Capture Life’s Unexpected Chapter: A Group Photo Essay Documenting the First Months of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Nancy Kaye, Instructor and Curator

Held As Part of the Soraya Sarah Nazarian Program in Fine Arts

Participants: Lisa Dick, Jeff Gottesman, Carys Kilberg, Donald Loze, David Meltzer, Judy Nussenblatt, Heidi Padveen, Marilyn Stern, Jody Van Brunt, and Debbie Wolf

In early spring 2020, the world was hit with the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Meeting via Zoom, participants in AJU’s photography workshop, Capture Life’s Unexpected Chapter, shared stories and photos, as we worked together to document everyone’s experience and observations. We invite you to browse through this collective photo essay, which begins with personal stories that recognize broader and common experiences and concerns. 

To cope with isolation, some reached out to family, either virtually or protected by masks, while others found comfort with animals. All sought to adapt to new routines. Some of the images tell of joyous milestones dampened by social distancing. Other pictures speak of non-virus hospitalizations and the associated risk. Still others are of ultimate loss.

The workshop, led 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 July 8. Register here

Covid-19 Hope by Nancy Kaye, March 21, 2020

Though the streets are empty, people seek to connect with each other during this time of Los Angeles County’s stay at home order.


Essential Travel by Jody Van Brunt, May 7, 2020

I live in Kauai and I’m grateful for essential workers and an empty airport lounge that allowed me the safe social distance to travel for a PET scan. I am still in remission, I am a survivor! We are all survivors in so many different ways. We show up for each other to help us through the unknown. So, thank you all!


Twilight Zone by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

The pandemic of 2020 had emptied our streets by April. Out taking photos early in the morning, I was reminded of the of the first Twilight Zone episode that was titled “Where is Everybody?” where a man has hallucinations of an empty town caused by prolonged sensory deprivation.


Fenced Out by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

A very lonely Palisades Park.


Together But Separate by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

People living in their cocooned spaces. Do you think one knows the other exists?


Not Welcome by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

The landmark Santa Monica sign no longer seems to welcome anyone. Go home.


Nothing To Guard by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

Police car guarding the emptiness of the Santa Monica beach parking lot.


Lonely Girl by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

The beach in Southern California on Memorial Day weekend is not typically a place to practice self-isolation unless you happen to be in the midst of a pandemic.


Malibu Beach by Debbie Wolf, May 21, 2020


Closed by Marilyn Stern, May 8, 2020

I go to Palisades Park in Santa Monica when I want to relax or take a walk. It is an iconic destination, visited by many Angelinos and tourists. I never tire of seeing the beach, ocean and pier. Closing the park is like taking away the heart of the city.


Surreal by Judy Nussenblatt. April 19, 2020

El Caballero Country Club. About one month after the quarantine mandate, El Cab was permitted to open the golf course, for walking only. No golfing allowed. It was a nice reprieve after being cooped up home every day, to be able to be in nature and open spaces. But, also surreal, to be there with not another person in sight, when you are so used to seeing every hole occupied with players.


Last Picture Show by Judy Nussenblatt, May 22, 2020

Walking through The Commons Shopping Center in Calabasas had a surreal feeling to it with all the shops locked up with signs saying “temporarily closed.” Basically a ghost town, this photo represents the whole center, if not the entire world, with the iconic marquee shouting out TEMPORARILY CLOSED. I shot it with a slow shutter speed to represent the ghosts of people who used to frequent the shopping center.


Passing Time by Debbie Wolf, March 26, 2020

Playing Rummy Kub helps pass the time. Time measured by virus rules; stay at home, wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a mask. Clack clack clack.


The Laundry Can Wait by Debbie Wolf, May 22, 2020

Done and done, and there it is again, more laundry down the hall coaxing me out of my stupor. The laundry can wait, it’s not going anywhere, and neither am I.


Isolated by Jody Van Brunt


Thank You Heroes by Marilyn Stern, May 10, 2020

This sign is in front of Sunrise of Beverly Hills, a senior living facility, where a cousin lives and visitors are not permitted. I took this photograph on Mother’s Day, a day when we honor our mothers as heroes. Now more than ever, our mother’s and father’s heroes are their nurses, assistants, and employees who are keeping them healthy and safe.


Nurse Jill by Judy Nussenblatt, April 2, 2020

My daughter is an ER nurse at Cedars-Sinai hospital. My husband and I worry terribly about her, especially with the shortage of protective gear available. She sent me a selfie to show that she was OK and protected. I wanted to create something special from that image. Something she would have to remember and celebrate the important work she was doing and the sacrifice she was making — an iconic image that was much more than a simple selfie.


