Picturing the pandemic’s people: Photos capture the ‘still life’ we are all living

Picturing the pandemic’s people: Photos capture the ‘still life’ we are all living

Innis Casey captured still life like no artist before — the kind of “safer at home” living that we’ve all been experiencing since the coronavirus outbreak jolted our daily routines.

The photographer and his travel journalist sister teamed up during spring’s early days of the coronavirus shutdown and ensuing summer months to create a book of portraits they named, “Quartraits: Portrait of a Community Quarantine” set to be released next month.

Casey, who grew up in Burbank and now lives in Valley Village, got the idea early on during the pandemic when his usual photography and acting gigs dried up.

He enlisted his sister Kimberley Lovato, who now lives in northern California, to do interviews about being quarantined that accompany each photo portrait in the book.

Rain or shine, decked out in a face mask, Casey, on the advice of a friend, took to the streets with his two cameras and lens attached to his hips in a holster like a cowboy ready for a shoot-em-up because that’s how he rolls – fast and efficient.

Photographer Innis Casey and his sister Kimberley Lovato, a travel journalist, have Mindy Molinary, right in picture with guest, in their upcoming book “Quartraits, Portrait of a Community in Quarantine” on Monday, November 23, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The results were 107 portraits of quarantined families in windows and doorways, on balconies, in backyards and, yes, on roofs.

While a number of portraits depict families in traditional poses, others are in unconventional poses.

The glass windows vary in size. Some are ceiling to floor, in small and large wooden frames, and other in-between sized frames in house and garage-door windows.

Some windows are clear, some open, some closed while others reflect the surroundings palm fronds and palm trees. After all this is Southern California.

About half of the shots were taken in Casey’s surrounding neighborhood, where he has a reputation as a “nice guy with the camera.” Once he posted his Quartraits journey on social media, his clients opted to join the fun.

Photographer Innis Casey and his sister Kimberley Lovato, a travel journalist, have Danny Trejo in their upcoming book Quartraits, Portrait of a Community in Quarantineon Monday, November 23, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Casey took hundreds of portraits between mid-March through the summer in the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

Initially, he drew people out of their kitchen windows, front doors and porches while building bridges of hope, love and trust from a distance and louder than normal hellos from across the street or a yard and a smile behind his face covering on what he called a crazy and emotional journey.

“I’m a silly character,” said Casey, 46, who graduated from State Diego State University with a degree in speech communications and where he learned to bark like a dog from one of his professors, a talent that comes in handy while photographing children and cats. “Now I have a great dog bark especially for family photos, especially if they have an animal.”

Casey wanted something during the lockdown to keep himself busy, nurture his creative side and brighten people’s day.

His whole point was just to keep going.

Ethan Lawrence, his wife holding their dog and the couple’s daughter were photographed in their dining room window frame at the front of their Valley Village home early in Casey’s photography project.

“What I loved about what Innis was doing was his way of reaching out to all of us who have very busy social lives and suddenly now in our homes, most of the time with our loved ones trying to be safe, trying to be responsible, trying to do the right thing but missing other components in our lives,” Lawrence said on Wednesday. “In this (coronavirus lockdown), particularly in the beginning, my wife and I initially thought it would be brief and we would be back to a normal life. Boy, we could not have been more wrong. But over time, you come to realize that everybody kind of felt the same way in their disconnection. You feel like you are in it together. It’s such a global state that it helps in a bit of the sadness.”

Casey suggested poses he thought would work for each family and directed the shoot from the front yard or the sidewalk.

“Some shots were spontaneous, natural and real and most people were just who they were,” Casey said. “Some of them were in their PJs, some of them were a bit disheveled and some wanted to dress up for it and be sure everything was just how they wanted it. It was their shot to do as they wanted. For me I always encouraged them to just be how they were in the moment. However it rolls, it rolls because that’s what I want to capture, a time capsule moment of this time we are all in.”

Mindy Molinary was photographed early April with an Italian house guest stranded for two months due to travel restrictions.

