Over the weekend I received an email from award-winning photographer Richard Beaven updating me on his soon-to-be-published new book, “All Of Us,” which features a series of portraits of the residents of the town of Ghent, NY, he took on the town’s bicentennial a couple of years ago.
Beaven -- an account-winning head of Initiative and a top Publicis media executive before that, before he returned to his true love of photography -- said he hopes the book will “inspire some hope at this critical moment in all our lives,” because it “reminds us of the power of community.”
If you look at the images, you’ll realize how right Beaven is about the power of community, as well as the power of photography to convey it. But what’s so interesting about the analogy is the fact that all the subjects featured in his project are shot in isolation: alone in various settings in the town of Ghent.
That’s on purpose, because it emphasizes that communities are composites of individuals who come together to form them, even if they are physically distanced from one another.
It made me think about the current nature of America’s -- and the world’s -- “social distancing” protocols, and how wrong that terminology is. If anything, the term we should be using is “physical distancing,” because in unintended ways, the pandemic has brought us closer together than ever before. If for no better reason than we know we are all in this together.
Over the past month I’ve seen some remarkable examples of people coming together while physically distanced in ways they never could have while physically connected. A great example, if you haven’ seen it, is the Italian youth choir’s rendition of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping.”
It’s powerful, poignant, soulful, and inspirational precisely because the choir, which normally harmonizes in close proximity, is forced to do so in isolation via a real-time video interface.
After seeing that video for the first time, I was inspired to organize a family Seder for the first night of Passover Wednesday night via a real-time video conferencing platform. I’m using a family Haggadah (basically a Seder script that tells the story of Passover) that was written by my late Mother to include modern plagues such as HIV, gun violence, etc., and I've updated it to address the most recent plague our people have faced: COVID-19.
I’m hoping it proves to be a good reminder that people have faced and survived plagues in the past, and that we come out stronger, more bonded and with a better sense of community when we come out of them.
That’s pretty much the story of Passover, and I hope it will prove to be the one that Beaven’s book tells about the people of Ghent -- and the world -- too.
I signed off by telling Beaven that I still hope to visit Ghent someday, but that in many ways, I feel I already have.
Meanwhile, hang in there. As they say, this too shall pass.