Capture Life’s Unexpected Year: A Group Photo Essay Documenting 2020, and How the Pandemic Shaped It

Nancy Kaye, Instructor and Curator

Participants: Anita DuPratt, Mark Elinson, Miriam Hutchinson, Tobi Inlender, Rhonda Jones, Nancy Kaye, Debra Ruby, Claudia Schatz, and Robin Venturelli

The workshop, lead by Nancy Kaye—professional photographer, educator, and curator—served not only as a creative outlet for students, but also as a way of sharing experiences and connecting with others in an empathetic way. You can join the next workshop, starting January 27. Register here.

Organized by the Soraya Sarah Nazarian Program in Fine Arts

Chief Curator, AJU: Dr. Rotem Rozental

Early in 2020, news of a highly contagious virus gradually led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global pandemic on March 11. The coronavirus pandemic necessitated enormous changes—worldwide and close to home—in how we work, obtain food and essentials, socialize, and isolate to stay healthy. Participants in the December workshop sought to capture, through photos and statements, what made this year unique.

It was a year of uncertainty, adaptation, loss, and economic hardship. A year of polarization amplified by the presidential election, the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police, and the politicization of wearing masks to control the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, in the face of the emotional toll created by social distancing from loved ones, we’ve come to better appreciate what we all share—the need for human connection. In that sense, we are all in this together.

As this difficult and unexpected year drew to a close, and US cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed to record highs, two vaccines were approved in the United States, and distribution began, starting with front line health care workers. One hopes that twelve months from now when 2021 draws to a close, the cloud of the pandemic has lifted.

To view the June 2020 Exhibition, click here.

To view the July 2020 Exhibition, click here.

To view the August 2020 Exhibition, click here.

To view the October 2020 Exhibition, click here.

Solidarity, Nancy Kaye, Los Angeles, April 3, 2020

In the pandemic’s first months, the public slowly learned how the virus spreads. By the end of March, it was reported that, “more than a third of humanity is under some form of lockdown.” There was fear and strict adherence to isolation orders. To connect with others and express appreciation for all essential workers, my neighbors stepped outside at a designated time to make noise—horns, yelping, and whistling rang through the empty streets.

Empty Shelves, Rhonda Jones, March 26, 2020, Fernandino Beach, FL

A solitary package sits on an empty shelf in a Winn-Dixie supermarket. I’ve always been grateful to live in a country with so many resources—a country so bountiful with products and goods. It seems impossible that we need to ration our purchases. I’ve been to other countries where products are very limited, but never thought I’d see that here. It made me feel anxious.

Wine and Spirits Open and Healing, Robin Venturelli, Santa Monica, December 9, 2020

In Santa Monica, the businesses have tried to survive through the pandemic, riots, looting, and periodic closures. Some buildings are boarded up, yet still open for business. It makes me sad to drive through my once vibrant city and see it looking so desolate.

Patience, Claudia Schatz, December 5, 2020

Standing in line, six feet socially distanced from the person in front of you, and wearing a mandatory mask, is the way many of us do grocery shopping these days. At popular places like Trader Joe’s, it’s often no longer possible to just run in and grab a few things. Only so many people are allowed in the store at a time. You have to wait your turn. Patience is required. Once inside, the six feet rule still applies, arrows mark which way to go down the aisles but often people go every which way and that’s just how it is.

Drive-thru Testing, Claudia Schatz, December 14, 2020, Los Angeles

A long line of cars snake through parking lots of the Keck Medical Center of USC for people waiting for a COVID-19 test. I got caught up in the process after someone I know tested positive for the virus. I had to get in touch with my doctor who authorized a test for me. The whole process took about an hour. I had the results the next day. Luckily, my test was negative.

Exodus, Anita DuPratt, March 19, 2020, Israel

Our vacation in Israel was cut short when Benjamin Netanyahu asked all tourists to leave the country because of the pandemic. We arrived at the airport to find long lines with hundreds of other people waiting to leave The Promised Land.

Trust Me My Lipstick Is Fabulous, Robin Venturelli, Los Angeles International Airport, September 20, 2020

I was taking my first commercial flight since the pandemic began, and I was frightened. In order to lighten up the mood, I wore my most humorous mask (from a collection of many). It lets people know that although they cannot see it, my lipstick is fabulous. That same fabulous lipstick is also staining the inside of my mask!

