Portfolio: Essential Worker
As COVID-19 restrictions pushed many of our daily routines into remote work from home, or worse into unemployment, some workers were deemed “essential.” Among them, healthcare professionals, grocery store and postal service workers, and many other essential personnel remained out in the world while the rest of us shelter in place. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, essential workers include those whose jobs are critical to maintaining the infrastructure of the country. These essential people are still out in the world, putting themselves at risk of contracting the coronavirus for the sake of social stability. Strangely enough, the majority of those deemed essential are also representative of low-income positions that rarely offer health benefits despite the increased risks of working in public spaces in the age of COVID-19.
Eric Cousineau, a photographer, and essential worker employed by Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, NM, found himself among the at-risk community of workers keeping our food supply functional. CENTER approached Cousineau in March about commissioning a photo-project documenting and honoring the essential workforce he is part of. Initially, the aim was to create portraits of his co-workers at Trader Joe’s to be followed by an outdoor exhibition on the facade of the building. Unfortunately, the project was rejected by his employer despite support from local managers and coworkers.
Cousineau pressed on snapping photos of his postman, mechanic, gas station clerks, teachers, friends, and anyone he encountered who agreed to pose for a portrait. CENTER’s Curator of Public Engagement, Matthew Contos, remained a support system, pitching portrait exhibitions to several companies all over town. The local businesses they approached had larger priorities than showcasing employee portraits due to their economic pressures of the pandemic. Still, Cousineau built a body of work and eventually gained access to the COVID-19 unit in Saint Vincent Hospital, in Santa Fe, NM.
To all the essential workers, we see you. Thank you for what you do. We need you and we are grateful.