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Heard on CultureShift

COVID Diaries: The Shadows That Walk In Our Place

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Image credit: Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET

In the third installment of “COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience,” five documentary photographers created art that illustrates this week’s assignment: “On Hold.”

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101.9 WDET presents COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience.”

Through WDET’s StoryMakers and in partnership with Documenting Detroit, we’ve commissioned five documentary photographers to create a multimedia introspective that taps into our shared experience of the novel coronavirus. Over six weeks, the artists will create work under a given assignment.

Experience the first two chapters.

This week’s assignment: “On Hold.”



On Hold”

Introduction by Courtney Wise Randolph

Click play to listen to Courtney narrate the introduction to Chapter 3 of “COVID Diaries.”

Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET
Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET

I’m someone’s mother.

Like it does for a lot of people, that fact changed my life. It made confronting my insecurities a main priority.

I didn’t want to risk passing my fears and self-doubts to my child as a corrupt inheritance.

So, the past three years have been filled with me taking action to realign the way I see myself. I’ve been doing stuff.

Singing through my fear of hitting the wrong note.

Asking for what I want.

Using “No,” as a complete sentence when necessary.

I have embraced the responsibility to love myself as a necessary step to teaching my child how to be.

Now, there’s a highly contagious, life-threatening virus to whack some perspective into me again.

Since the economy has slowed to a near standstill, my husband and I have yet to receive an unemployment payment. Our household has no medical coverage. Death and sick notices continue to pour in.

I’ve never been more aware of my privilege.

My church sister delivers boxes of food to my house every other Thursday. A neighbor, who does not know my name and who I’ve talked to only once in the four years we’ve lived here, left a bag of brand-new clothes on the porch for my daughter. Some angels paid our DTE Energy and internet balances in April. Toddlers can’t go to the park, so our families mailed one to us — in real life.

So much of the world is on hold; but grace, goodness, and mercy are still active in abundance. It’s a wonderful life.

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Chapter Three

When Mikaela, my younger sister. I wanted to capture her movement as she finds ways to deal with being at home. Talking to her and photographing her has made me feel a bit better with things on hold in my life.Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET
Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET

When Mikaela, my younger sister. I wanted to capture her movement as she finds ways to deal with being at home. Talking to her and photographing her has made me feel a bit better with things on hold in my life.

Rosa María Zamarrón

Being stuck at home in quarantine and with all the uncertainty, you start feeling like a ghost of your former self.”


I’ve definitely been feeling the weight of how everything is in limbo. It’s very strange still. Sometimes when you think about it too hard, it can feel like you’re suffocating.

But then you have moments. Like this week, I focused on my little sister, Mikaela. I had this thought of doing these black and white long exposures of her, and she’s always down for whatever madness I come up with.

I just have this lovely memory of her dancing all the time when she was little. And I just kind of wanted to capture that because you feel the chaos in everything, and the movement, and how it becomes almost ghost-like. Because I think that being stuck at home and in quarantine and with all the uncertainty, you start feeling like a ghost of your former self.

Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET
Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET

I’ve just been trying to cope with not being able to photograph people. It’s funny, when I was younger, I was so nervous about photographing others and now it’s everything that I want to do.

I have an old antique mirror that I bought at a flea market a while back. And this week I just started messing around with that and using it as a way to photograph myself. It’s almost like, I guess, an upgraded bathroom selfie or whatever. And it was fun to set up the mirror and the camera while I was listening to my mom blast music and sing. It’s always lovely to have that experience while you’re creating something. That makes it more fun, for sure.

Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET
Taken by Rosa María Zamarrón for WDET
A very important component in my spiritual and purifying practices are lighting incense and burning sage/smudging in order to cleanse my body, environment and spirit. This is done in the privacy of my bedroom in Southfield, Mich.Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET

A very important component in my spiritual and purifying practices are lighting incense and burning sage/smudging in order to cleanse my body, environment and spirit. This is done in the privacy of my bedroom in Southfield, Mich.

Rachel Elise Thomas

I’m ready to move on. But it’s not going to be that easy.”


I’m anxious. 

I am a pretty patient person and I understand how important it is that we social distance and quarantine, and how important the stay-at-home order is.