Unsung Essential Hero by Marilyn Stern, April 22, 2020

Mail carriers have become essential workers and they risk getting COVID every day as they do their job, delivering letters and packages with items we need.


Loading at Lihue Airport, Kauai by Jody Van Brunt, May 7,2020


TGIAmazon by Judy Nussenblatt

How would we have survived without Amazon?? When it feels unsafe to run to the store, Amazon is there! It seems like everyday there was a delivery. Here is my husband posing proudly with his assorted boxes. For a man that doesn’t like to shop, he has found much excitement when his deliveries were made.


Groceries by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

Me: No, Instacart, cheesecake is not a good substitution for charcoal. Me: No Instacart, you may have delivered the groceries, but it was not to my house. Me: No Instacart, you will not find eggplant with the plants or the eggs. It’s purple, looks like a football and will be in the produce section.


The New Pantry by Marilyn Stern, May 18, 2020

I used to grocery shop several times a week. Now, I no longer do this routine task as I am in a “high risk”category and getting groceries safely has become an ordeal. Every week, I make a list and hire someone to shop for my family. When our groceries are delivered, we have a protocol of washing food and wiping packages that come into our home. I keep non-perishable items in our garage for at least three days so I don’t need to disinfect them.


First Haircut by Marilyn Stern, May 9, 2020

With salons and barbershops closed, my daughter gave my husband a haircut, something she has not done before. During this time, people are stepping up and helping in unexpected ways.


Workmen by Donald Loze

I celebrate the contribution of “Workmen” in our society. Many years ago, the leader of a tree trimming team cared for a vast estate in the Santa Monica Mountains. Discharged when the estate was sold, he survived by transferring focus to a multitude of smaller homes in the area. While the years have limited his physical abilities, with the support of a gnarled cane taken from a trimmed branch, he now leads a tight crew. They need to survive the pandemic. Jefe’s mask is the pandemic uniform. Metaphorically the mask references the unrecognizable workmen who bear the heavy load for us all.

A Large Load by Donald Loze, May 24, 2020



The leader, or “Jefe,” of the tree trimming crew has ensured his team continues working during the pandemic.



Loading a Load by Donald Loze, May 24, 2020


Hidden by Debbie Wolf, April 26, 2020

In this image my daughter-in-law is hidden behind a medical mask. It is extra protection for an autoimmune disease. My son is hidden behind a scarf and glasses, but I know he is weary and anxious. A mother always knows.


Unanticipated Recovery During COVID Pandemic by Marilyn Stern

My unofficial quarantine began February 14, Valentine’s Day. That day my daughter Andrea had leg surgery to remove a benign tumor that had been causing her pain. We were told it was a routine surgery with a quick recovery. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I became her full-time caretaker, tending to her every need like when she was an infant rather than my 28 year old. Recovery continues to be a nightmare. On March 5th a trip to the ER identified blood clots in her leg and a pulmonary embolism. The hospital, overwhelmed by the corona virus, used an outside tent for potential COVID patients, and Andrea was not able to get a bed in the hospital. With the quarantine, going back to her condominium was too risky, so her childhood bedroom became her world, serving as hospital, office, and physical therapy center. As a mother, I am on the journey with her. We are extremely grateful she is still with us.

OMG It Hurts by Marilyn Stern, May 20, 2020



Home Office by Marilyn Stern, May 20, 2020



We Could Have Lost Her by Marilyn Stern, May 20, 2020


Celebration by Lisa Dick, May 22, 2020

A party isn’t complete without feeding those that join you in your celebration. Feeding guests during a pandemic was a challenge for me at my daughter’s backyard graduation ceremony. Available wipes and gloves and all food and drinks in individual containers was the solution.


Commencement Speech by Lisa Dick, May 22, 2020

Graduation 2020, for so many young people, was not to be…at least at their schools, surrounded by family, friends, and beloved teachers. My daughter was graduating college and her father was going to be the commencement speaker at her university. We decided to hold her graduation in our yard with family and a couple of friends and of course the commencement speech to the class, of one, of 2020.


Michele and Daughters by David Meltzer, May 23, 2020

This image is the latest in a series of photographs taken around Mother’s Day to commemorate the growth of Michele’s daughters and their relationship with their mother, who is a photographer. This pose allowed Michele to be included while keeping the focus on her daughters. This year’s selection is framed by a face mask to remind the viewer that, in a moment, our lives can be impacted in ways that are impossible to foresee.


Puppy Love by Judy Nussenblatt, May 22, 2020

This is my daughter Jill and her fiancé, Brian. They were supposed to have gotten married this October. But, with all the uncertainty, we decided it best to postpone the wedding until we could celebrate with dancing, hugging, and kissing. So, to take away some of the blues, they decided to get a puppy! Now, when she comes home from her 12-hour shift as an ER nurse at Cedars-Sinai hospital, their fluffy, tail wagging little girl, Presley, greets her at the door. Brian and Jill love her and I wanted to capture the three of them during these crazy times.


