ArtsCOVID-19On Exhibit

A Pandemic Portrait of the Artist as a Photographer During the Time of COVID-19

By Kelly MacConomy

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.

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

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.

In the time of coronavirus project portraits of Maria Elizabeth, owner of Salon Dezen in Old Town, and self portrait of Don Ripper. Courtesy Photo.

Don Ripper, noting how much modern history has been documented though the lens of a camera, explains, “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.” Twenty-five percent of the proceeds Don earns from portrait commissions goes toward advocating for social justice causes via Keep Going and Spring2ACTion.

Don’s portrait project images, using the Petzval lens and tintype style printing, are hauntingly poetic and profoundly personal. A sense of alienation and uncertainty is uniquely expressed with each portrait that conveys a current collective conscious of isolation, yet not one of despair but more of synchronicity. We are all in this together. We are not alone.

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. Courtesy Photo.


Don says, “Capturing the mood of the moment. This truly is our authentic, unedited selves. We might want to push the truths we learned about ourselves and our world away. We also 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 from here.”

People are responding enthusiastically about the portrait project, eagerly scheduling appointments for COVID-capsized high school and college graduations, family portraits, anniversaries, even waylaid weddings. To schedule a portrait sitting with Don Ripper click here.

The childhood taunt, “take a picture it lasts longer” rings true for both the best of times and the worst of times. Art and life go on in the never ending days of the coronavirus. Preserving life via photography is sustaining memories- to remember and be remembered.

A picture after all is worth a thousand words.

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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