But at the same time, I’m ready to move on. But it’s not going to be that easy.

With more time on my hands than ever before, I take the time to admire the light and shadows in the living room at my home.Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET

With more time on my hands than ever before, I take the time to admire the light and shadows in the living room at my home.

I was supposed to continue teaching at Birmingham/Bloomfield Art Center, where I taught digital photography to high school and middle school kids. I was going to start teaching at my alma mater, College for Creative Studies, for their continuing education program. I was going to teach a class on collage. I was really looking forward to that. I have no idea when that will be rescheduled, or if it will be. 

And I also have exhibitions that I’m a part of that have been postponed. I actually have work that I delivered over a month ago to a gallery that’s just sitting there in bubble wrap, waiting to be hung. 

It’s whatever. The things are there. They’re not going to go anywhere. 

I worked all through the night and early morning. I had been awake since the previous afternoon. I just worked on stuff into the early morning. I don’t like that. I like to get more things out of my days, but that’s where we are right now.

We had our first COVID birthday celebration for my dad. It was his 63rd birthday and my sister, her partner and my niece, surprised him with a little flash mob, and it was nice. He really enjoyed it. The thing that he expected: He had balloons, a card, and my sister was blasting music, all from a safe distance. It was really nice. You know?

Despite the situation, birthdays are really important in my family and I notice that increasingly as the years go by with my parents, as they get older, it really puts things into perspective.

Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
My dad, Stanley Thomas has several bicycles that he has found, repaired and has made his own personal customizations to. He also gives bikes away to people who are in need of one. Here, he makes alterations to one of his bicycles in our family room at our home.Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET

My dad, Stanley Thomas has several bicycles that he has found, repaired and has made his own personal customizations to. He also gives bikes away to people who are in need of one. Here, he makes alterations to one of his bicycles in our family room at our home.

That same day, I also photographed him working on one of his bicycles. He has a bunch of bicycles. He has a lot that he has found over the years, and he likes to repair them, and make his own little special customizations and stuff like that. It’s pretty cool, he’s pretty dedicated. He likes to work on things into the night and early morning too. That’s where I get it from. I get that from both of my parents. 

When it comes to like our habits and working on something, when we really like something we’re working at it for several hours.

That’s just how we are.

My mother, Michelle Nunn-Thomas walks up the stairs at our home.Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET
Taken by Rachel Elise Thomas for WDET

My mother, Michelle Nunn-Thomas walks up the stairs at our home.

How Do You Hold On, When There's Nothing To Hold On TooTaken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET
Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET

How Do You Hold On, When There’s Nothing To Hold On Too

Darryl DeAngelo Terrell

The way my mental health and my ADHD work, I can’t sit still for too long.” 


How do you hold on, when you’ve been conditioned to always be moving?

During this pandemic, I actually haven’t been being still. I’m consistently busy.

This past week, I moved. I literally packed up my bedroom that I was living in with a roommate to moving into my first one bedroom apartment. In the middle of a pandemic. Like, what?

Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET
Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET

The way my mental health and my ADHD work, I can’t sit still for too long. I just can’t. It’s like the photos I took this week are images of me moving, are images of me enjoying the space that is new for me.

There’s also a baby downstairs that I hear laughing all the time, which is kind of comforting. I really miss my nieces and nephews. 

Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET
Taken by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell for WDET
The Family Treat sign was knocked over in high winds during the local favorite ice parlor's annual opening today.Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET
Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET

The Family Treat sign was knocked over in high winds during the local favorite ice parlor’s annual opening today.

Erik Paul Howard

There are things that are on hold that have always been on hold: Quality of life, social justice, taking care of the most marginalized.”


Obviously, there’s a lot of things that are on hold.

There are things that we’ve committed to each other and ourselves, before we were in this situation, big and small. And a lot of it is noise. But even the good noise pales in comparison to health.

And so, it’s not really hard that things are on hold. But how they are on hold, and whose suffering, is hard to swallow. And that’s where the anxiety and frantic energy comes from during this time.