Mother’s Day by Judy Nussenblatt, May 10, 2020

It’s a sad and strange Mother’s Day, indeed, when you are not allowed to hug and kiss your children. Mask and social distancing are the rules. But, we tried to make the best of it by keeping our distance and wearing masks. The composition represents the distance and isolation of the night. My son and his girlfriend are standing on the left and my daughter and her fiancé on the right. Inside the house, in the middle, are the roses my husband gave me.


Bella by Jody Van Brunt

Through the corona virus pandemic, isolation, and rain, Bella was always there! Looking in and looking out, we were never alone. Sharing joy, sharing food, Bella was there! Living on a farm in a remote area of Kauai, I found comfort watching the animals around me. I love you, Bella. Thank you.


Turning 71 by Debbie Wolf, May 25, 2020

I will remember the toilet paper Pandemic of May, 2020. I’ve assembled a memorial to my birthday; a cake with no calories.


#Calastrong1 by Judy Nussenblatt, March 29, 2020

Two weeks after the quarantine mandate in Calabasas, CA. My husband and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood and came across this sidewalk chalk art. At the time it seemed sweet and cute. Who knew that after over 2 months we would still be in quarantine mode? Have not seen any chalk art since.


Peeking In by Debbie Wolf, May 20, 2020

This little girl must play all alone on her empty street. Perhaps she is looking for something in her mailbox? A treasure from Grandma?


Pandemic Party by Debbie Wolf, May 20, 2020

My grandson knows about Covid 19. He knows it’s his 6th birthday. He knows his family and friends will not be coming for a party. I feel lonely and deflated like that yellow balloon.


Zoomed Out Seder by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

…הֵןוְאֵלוּ ,בְּמִצְרַיִם עַ†־†להַמִּצְרִים הוּא בָּרוּךְ שׁהַקָּדו שֶׁהֵבִיא מַכּוֹת עֶשֶׂר אֵלּוּ

These are the Plagues that the holy one, blessed be he, brought upon Egypt…Every year we take a photo at Passover to remember who we shared our Seder with. This pandemic year, our table is set only for two. We reluctantly add a computer to our Seder table so we can join with family and friends to celebrate Passover.


Face Time 1, the Learning Curve by Debbie Wolf, May 20, 2020

Only two and a half years old, Oliver sits waiting for his Zoom class to begin. I think he is uncertain about what’s to come. I catch this moment on Face Time and snap a screen shot.


Face Time 2, the Smile Has It by Debbie Wolf, March 25, 2020

Face Time connects us in Covid. Elliot’s smile tells me he is not thinking about distance, he is busy hamming it up, making faces, laughing, dancing, singing. I capture his energy and enthusiasm. A screen shot is like a big hug, albeit virtual.


Peacock Girl by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

Girl with pretty mask and matching peacock. The LA Arboretum opened with timed tickets and wide open spaces, offering a safe diversion.


Afternoon Ride by Lisa Dick, May 20, 2020

During this pandemic my neighborhood comes alive like we are back in the 1950’s. Kids are out on scooters, bikes and playing in the streets. Parents and neighbors are out socializing and getting to know one another, just with the added accessory of the face mask. This picture was a sweet moment taken of a mother and daughter sharing time together with the new mandatory accessory.


Golfing Girlfriends by Judy Nussenblatt, May 14, 2020

El Caballero Country Club. Finally! We are able to play! It almost felt like we were doing something illegal. There were strict protocols to follow — one person per cart, masks, no raking the bunkers, etc., but we were happy to follow the rules and to be able to enjoy our beautiful course, the way it was meant to be used.


Filling Up in Kauai by Jody Van Brunt, May 14, 2020


Masked Man by Jeff Gottesman, April 2020

The tailor shop quickly improvised and now makes masks instead of suits. Not much need for a suit now anyway.


Stay Positive by Carys Kilberg, May 24, 2020

A reassuring message is displayed on the marquee of the Laguna South Coast Cinemas, closed during the pandemic.


Corona by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

You are safer at home because a Corona may be lurking just outside your window.


Shopping by Jeff Gottesman, May 2020

A little morning stroll and mask shopping.


Ticket Counter, Lihue Airport, Kauai by Jody Van Brunt, May 7, 2020


Minyan by Heidi Padveen, March 2020

Heidi lost her husband Brian Padveen to Covid-19.


Gravesite, Los Angeles by Heidi Padveen, March 2020