One Year, One Pandemic, One Community

A Visual Journey Through The Confined, Shared Existence Of One Neighborhood


 

A neighborhood “quarantine” birthday party for a 8 year old boy. ©Todd Bigelow

 


About This Project:

The front lines of this fight to stop an out-of-control virus was in the hospital wards and ambulances, but the impact was everywhere; in the stores, streets, homes & backyards of my neighborhood. When Los Angeles residents were told to stay at home, I decided to photograph my community in an attempt to see how it was dealing with changes to basic social functions such as schooling, work, socializing and even just getting a haircut. I walked miles daily, talked to people and was warmly accepted by all. I used PPEs to be safe and adhered to social distancing guidelines.

 


 
Few will argue that the Covid-19 pandemic was an international story of epic proportions. But I’m one of them. 

To me as a photographer, Covid was the most hyperlocal crisis of my photojournalism career. It just happened to be unfolding in every community, on every street and in every neighborhood worldwide simultaneously. In other words, the pandemic was a community based crisis and, as such, I set out to create a visual journal of my neighborhood with hopes that a future exhibition would allow for a community based retrospective.

I began this project by approaching it in a truly experimental manner for me. I’d never covered a global crisis by walking to it. Until the pandemic hit my neighborhood.

I began by walking out the door of my West Hills home after the city was ordered to lockdown in March, 2020. I’d lived and raised a family in West Hills for over twenty-seven years. I knew this corner of suburbia well and I wandered the streets with my camera, checking-in on old neighbors, talking to new ones and gauging the temperature of a shuttered community. I walked so many miles that I wore out my shoes. Literally. Upon hearing of the project, Brooks offered to send me two new pairs to show their support.

There was Judy the mask maker and Ron the rabbi. A retired nurse and a religious leader, she was making masks in a sewing room and he was holding morning prayers on his front porch.

There was Esperanza who adorned her fence with free PPE for her neighbors to take.

There was Jerry, known informally by many as “the mayor” because he talked to everyone on his daily bike rides. Isolated and fearing the virus after his own health issues, he sat behind a screen door and hoped to talk at a safe distance with neighbors walking by.

Everywhere you went there were signs. Signs on homes, sticky notes on trees, chalk drawings on sidewalks and signs on local businesses. They offered inspiration and warnings to those who looked.

There were people lifting weights, golfing and sprinting at the nearby park because the gyms had all closed. Down the street a pastor would soon preach to an empty church.

There were people learning martial arts on driveways, giving away food to the needy and a tattoo artist clandestinely working to keep money flowing.

And then there was Erin, the single mother of two kids who had always worked at home as a communications professional. She let me chronicle her pandemic life that included managing her son’s last year of middle school, graduation and first year of high school plus her daughter’s challenges with attending 3rd and 4th grade from her bedroom. If that wasn’t enough, Erin lost her job due to the pandemic and had to navigate unemployment for the first time in her life. 

NBC News licensed a portion of the project, “The New Normal: Portrait of A Neighborhood Under Lockdown” in April, 2020, and I continued documenting following the publication. Below is a small sample of images from my 15 months photographing in my West Hills community.


A rabbi performing his morning prayer. Serving a retirement home, he had been exposed and was self-quarantining at home.

 

Zoom fatigue sets in. Brooklyn’s brother attends high school in the bedroom next to hers and her mother works at her new job across the hallway.

 

Kids take advantage of the empty streets on the first, complete day of lockdown in West Hills.

 

“Do Not Enter” took on all new meaning at Haynes Charter Elementary School the day in March, 2020 when LA schools were shuttered. The empty school parking lot became a scooter playground.

 

While trying to navigate 8th grade math from his kitchen table, Spencer got stuck on a problem.

 

Spencer in the empty locker room at his middle school where he was told to clear out his locker. It had been two months, so he struggled to remember the combination.

 

“Forest” tries to get his mom to keep walking after she had stopped to chat with a neighbor about the pandemic shutdown. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Working out on Kittridge Street after gyms closed down. 

 

With gyms already closed and hiking trails being shut down, people are taking literally to working out in the streets.