Laundry Day, Anita DuPratt, December 4, 2020

Being required to wear a mask in public allowed us to add another fashion accessory to our wardrobe. We opt for vibrant colors; we use our masks to promote a favorite team; we make political statements; we pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18th. We stay safe.

Not Every Parrot Needs a Pirate, Anita DuPratt, November 1, 2020

As a volunteer at a polling station for the presidential election, I assisted hundreds of people who wanted to vote in-person instead of using a mail-in ballot. People wanted to vote in-person and people wanted to stay safe.

Local Police, Rhonda Jones, December 14, 2020, Granville, MA

A Granville policeman poses in front of the Country Store. I’m so grateful and proud of the police officers
and firefighters for putting their lives on the line every day. My own husband has been a policeman for over 30 years. In our first years of marriage, he worked in Hartford, a high crime area, and I worried about his safety. After 25 years, he retired to serve in a small Connecticut town. I could finally take a breath. Now, with the current negative attitude toward police, I’m back to wondering if each day he works will be our last together.

Face Covering Required, Robin Venturelli, Santa Monica, December 8. 2020

The streets are relatively empty in my usually tourist-laden city and the buses require face coverings to ride. The bus drivers must be fearful that they may catch the virus while spending so much time inside their vehicles.

Born in July 2020, Rhonda Jones, September 7, 2020, Glastonbury, CT

My daughter Mackenzie is holding my half-sister’s new baby girl Stevie, who looks at her almost quizzically: “What is that thing you’re wearing? My mama doesn’t wear one of those.” When this baby gets older and sees these photos, think of the questions she’ll have.

Day at the Beach, Tobi Inlender, Los Angeles, August 18, 2020

Masks, huge amounts of time indoors at home, recurring walks in the same neighborhood – all of these make one feel enclosed and closed off. Being in this wide, open space, mesmerized by the waves and gazing up above at the gorgeous, never-ending sky offered a total sense of freedom. Watching the family frolic enhanced the sense of openness, but the mask was a reminder of its limitations.

Swing Held Hostage, Mark Elinson, December7, 2020, Los Angeles

Swings and playground equipment are usually a source of joy. But during the pandemic, all playgrounds are off limits. I thought it ironic that the yellow tape says “Caution.”

Virtual Learning, Claudia Schatz, December 11, 2020

This second grader spends hours each day at his dining room table in front of an iPad provided by his school. Ironically, his school is just across the street. It’s locked up and empty except for custodians and some senior staff. I see him when I pass by his kitchen window, headphones on and paying attention. He says he likes to participate. His mother says he’s adapted well to this new way of learning, and was even given an award for kindness.

Keeping Busy, Tobi Inlender, Los Angeles, July 3, 2020

Children were kept home from school and parks were closed. There were no play dates so kids were not able to visit with friends. Parents filled the breach, making up new games and activities, beyond screens, to constructively and creatively fill the time. I tried to do my share by offering my vehicle for a car wash. It fulfilled a real need and the kids had a blast.

Masked Rocket Builders, Tobi Inlender, Los Angeles, July 31, 2020

Trying to create fun and meaningful time together with family members residing in different households became a challenge. Outdoors and distanced was the only option for intergenerational meet-ups. Remembering his childhood exploits with rockets, my son found building kits to engage his nieces and nephew while Papa helped and I shouted encouragement from the appropriately distanced sidelines.

We Can Still Have Fun, Anita DuPratt

Hanukkah is a time of joy – we celebrate with food and family and games. We laugh and we sing and we forget about the pandemic for a while.

Lighting the Candles, Anita DuPratt

The year 2020 is coming to an end, and we have been living with the pandemic for most of it. As the Hanukkah candles are lit, we think about all those who won’t see 2021, but we also think of a brighter future.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Anita DuPratt, December 7, 2020

Expecting to deliver a lot of presents for Christmas, Santa Claus stays safe wearing a special mask, one that photographically reproduces his face and beard! No one wants Santa Claus to catch COVID-19!

Star Wreath, Rhonda Jones, December 14,2020, Southwick, MA

It is December with the holidays upon us, and nine months since this pandemic started; not much has changed regarding social distancing. The sign at Ray’s Farm reminds us of that. We can only pray that with the new vaccine there will be less sickness and death in the coming year.

