Innovation, community and creativity are flourishing despite, or maybe because of, the COVID-19 pandemic in the Elk Valley. People are using their spare time to come up with creative initiatives that bring people closer together, just not physically.
The Elk Valley Quarantine Journals is one of these initiatives. In the last two weeks, the project has exploded in popularity and Gabriela Escobar Ari, the woman behind the venture, has seen an uptick in community spirit as a result.
The Quarantine Journals is a community minded photography project inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. Escobar Ari, a trained photographer with years of experience, education and entrepreneurship backing her up behind the lens, takes intimate portraits of families and individuals in quarantine from a safe distance. She then shares the photos with the family and with their consent, on the official project Facebook page. According to her, the initiative was started with two main goals.
“First, to help gather some voluntary donations which will support the work the Elk Valley Covid Support Team is doing for our communities around the valley,” Escobar Ari explained. “Second, to give people a few minutes of fun and lifting of spirits, following the social distance protocols.”
Since she’s started taking photos, a third goal of the project has emerged: “documenting how we are living in these challenging times and adapting to the changes we are forced to take.”
The idea for the Quarantine Journals came to Escobar Ari in the first week of April but at the time, she wasn’t quite sure how to safely execute her vision. She collaborated with other photographers to establish a set of guidelines that are intended to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy during the photo shoots.
When Escobar Ari shows up for a photo shoot, she touches nothing. If a gate needs to be opened or a fence moved, she asks her subjects to make sure things are ready to go ahead of time. She goes no closer than 10 feet from the portrait subjects and also stays for no longer than 15 minutes. People who have their portraits taken have to wait to see the photos until she sends them later on, so that there is no contact made while looking through photos together on the camera. Portrait subjects also receive only four photos and so are asked to be prepared for the session when Escobar Ari arrives. Within about a day, digital copies of the photos are shared with the families and individuals who had their picture taken.
With these stringent safety measures in place, Escobar Ari is able to keep herself and her photography subjects safe. Since starting the project about two weeks ago, Escobar Ari has already taken photos of over 40 families.
She started off with taking photos of her neighbours while researching COVID-19 support groups in the Elk Valley. When she found the Elk Valley Covid Support Team, she decided to collaborate with them to help raise funds and awareness about the services they offer.
“I saw other photographers and photojournalists documenting how social distance and self isolation is being experienced where they are and that’s what inspired me to adapt the same idea to Fernie, asking in exchange for a donation to the Elk Valley Covid Support Team, and bringing some fun with a short portrait session,” she said. “In the meantime, I get to document how we are experiencing this pandemic. I thought it was the perfect way to offer my help and do what I love the most, photographing.”
While the majority of her portraits are taken in Fernie, Escobar Ari has decided to include other towns in the valley if there is enough interest. She plans to visit both Sparwood and Elkford if enough people would like to have their photos taken in those communities.
People who are interested in having their photo taken can contact Escobar Ari via the Elk Valley Quarantine Journals Facebook page or by phone at 250-423-0242.
“I am amazed at the amount of people that immediately contacted me to get their portraits,” reflected Escobar Ari. “I am very happy to be part of a community so willing to give and help each other…I want to give a big thank you to all the people who decided to support their community by allowing me to document their social distance or quarantine time. Thanks for all the smiles and laughs I get while I am getting your portraits done. After every portrait I take, I know people are helping one another and that is pure satisfaction. All of you are helping me to go through this rough time. Thank you Fernie. Thank you Elk Valley.”