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A COVID DIARY: U-M photography students document the pandemic

By Sydney Hawkins

The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design has created a new $25,000 prize to advance the project of one graduating senior.

A new documentary collaboration led by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and professor David Turnley offers an intimate look into the lives of a diverse group of University of Michigan students during the 2020 fall semester.

“A COVID DIARY” is nearly eight minutes long and can be viewed on YouTube. It presents a series of images made by students from the U-M Stamps School of Art & Design and the Residential College who were part of Turnley’s documentary photography class.

The assignment for the course, which was conducted entirely virtual, was for students to photograph their lives and the world around them from September-December. They each produced five installments of 100 photographs each, which were critiqued and curated by Turnley for the project.

As part of the virtual collaboration, Turnley met weekly with each of his 22 students over Zoom to review and support their work. The resulting photos were taken from Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Tampa, and even as far away as New Zealand.

While the project that Turnley’s spring 2020 class created showed the fear and solitude produced by the onset of the pandemic in its early months, “A COVID DIARY” has a slightly different tone, with dramatic scenes of protests, political rallies, voting lines and life with frontline health care workers. Also depicted are visits to pumpkin patches and beaches, COVID tests being administered, Zoom meetings, home gyms, holiday gatherings with face masks, and even student athletes gearing up for games.

According to Turnley, some students in the class had never before picked up a camera, while others had extensive experience.

“Their common thread was the goal—to document the realities of the world around us each day with empathy,” said Turnley, who taught the class while working to document the pandemic in Paris. “I believe that everyone who views it will be touched by the incredible work that my students and I have collaborated to produce over the course of this historical semester.”

Students who participated include Mckenzie Balaka, Blake Borgeson, McKenzie Campbell, Jessica Dorow, Maddy Kachikian, Lauren Linnebur, Rebecca Mahon, Abbigaile Mancuso, Gwendolyn McCartney, Nicholas McIntyre, Sydney Verlinde, Anne Klusendorf, Ava Kee, Cameron McGrone, Henry Spring, Emma Grife, Daniel Moran, John Edward Baty, Raisa Dorzback, Kwity Paye, Madison McClune and Julia Ann Hagopian.