 

Working out at Knapp Ranch park. All gyms and fitness centers were closed as non-essential businesses forcing people to find alternatives.

 

Judy is a retired nurse sewing face masks at home to give to working nurses, aides, family and friends in need.

 

Tables and balloons on the patio outside of Starbucks after non-essential businesses were ordered closed.

 

Jerry suffers from respiratory issues and is too afraid to leave home. He has taken to sitting by the door in hopes of visiting with people walking by.

 

Early on in the shutdown, residents relied on package deliveries and were unsure if the virus could be transmitted on surfaces.

 

Esperanza Butler’s husband sells protective gear but she decided to package and give away 200 bags of gloves, mask and overalls to her neighbors as the pandemic took hold. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Erin helps her daughter with schoolwork while also managing communications for her employer during the first week of LA’s lockdown order.

 

A drive by birthday celebration in West Hills for a neighborhood boy.

 

A drive-by quarantine birthday party in West Hills. 

 

A pastor leads a service at an empty West Hills church. The service was recorded for distribution on Facebook so people could worship safely at home. ©Todd Bigelow

 

My wife, Judy, waits for a Covid-19 test in a drive through testing center after she had a close encounter with a Covid positive person.

 

A hair dresser trying to make her rent working at home after the salon she rents space from closed.

 

During the lockdown when residents were told to remain at home, demonstrators gathered in West Hills as they did nationwide to protest the killing of George Floyd.

 

A neighbor’s home with a sign warning anyone with any cold symptoms to stay out.

 

A tutor works with Brooklyn who stayed in her pajamas, unicorn robe throughout the school day.

 

Sidewalk messages abound in the neighborhood, reminding people to stay calm, stay at home and wash your hands. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Parents wait anxiously on March 31, less than two weeks after schools were closed, to get books and assignment work from teachers through the fence at Haynes Charter Elementary.

 

Kindergarten teachers and aides wait for parents to pick-up paper bags full of schoolwork. 

 

Teachers at Haynes Charter Elementary School hand-out schoolwork to parents for their kids to do at home. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Knapp Ranch Addition Park is quiet during the Stay At Home order that closed all parks and playground equipment.

 

A Muay Thai coach works with his young fighters on a West Hills driveway after the school he taught at closed. 

 

With no school or social gatherings permitted, this drive-by birthday party was the first time friends had seen each other in person in a month. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Air hugs with no contact have replaced real hugs during a drive-by birthday party. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Stocking his small SUV and parking it in Platt Village in West Hills, Richard hands out bags with food and essentials to those in need. ©Todd Bigelow

 

A chalk drawing outside a home warns residents to stay home and remain calm.

 

A sticky note attached to a tree on Lockhurst Ave. ©Todd Bigelow

 

A sidewalk sign thanking doctors and nurses during the Covid19 crisis. ©Todd Bigelow

 

A couple of friends turn a West Hills park into a driving range with clubs and plastic golf balls. ©Todd Bigelow

 

A tattoo studio owner defied lockdown order and worked behind locked doors out of necessity. His income is down 50%. ©Todd Bigelow

 

Erin was furloughed from her full time job after 13 years and had never filed for unemployment insurance. Her mother, Ellen, came over to help her navigate the online system. ©Todd Bigelow

 

As quarantine fatigue set in, parents loosened restrictions and let kids get together, such as these two friends playing on a warm day in mid May.

 

As quarantine fatigue set in, parents loosened restrictions and let kids get together, such as these two friends playing on a warm day in mid May.

 

Erin couldn’t let her son graduate from middle school without a celebration so she arranged for a at-home celebration. Spencer throws his cap in the air after a short speech to family.

 

Erin kisses Brooklyn goodbye as she leaves for her first day back at school in over a year. Her brother was helping her with multiple bags.

 

One last hug from her brother, Spencer, as Brooklyn waits to enter school for the first time in over a year. 

 

 


Todd Bigelow:

Todd has lived, attended college and worked in the west end of the San Fernando Valley nearly his whole life. A contributing photographer to Contact Press Images, he has handled assignment work for some of the world’s leading publications.

 

 

 

  

Todd Bigelow Photography
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