Across the street, development of this lot at The Alley Project in Southwest Detroit was scheduled to break ground this Spring. It is currently on hold amid stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET
Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET

Across the street, development of this lot at The Alley Project in Southwest Detroit was scheduled to break ground this Spring. It is currently on hold amid stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When ‘on hold’ is being talked about from above (however we want to define that), economics is taking center stage. And I do get it, I promise. I understand the importance of expendable resources, and having that at our disposal as people and as households and communities. 

But there are things that are on hold, really on hold, that have always been on hold, that are now struggling to see light in the national narrative. It’s frustrating to see the tug-of-war being about legitimacy for concerns about these things, about quality of life, social justice, about taking care of the most marginalized.

Dumping on a corner in Southwest Detroit has been reported repeatedly by neighbors. They were reportedly told that the city would be sending a crew and it would finally be removed on a day that passed last week.Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET
Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET

Dumping on a corner in Southwest Detroit has been reported repeatedly by neighbors. They were reportedly told that the city would be sending a crew and it would finally be removed on a day that passed last week.

It’s becoming harder and harder to suppress that message, because people are feeling it now.

And so, I think that while the hard part, figuratively, has been getting someone on the line about these things, we’re listening now. And it’s like our economy’s last word before we clicked over was, “Don’t you put me on hold!” But now that we have someone on the line, even though it’s just customer service, maybe some of that can’t be put back on hold.

A late night fire brought neighbors outside and firefighters to the scene on Avis St. at Woodmere in Southwest Detroit.Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET
Taken by Erik Paul Howard for WDET

A late night fire brought neighbors outside and firefighters to the scene on Avis St. at Woodmere in Southwest Detroit.

A long exposure photo of me in the shower. I like this photo because there’s a creepiness to the way my hands are in my hair. Everyday tasks like getting ready seem to take on more meaning during this time. The long exposure accentuates the crawling of time.Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET
Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET

A long exposure photo of me in the shower. I like this photo because there’s a creepiness to the way my hands are in my hair. Everyday tasks like getting ready seem to take on more meaning during this time. The long exposure accentuates the crawling of time.

Amy Sacka

I think most of my life, I’ve been trying to be productive as a way of feeling fulfilled. But during this time, the fulfillment has really come from filling myself with things that I already have.” 


One of the things I was noticing when I was taking these pictures of me, is that my face and my identity is kind of obscure in them.

And I liked that idea, because I feel like a  piece of me is missing during this time.

There’s a song I’ve been listening to over and over and over again. I think it’s truly driving my roommate nuts. It’s David Byrne’s “One Fine Day.” 

My roommate, Laura, reads on her favorite chair as the blues and oranges of the night light cast a glow around her. Quiet seems to take on different colors lately.Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET
Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET

My roommate, Laura, reads on her favorite chair as the blues and oranges of the night light cast a glow around her. Quiet seems to take on different colors lately.

Here’s a few of the lyrics: 

Then before my eyes is standing still. I beheld it there, a city on a hill.

I complete my tasks one by one. I remove my masks when I am done.

Then a piece of mind fell over me. In these troubled times I still can see.

We can use the stars to guide the way. It is not that far, one fine day.”

My favorite picture that I took for this assignment is of me opening a window. And the reason is because it gives me a sense of hope, the feeling of that picture. It almost looks angelic to me.

This period of time has made me look inward. I’ve done a lot of reading, I’ve read a lot of poetry, I’ve watched some really great, artfully done movies, and it has given me a sense of renewal, in a way. 

I think most of my life, I’ve been on the go. I’ve constantly been looking for inspiration in an outward way. Or, I suppose, trying to be productive as a way of feeling fulfilled. But during this time, the fulfillment has really come from just being home and filling myself with things that I already have. Art, words, the beauty around me.

And so that picture of me looking out the window, really reminds me of the beauty that I’ve experienced during this time, which is truly looking inward.

Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET
Taken by Amy Sacka for WDET

COVID Diaries, Exhibition

COVID Diaries is a ten-week multimedia introspective that taps into our shared experience of the novel coronavirus.


Detroit StoryMakers

This post is a part of Detroit StoryMakers.

StoryMakers is a new approach to telling the stories that change how we experience metro Detroit. We train, connect, and support media makers from communities across the region and share their stories with the world. This work is made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

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