Faces on the frontlines

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Like most communities around the world, normal life on Martha’s Vineyard is on pause as we all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, as most Islanders have been self-isolating for more than a month, our essential services have continued to run effectively thanks to the workers who put their health on the line for everyone at home. I set out to photograph these brave individuals in an effort to celebrate their work.

Gratitude for workers on the frontlines here is clear. A drive around the Island shows homemade signs of appreciation—on front lawns, outside the hospital, and in front of Cronig’s and Stop & Shop. While driving on State Road one day, I found Mary Gosling, owner of Island Cove Mini Golf, planting flowers below the Island Cove sign. When I asked whether she had intentions of reopening, she responded that while socially distanced mini golf might be in our future, for now the flowers were a thank you to all essential workers. “I want them [the Cronig’s employees] to have something beautiful to look at when they go to and from work.”

This ongoing photo project highlights those whose importance may not be obvious: the gas station attendants who allow us to stay in our cars while getting the fuel we need, the supermarket employees who load the pallets of toilet paper off of trucks, the USPS workers who touch countless packages daily, the fishermen who bring fresh food to our tables, and the Steamship Authority employees who keep us connected to the supply chain.

As I began this project, I realized that if I were to capture people as we see them, at work, it would be difficult to hold a conversation from 6 feet away through a mask when there is a constant flow of people demanding their service. With everyone in full protective gear, conversations are now different, but a distanced person-to-person relationship is still possible. While photographing Islanders on the frontlines, sometimes a thumbs up or down was the extent of our conversation. What is always clear from these conversations, verbal or non-verbal, is their dedication to supporting themselves, their family, and the community.

This is an ongoing project and if you have a suggestion for a future portrait, we invite you to reach out to bowenwfernie@gmail.com.