Hanukkah 2020, Tobi Inlender, Los Angeles, December 15, 2020

I came to light candles with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. They were inside with their Chanukiyot and I was standing outside watching through the front window. Their joy lights me up. I know that I am blessed, and am grateful to be able to be near my family so that we are able to celebrate together. But I ache to hug and hold them.

Happy Birthday, Tobi Inlender, Los Angeles, November 23, 2020

This was a very emotional day. Our group of women friends has a tradition of going out to lunch or dinner to celebrate each birthday. We had not been able to do so all year. This drive-by birthday celebration was the first time we all were able to be together in one place since the first lockdown in March.

Zoom Mitzvah, Debra Ruby, Orange County, November 28, 2020

Life goes on amidst the pandemic. My friend’s daughter had her bat mitzvah on Zoom this year. The only people in the temple were the family. The rabbi had his own Zoom connection outside! All of the guests were home and wrote comments in the chat box congratulating the bat mitzvah girl. It turned out to be a beautiful service.

Breonna Taylor, Anita DuPratt, September 27, 2020

The year 2020 saw an uptick in police brutality against the African American community. At a BLM rally in Nevada City, we gathered peacefully, honored those who are no longer with us, and wore our masks so that we could gather safely.

Thanks, Mom, Anita DuPratt, September 27, 2020

My mom will always love me, my mom will hold me tight, my mom will keep me safe. Thanks, mom, for providing me with this mask.

George Floyd, Claudia Schatz, December 5, 2020

A poster on the door of a neighborhood hair salon depicts an icon of the summer of 2020 protest movement. It was George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, caught on tape, which ignited days and days of protests for racial justice. In the middle of a deadly pandemic, people of all ages and ethnic groups marched through the streets of cities big and small in the US and around the world to make it clear that black lives matter and that police brutality against black men must end.

Justice, Miriam Hutchinson, Toluca Lake, November 23, 2020

The sub-text of 2020 is captured on this woman’s t-shirt. We were hit with the coronavirus pandemic, a most challenging presidential election, and the eye-opening events of human injustice. We must change, now.

Evidence of Struggle, Mark Elinson, December 7, 2020

Following the death of George Floyd, there was a wave of anger across the nation. One of the hardest hit areas of Los Angeles was Melrose Avenue, a place known for its trendy shops. Huge displays of graffiti and boarded up storefronts are reminders of the massive gatherings to protest the unfair treatment given to people of color by the police and judicial system.

Not An Electrician, Robin Venturelli, December 9, 2020

As I drove past the Veterans Administration, I saw this gentleman outside my car window. He was standing in the middle of a busy intersection, basically risking his life, to ask for help of any kind. I generally would handout some granola bars, which I keep in my car for people in need; however, the risk of getting Covid by exposing myself to him was not a risk I was willing to take. The irony of him standing in front of a van advertising jobs for electricians was not lost on me.

Food Pantry, Nancy Kaye, December 2020, Woodland Hills

Throughout each month, West Valley Food Pantry provides a week’s worth of groceries to more than 13,000 people—a huge increase from pre-pandemic days. They’ve also changed their procedure of greeting people inside the Pantry—now a small staff and over 200 volunteers organize safe, drive through distribution of fresh food provided by grocery stores and individual donations. I’m heartened by such generosity and by people working together to help those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic.

UPS Delivery, Rhonda Jones, December 16, 2020 Granville, MA

I’m so glad deliveries are still being done so that we don’t have to go out in public too often. I’m also glad this driver has a job and is willing to drive despite the health risk!

Flying Private, Robin Venturelli, Bahamas, November 11, 2020

Vacation During Covid At Last, Robin Venturelli, Bahamas, November 15, 2020

A Break From Mask Wearing, Robin Venturelli, Bahamas, November 15, 2020

We decided to go ahead with a long planned family vacation on a private yacht in the Bahamas. Covid PCR tests were required five days before traveling, and again on day five in the Bahamas. We were also required to quarantine while on vacation, but luckily a private yacht counted as quarantine.

The last leg of our journey to the Bahamas was on a private seaplane, which landed next to our rental yacht, meeting quarantine policies. Masks were required for us inside the small airplane—however, I noticed that the pilot and copilot did not wear masks. As they say, “My mask protests you, and your mask protects me…?”

My son is an essential worker in Colorado, so he wears a mask while working. It was a huge relief for him to be able to take a vacation in the warm, open air and not have to wear a mask the whole week. It made me feel so elated to see him relax in this way.

