In Z Hood

A Pandemic Portrait – The Artist as Photographer in the Time of COVID-19

Don Ripper recently began a photography project documenting the effect of social distancing on individuals and couples as well as families.

In the time of coronavirus project portraits of Maria Elizabeth, owner of Salon deZen in Old Town, and self portrait of Don Ripper. (Photo: Don Ripper)

Alexandria, VA – Don Ripper is a painter by profession and an owner of the Erickson & Ripper Gallery and frame shop on North Washington Street in Old Town. Don, who lives in Alexandria and grew up in nearby Fairfax County, attended the prestigious Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.

Don recently began a photography project documenting the effect of social distancing on individuals and couples as well as families, utilizing a circa-1853 antique Petzval lens. This lens, developed in 1840 by the German-Hungarian mathematician Joseph Petzval in Vienna, was the first portrait objective lens in the history of photography. In 2014, a Petzval lens adapted for both film and digital cameras became available. Every portrait subject dons a mask, creating an eerily idiosyncratic time capsule personifying these times in our lives.

Alexandria artist and gallery owner Don Ripper at work on one of his Maine and Acadia National Park-inspired canvases. (Courtesy photo)

Noting how much modern history has been documented though the lens of a camera, Don Ripper says, “This lens captures the soul of a person and the unfiltered atmosphere of our COVID time. This project is about humanity’s ability to see itself honestly and grow from the truth.”

Using the Petzval lens and tintype-style printing, Don Ripper’s images are hauntingly poetic and profoundly personal. Alienation and uncertainty are uniquely expressed with each portrait, conveying a collective sense of isolation, yet not one of despair but more of synchronicity. We are all in this together. We are not alone.

“Capturing the mood of the moment, this truly is our authentic, unedited selves. We might want to push the truths we learn about ourselves and our world away. We might want to forget it all, but for our future survival, we must remember this moment and capture it. This will forever be a reminder of who we are right now, what we have learned, and where we are going,” Ripper says.

People are responding enthusiastically to the portrait project, eagerly scheduling appointments for COVID-capsuled high school and college graduations, family portraits, anniversaries, even waylaid weddings.

In the time of the coronavirus portrait series tintype photograph of Del Ray’s and Pork Barrel BBQ‘s own Bill Blackburn with his sons. (Photo: Don Ripper)

To schedule a portrait sitting with Don Ripper go to Twenty-five percent of the proceeds Don earns from portrait commissions goes toward advocating for social justice causes via Keep Going and Spring2ACTion.

The childhood taunt, “Take a picture it lasts longer!” rings true for both the best and the worst of times. Art and life go on in the never-ending time of coronavirus. Preserving life through photography is sustaining memories, to remember now and be remembered later. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words.

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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