The women are posed in the dining room window of Molinary’s home with a Buddha statue wearing colorful beaded necklaces from her childhood in the forefront and a yellow lemon nestled near its belly.

Casey caught the moment Molinary was looking at her house guest while she stared straight ahead.

In the past months since her new found friend went back to Italy, Molinary has been writing two television pilots and a book about her and her mother, Phyllis Molinary who wrote lyrics to “Here’s to Life,” a jazz standard.

Photographer Innis Casey and his sister Kimberley Lovato, a travel journalist, pose at Casey’s North Hollywood home with their upcoming book Quartraits, Portrait of a Community in Quarantine on Monday, November 23, 2020. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I keep myself very busy so I’m not bored,” Molinary, 56, said on Wednesday. “The quarantine has been a blessing in terms of my creativity. I’ve had the time and the space to focus.”

Casey said he has a few favorite portraits in the book, especially the one of a family piled in the backseat of an Edsel sitting in the driveway and beckoning his creative juices.

“It’s hard to pick one,” he said. “Images are an image, you know, but when you end up hearing the story with it or you know the people a little bit in the image, it brings a little more life to that moment and makes it special.”

Casey pondered about the reflections he captured on the glass when the sun was in the right position or if it added the right touch to the Quartraits.

“I love getting reflections on the glass more than anything,” he said. “The idea was a quarantine shot. I’m a big fan of windows and doors because I think they are these things we look out of, or these entry ways, where the thought is. Them looking out, seeing that part of the world they want to get to, but we can’t get to it right now. The reflection reminds me of my self-reflection somehow, because I think during this quarantine time that’s what I did personally.”

Casey dug deep inside about who he was, what he wanted and his purpose in life in the weeks preceding the pandemic shutdown when he learned his ex-wife and mother of his young son learned she had cancer. He said the Quartraits project saved him, allowed him to change gears and see other people’s faces at a time when many couldn’t speak with each other or be out and about to hear the neighborhood kids laughing and dogs barking while others were trapped in their houses.

It was cathartic.

“That was a challenging time to balance everything that was happening with me, but also being super careful and I was the only one that was really taking care of her during her chemo days and those hard weeks,” Casey said. “She was diagnosed in February, we locked down in March and went right into chemo. We barely made that cut to get things going. I found a lot of hope in that self-reflection and a lot of beautiful things coming out of it and hoping that a lot of people looking out their windows can see part of that reflection in my pictures, thinking about reflecting on themselves and digging deep.”

When his sister saw her brother’s quarantine portraits, she knew they were eye-catching images and important witnesses of a moment in history they were watching unfurl in real time.

She wanted in.

For her by the end of March, it felt like the world had screeched to a halt, schools closed and many American cities issued shelter-in-place orders as buzzwords like “flatten the curve,” “social distance” and “quarantine” swirled into our daily lexicon.

“The public wrangled with masks, scrambled for disinfectants and mastered proper handwashing techniques,” Lovato wrote in the book. “As we said goodbye to spontaneity, travel and milestone celebrations, we ushered Zoom into our lives.”

Lovato said her faith in humanity was bolstered by each conversation with those she interviewed and was impressed by the resourcefulness of parents who pulled off drive-by birthday and graduation parties, cried for those who lost friends and loved ones and empathized with the longing to hug family and friends while relating to the difficulties of staying focused by learning and working from home.

Quartraits subjects shared gratitude and compassionate thoughts with Novato as they spent their days and nights. Some created Yahtzee cocktail hours or a surprise party for a dog. They listened to and sang quarantine theme songs, watched themed movie and cooking nights, camped under the dining room table while others flexed do-it-yourself muscles by baking, gardening, starting home-improvement projects and unleashing their inner barbecue boss.

“When we first started this project, we never could have imagined we’d be here, basically still peering from our windows, eight months later, or that this pandemic would still be raging out of control,” Novato said. “It was fun to work with my brother on this project and talked with so many wonderful people whose kindness and positivity was unwavering.”

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