Metro, Newton

Newton Community Cameras Documents the Early Days of the Pandemic

The Newton Community Cameras project, which documents the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, seeks to document how the pandemic has affected the everyday lives of members of the Newton community. The selected photos include socially distant barbecues, virtual piano and dance recitals, nature scenes, and Black Lives Matter protests. 

Members of the Newton community were invited to submit their photographs during the month of June, three months after the City of Newton declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. 

The winning photographs and their accompanying texts will be exhibited in Newton City Hall this fall and stored in the Historic Newton archive.

A jury made up of members of Newton Community Pride, the Newton Camera Club, and the Newton Art Association selected 21 winning photos out of the 90 photographs submitted. Winning photographs were selected on criteria concerning photo quality, subject matter, and lucidity of their accompanying texts.

 Historic Newton developed the project  in collaboration with Newton Community Pride and the City of Newton’s Cultural Development Office. 

The mission of Historic Newton, according to the organization’s website, is to engage the community through stories–which, together, constitute history. The organization has two museums and archives. Its workshops and education programs are available to the public. 

Clara Silverstein is the community engagement manager at Historic Newton, and she collected submissions for the project. 

“You might have noticed that many historical societies and other groups are putting the call out for people to tell their stories during the pandemic,” Silverstein said in an interview with The Heights. “The photography contest was able to narrow it down to, ‘Let’s look at images in Newton. How have people been spending their time during the pandemic? And then also what are they saying about it?’” 

Silverstein said there were three popular themes in the submitted photographs: family, the solace of nature, and creative forms of connecting despite physical distance. 

“These people found things that made a statement about the time, and they often found very positive images,” Silverstein said. “I think that’s a way of telling a fuller story than ‘everything was shut down, our lives changed, and everything was so bad.’ It’s mixed, as anything is.”

Howard Sholkin, president of Newton Community Pride, commented on the value of the photos focused on social justice. Newton Community Pride fosters community through volunteer and arts projects.

A protester holds up a sign at a Black Lives Matter Protest in early June. (Photo Courtesy of Justin Levy)

“I don’t think all of them were meant to uplift us,” Sholkin said. 

He was referring to two photographs in the collection: Ian Dickerman’s “STANDING AS ONE” and Justin Levy’s “Longing for Peace,” both of which show Black Lives Matter and racial justice demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in late May. 

Protesters marched on June 4 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo Courtesy of Ian Dickerman)

“Local activism is part of the story of what Newton looked like during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and it’s also an important component to document right now,” Silverstein said in an email to The Heights

“[The project] was more of a snapshot in time, and a way that future generations can learn from what people went through,” Sholkin said. 

In-person, community-building events could not take place these past months due to COVID-19 safety regulations. Newton Community Pride had to figure out another way to foster a sense of community since in-person events were not possible.

“We had to totally reinvent what we were going to do as an organization. So from April through August, the events we took part in, of which one is Newton Community Cameras, were born,” Sholkin said. 

Silverstein said that these pictures will help people remember what life was like during the pandemic, and also for those still adaptaing today to the new normal. 

“This will be valuable for people looking back at scenes from Newton during the pandemic,” Silverstein said. “And I think people might not realize that a historic time is made up of everyday moments when people are trying to make the best of things.”

Featured Image Courtesy of David Garrett

September 20, 2020