college presentation and an outdoor volunteer event to help feed those in need. One professor reflected on the ways humor helped her connect with students across the miles.
Kathy Shaw snapped a selfie on her way to work, where she cleans and sanitizes campus spaces. In her photographer’s statement, she reflected on just how essential her essential work had become.
Photo by Deb Sinha, associate professor of environmental studies.
Other photos tapped into now-iconic images and themes, like masked selfies and home-office scenes, often with photobombing pets in view. We see Zoom holidays, family baking days, essential-worker portraits and a COVID haircut. Liz Glynn Toth ’06, a Dickinson administrator and mom, sent a photo of herself at her laptop, balancing her young son on her knee.
Juli Bounds, assistant costume studio manager, provided an idiosyncratic still life of fruit. Each one sported a tiny costume she’d made—a representation of the work and in-person connections she misses. Carol Ann Johnson, professor of English, communicated gratitude and loss in a photograph of the border collie she’d inherited from her late parents. This writer’s snapshot of caution tape on playground equipment represents the pandemic’s anxious first days, when little was known about how the disease spread.
Photo of summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protest by Emmerson Rains '24.
Emmerson Rains '24 and Kristi Brant brought COVID-era politics and activism into the frame. Rains documented a Black Lives Matter protest because it communicates that “people felt moved enough to make their voices heard, even during a pandemic.” Brant, director of planned giving, commemorated the 2020 election with a photo of herself and her 9-year-old daughter, dropping off a mail-in ballot. “We are optimistic—voting is ultimately an optimistic exercise,” she writes.
That spirit of optimism runs strong throughout the collection—and that’s not surprising, since, like the photos we select for our social media feeds, these snapshots have been carefully curated by the photographers. It’s also worth noting that because all photos were submitted voluntarily, the photographers are not a representative sample of the diverse Dickinson community.
Which is to say: This photo collection does not paint a complete picture of COVID-19 experiences among the Dickinson community—let alone the disparate and complex ways COVID-19 has affected people of different races and ethnicities, occupations, socioeconomic statuses, geographies and ideologies. Instead, it shines a light on the ways volunteer photographers used snapshots to tell their stories and the kinds of moments they wished to remember and share.
At times, those moments capture messy emotional truths.
QR Code to view SNAPSHOTS: How the Dickinson Community Experienced the COVID-19 Pandemic
Recruitment Coordinator Tammy Heberlig acknowledged both COVID-era anxieties and pleasures in a photo of her miniature donkey, which she took care of each morning while walking with her dog, Bruce. “It was a wonderful way to start each day before facing nonstop news reports and updated health statistics,” she recalls.
In William Milberry’s photo, we see the computing specialist’s newborn son, who was born during the lockdown and experienced health problems unrelated to COVID-19. “This fuzzy photo says so many things about this year to me—concerns over health, difficulties we didn’t expect, joy in defiance of the pandemic, hope for the future and reasons to fight through it,” he writes.
SNAPSHOTS is viewable online, and print copies are available to all who took part in the project. All photographs also will be included in Dickinson’s Archives & Special Collections files for future study and view.
Published February 26, 2021