For more than 10 years, Nate Burrell has trained his camera lens on musicians. The St. Louis-based photographer has produced indelible concert images and also shot album art for an array of rising stars in the scene, including Pokey LaFarge and Kevin Bowers.
But last month, with the coronavirus shutting bars and music venues, Burrell turned his eye to a different subject. Captured in a two-week dash around the city, his “Covid Days” project shows the city’s residents outside shuttered businesses or closed-up offices, their faces masked.
“I wanted to look at people who basically provide community, in one sense or another,” Burrell explained on St. Louis on the Air. “A lot of these folks [own] businesses, actual brick and mortars that provide the space for community to unfold. And many of the other folks are creative makers themselves, whose end result and talents and their work creates community through coming together — to look at the mural, or to go to the gallery opening, or to go to the concert. A lot of people who are either business owners, or businesses themselves.”
Burrell’s striking black-and-white images reveal his subjects’ range of emotions as the pandemic has transformed those gathering places: sober, fearful, watchful, defiant.
Burrell said he shot the photos in a two-week sprint. By day, he works as a project manager in the health care field, so he’s busier than ever. But he said he wanted to capture all of his subjects in a limited time frame, to serve as a “snapshot” of the pandemic’s early days in the U.S.
“I wanted to have the two weeks be a shared experience among these 46 stories,” he said. “Having a specific two-week period allows that shared time frame.”
The photos have generated a lot of buzz online. But Burrell said he’d like to wait five years for any gallery show.
“We’re still in the middle of this. The photos are now taking their own shape,” he said. “That’ll give us enough time to reflect on this, and work through it together and individually. And then five years from now, I’d like to look back and see what these photos mean then, when time has actually done its trick.”
See more of Burrell’s “Covid Days” on his website.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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