We felt incredibly lucky to be together on such a beautiful trip while in the midst of such a horrific pandemic.

How Many Birds Do You See?, Anita DuPratt, December 6, 2020

To get some relief from the restrictions caused by the pandemic, we drive to the rice fields in the Sacramento Delta area where we find kindred spirits, enjoying the abundance of wildlife—wildlife that knows nothing about COVID-19.

Bandmates, Debra Ruby, Orange County, December 5, 2020

While walking my dog I heard great jazz music playing in the distance. I hadn’t heard them before on this walk and enjoyed the ambiance. Again, life goes on amidst the pandemic.

Plexiglass Protection, Rhonda Jones, December 16, 2020 Granville, MA

A layer of plexiglass serves as a barrier to protect both of us during a pedicure.

Home Mani Pedi, Robin Venturelli, Santa Monica, September 5, 2020

With the breeze of the balcony window open, and wearing masks, my husband and I felt comfortable enough six months after the pandemic started to get a home manicure. What a treat it was for us both to have this special pampering in the midst of the pandemic and feeling afraid.

Masked Cowboy, Robin Venturelli, Sedona, Arizona, September 1, 2020

Trying to find a little relief from being trapped at home, we went to Sedona, Arizona. We were able to experience the breathtaking mountain ranges, and the healing vortexes. The shops, spas, and restaurants were all open, unlike in California. This cowboy mannequin was looking quite trendy in his “bandana as mask.”

One Way Traffic, Claudia Schatz, December 13, 2020

When you walk, run, or bike around the Silver Lake reservoir, you have to follow the arrows and go in one direction. Not everyone likes the new rule, even if it was designed to keep people from infecting one another. Lots of signs were vandalized or torn down.

Take Out Wastefulness, Miriam Hutchinson, Frogtown, November 13, 2020

It was a delicious and beautifully prepared take-home meal but the amount of packaging was staggering, Even though it was clearly done with care, it was an affront to my environmentally sensitive mind and heart.

Follow the Directions, Robin Venturelli, Santa Monica, December 8, 2020

New restrictions in Los Angeles have eliminated all dining in restaurants, both outside and indoors. As they try to survive, most restaurants are doing whatever they can to provide take-out food. The multiple signs in the photo depict all the rules that must be followed in order to stay safe and still provide food for customers.

Bah Humbug, Miriam Hutchinson, Toluca Lake, December 10, 2020

We place mobile orders, dash in, and dash out. The baristas wear masks and gloves. Holiday decorations bring back memories of when people were part of the coffee drinking experience.

Surfsong Arrival With a Mask, Robin Venturelli, Bermuda, October 8, 2020

Going to a restaurant has been one of my favorite activities. Until the pandemic, I took it for granted. I never thought dining out would be illegal, and that when allowed would only be acceptable outdoors. At first it was shocking for me to see masked waiters and waitresses bring food and beverages to the table as if they were hospital workers. As months went by, I gradually got used to it. I noticed that the masks worn by waitstaff got cuter and more reflective of their personalities. My “surfsong” drink arrived in the hands of a friendly kitten- masked waitress.

Virus Vision, Miriam Hutchinson, Toluca Lake, November 23, 2020

I tried something new for 2020. I started journaling. Who could’ve imagined a global pandemic keeping us from familiar life? Sadly, this has now become a recording of COVID pandemic life for posterity.

The Future is Upon Us, Anita DuPratt, December 16, 2020

Each day more people die. Each day our president claims the election is “fake news.” But change is coming and there is hope for the future.

Please!, Miriam Hutchinson, Los Angeles, December 12, 2020

After a stressful presidential campaign and the realization of a country divided, I spotted this message on the bike path. It stopped me in my tracks; I could feel the pleading sentiment of the tagger. There is a lot riding on President-elect Biden’s shoulders.

Vaccine News, Nancy Kaye

Two Covid-19 vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, were developed with unprecedented speed and approved by the FDA in December. The first people vaccinated in the US were health care workers and residents of assisted living and nursing homes. The vaccines hold the promise of ending the pandemic, but only if enough people get it. I feel optimistic that 2021 will see us return to normal.

Moving On, Mark Elinson, December 14, 2020

A mural in West Hollywood looks back on a terrible 2020, but expresses hope that 2021 will be better. The mural’s bright colors lift the spirit.