Like many photographers during this period of enforced isolation due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, Isaac Alvarez turned to video conferencing to continue creating. His #hearme project goes beyond simple portraiture, though, and creates a commentary both on the human experience, and on what it means to be a photographer.
If there is one thing portrait photographers like, it’s control. We coach our subjects on attire and posing, we carefully choose times of day, location, and light. But that level of control has slipped right through our hands along with the ability to create regular work with the traditional tools of the trade... like cameras. That didn’t stop Los Angeles based photographer Isaac Alvarez, though. He created the #hearme project as a way for people to come together despite being separated, but I think he might have done much more than that.
Alvarez has created 82 images (at the time of writing this article) using video conferencing tools like Facetime. Each subject holds a sign that relates to their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some signs are wistful, some are silly, but the vast majority are inspiring, proof that the human spirit always tends toward hope in the end. As a body of work, the photographs give an impression of what isolation looks like and what is going on in the minds of people whose lives have been turned upside down by it. As a form of record keeping, that’s valuable enough. But, in my mind, what really makes this project interesting is that Alvarez has chosen to display the way the images were taken as part of the image itself.
Each photo is displayed on the screen of a cell phone, which immediately separates them from most current video conferencing portraits. It’s as if Alvarez wants the viewer to know that’s how the image was made. Of course during social distancing it’s one of the few options photographers have open, but it also strips away much of what photographers generally do and most of the elements of their style. In this case, Alvarez has to rely on the subject for camera placement and angle, light, environment, props, attire, and almost every other aspect of the photograph aside from pressing the shutter. This result in Alvarez’s #hearme images being much more collaborative, where both people join to tell part of a story that is bigger than themselves. Which is what his project is all about.
It also serves as a reminder that it is the intention of the photographer that makes their work unique, and that even bereft of the traditional tools of the trade, creative minds will still overcome to tell stories that matter.
If you want to see more of the project, check out Alvarez's website.
Lead image shared with permission of Isaac Alvarez