Exit Only: Photographs from the Inside Edges of Education During the Pandemic of 2020
Which directions do you choose to go? When do you have a choice, and when are all decisions too constrained or set free by the limits of the world around you and by your own quiet awareness of a few, dividing options?
Confronted by the pandemic, issues of separation, loss, and regrouping felt persistent as I and other teachers were required to rework how we taught, using new remote tools instead of in-person methods. And that made the building that I normally work in quiet, empty, and thus always somewhat off-kilter. Where were the people? They seemed to become screens in digital worlds only, mercurial emails and text chats. Making these photos marked the beginnings and endings of my work days on-campus, as we exited all in-person teaching to facilitate all-online coursework. I created this series of photos primarily during the month of November 2020, after nearly finishing all in-person sessions for college art classes, as we shifted, as planned, toward fully online courses for the remainder of the Fall semester.
As I witnessed the emptying of the classroom building where I work — everyone now framed and shuttered by four-sided videoconference windows — I felt lost. Through layers of grief about what college once was, I often felt that we will not recover from this, and that we won’t ever return to pre-pandemic ways of teaching or learning or interacting. Once in a while, walking through the building, I thought “This is over,” as if I was a ghost, floating and masked, hovering along empty floors, reflecting in night-darkened windows of abandoned spaces. I took care in the photos to hide myself from appearing in any of the reflections. And the divisiveness of our time during the elections and the pandemic were reflected, I felt, by the choice of the diptych format. The last diptych in the series shows the remaining exit: leave the building, go outdoors. Somehow that seemed simultaneously ominous and yet hopeful.