When coronavirus began swarming the country this past spring, photographer Barrie Fisher hit the brakes on her normal life. One day she was skiing backwards down Slow Poke at Sugarbush capturing four-year old skiers in the terrain park, and the next day she began her retreat from society. Fisher made sure her refrigerator and cabinets were well-stocked, and entered a quiet period where she worked in her home studio, meditated, and read. She watched as one wedding job after another, which she had been contracted to photograph, cancelled. She would leave home to take her dog Teak for walks in her back yard, which backs up to the Mad River.
Fisher, a former ski racer and World Cup Skiing photographer, is rarely without her camera. During her daily walks, she began snapping photos of her English Setter, Teak. The shutdown of society caused by the novel coronavirus may have been difficult for people, but it was turning out to be joyous for dogs, whose owners were working, studying, and eating all their meals at home. Fisher began seeing other dogs and their owners walking along the river, through fields, and down quiet roads on their permitted daily exercise. (Vermonters were ordered to stay home, except for essential tasks like grocery shopping and exercise.) With her long-lens camera, Fisher began capturing the many dogs who were reveling in their owner’s orders to stay home. Soon, Fisher was documenting dogs and their owners across the Mad River Valley, and sharing her photos in an online gallery she called “The Awakening Love Project”.
Come mid-May, Fisher’s attention turned to the local high-school students who were denied their senior springs, proms, and graduation ceremonies. She recalled her own high school experience, and felt a deep loss for these young adults. Again, Fisher reached for her camera. She created an outdoor photography studio in the parking lot of the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield, and via social media and Front Porch Forum, invited seniors to come.
Students arrived in their cars and waited until their turn was called. Initially wearing masks, each student took a turn inside Fisher’s white tent along one side of the Big Picture with a gangly forest as its background. Some students chose to bring an object of importance in their lives—a mountain bike, a clarinet, a dog, a father, a friend. As Fisher worked her camera, she asked the seniors to talk about their misgivings from their lost senior springs, their quarantine discoveries, and their plans for the future. She captured them frowning and thoughtful, but also celebratory and excited.
“The Awakening Love Project: High School Seniors” portrays a range of youthful emotions caused by an invisible, lurking virus and its theft of a teenage rite of passage. Students talked about the disappointments of a truncated high school experience, their struggles to be inspired by online learning, and their regrets over not being able to tell certain teachers or administrative staff how much they meant to them. One student spoke of Harwood front desk administrator Nancy Myrto, whose constant presence and support meant more to them than they had realized. Others spoke of a Latin teacher or an AP Government teacher, who put notable effort into making sure their online classes were well-organized and engaging. A universal loss for the students was a lack of closure on high school, and an inability to say goodbye to one world before embarking on another.
“The Awakening Love Project” was a way for an artist to reach out, connect, and spread love in her community in a time of collective pain and loss. While Fisher’s source of income had come to a screeching halt, her creativity and generosity had blossomed. Fisher envisions a future art display that showcases her photos, which encapsulate an unexpected and tumultuous time in our history.
In May, we had high expectations that this period would soon pass. Given the state of the country and the rise of coronavirus cases, that optimism may be misplaced. Many of the students are planning to move into dorm rooms this fall on campuses including St. Lawrence, Connecticut College, and University of Vermont. But how long they stay before getting sent home for a second potential shutdown remains to be seen. As for the dogs, a second shutdown may not be cause for concern, but cause for tail wagging.
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