An Artwork: Lexington In The Time of COVID-19

Apr 3, 2020

It’s a Thursday afternoon in Lexington, Brett Ratliff is sitting on his front porch, playing his banjo, with his dog Blue at his side.

Ratliff is being photographed by Transylvania University professors and artists Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde for the artwork they’re calling “Lexington in the Time of COVID 19”.

In mid- March after the public schools, private schools and universities in Lexington closed amid the coronavirus pandemic Todorova said the artists found their lives changing dramatically. “ We were being asked to practice social distancing. Stores were also closing and it seemed like we were losing human connection more and more. And we also noticed that people were looking at social media for some kind of community and some kind of connections,” said Todorova. 

Brett Ratliff and his dog Blue keep a distance as Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova decide where he should be for a photograph.
Credit Cheri Lawson

The artists explained on FaceBook how they wanted to photograph people from a variety of neighborhoods in front of their homes, apartment buildings, houses and on their porches while practicing social distancing. Hundreds of people reached out to the pair asking to be included. Gohde said, "There was a woman who invited us to photograph her two children but at the same time, I guess, nominated her 94-year-old neighbor, who wouldn’t have known about our project or been able to connect with us but felt it was really important to document that she was sheltering at home as well.”

Since Todorova and Gohde work as a team and are in close contact daily, they’re not social distancing from each other but they are definitely keeping their distance at each home.

Arriving at the home of Felice Salmon who’s the mom of a 5-month-old, a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, there’s a lot of activity on the porch. Her children are telling jokes while having tea and snacks. Salmon said this tea party is now a daily ritual that’s become a source of stability, a new way of making sense in this disorienting time. She welcomes a photo that includes a family friend who’s living with them. Her husband, Thad, a primary care physician is working at a clinic and is absent from the photo.

Felice,Levi,Eva and Amos Salmon pose with friend Hannah who's staying with them.
Credit courtesy Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde

Salmon said this time is going to become a monumental part of her children’s memories of what their childhood was like. “Sometimes I just feel like I am giving this huge effort to creating a safe space and creating stability for our family and also for our neighbors and our community and for Kentucky but it just feels like a very isolating experience. So to be part of a documentary where someone is making those invisible contributions visible is very powerful and it gives you a sense of how we are all tied in this historically disorienting situation,” said Salmon.

Todorova and Gohde take up to three photographs a day. At the bottom of each, they post the time, temperature, first names of people in the photo and their address.

When someone is interested in being part of the documentary Todorova or Gohde call them and set up a day and time. When they arrive at the home they usually text to say they’ve arrived.

Mick Jeffries, his wife Lucy Points, and their 8-year-old daughter Libby Lee sit close together on a couch for the photo. Mick is playing John Denver’s, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” on his ukulele. 

Points and Jeffries tell how being part of this documentary makes them feel connected to others. “A part of art in the making in such a crazy time, that sort of anchors me a little bit and makes me feel better about today…just today,” said Points.

Jeffries said, “As all-consuming as this all is, there will come a day when this is no longer happening and on some peculiar level, I’m happy to be a part of something that will harken back to it, as strange as that might sound.”

Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde said since they think of this project as a documentary they are very deliberate about posting only two pictures a day. Along with the images they post the words of the participants. One day, after the pandemic is a thing of the past, they plan to curate a gallery-style exhibition of all the photographs.

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