CAPTURING COVID | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

May 27, 2020 News » Cover Story


Utah Portrait Arts photographers Steve Conlin, Nick Sokoloff and Paul Duane focus their lenses on locals striving to make sense of a pandemic.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic is a singular moment in history, a defining moment in each of our lives. The virus, pandemic and quarantine have affected everybody differently."

So say a trio of talented local photographers—Steve Conlin, Nick Sokoloff and Paul Duane, working collectively as Utah Portrait Arts—who set out to document this moment in time through portraiture and stories. Residents came to their studio to be photographed in a way that represents their quarantine experience.

Their thoughts are paired with their portraits, creating a succinct and compelling storytelling piece. The trio hope to compile the images and stories into a book that they say will be edited by New York City-based photographer Robert Clark of National Geographic fame.

Wish to add your own story to the project? Visit their Capturing Covid Facebook page at for details.

Closer as a couple and a family

We were ending, and in some ways beginning, a stressful part of our lives just before COVID-19 and the quarantine hit. For us, the quarantine has helped strip away some of the superficial parts of our lives, allowing us to grow closer as a couple and a family—we wouldn't want to quarantine with anyone else. Together, we've found a way to continue our commitment to the community by organizing the assembly and distribution of thousands of face masks for those who are homeless. We do this work because it's important for all of us to remember that we are in this together.


I miss hugs

I miss having peace of mind. Trying to find a safe balance between my personal and professional self haunts me.

What I miss most: hugs! I miss hugging my family, my friends. As an oncology nurse, I miss hugging my patients when they finish their treatment and are declared "cancer free." I miss being able to shoulder the tears when others are told their disease is terminal.

I'm so grateful for my dog, Zuri—who loves every hug I can muster. Our pets are true heroes.

As a nurse of 25 years, I have never been so proud, yet so horrified.


We had to close our doors

In 10 years, I suspect I am going to look back on this period with a great sense of loss, pain and confusion. I wonder if I will still have this T-shirt and whether I can pull it out of a cupboard to reflect on the experience. In 10 years' time, if we get back to something "normal," it will be difficult to describe how quickly life changed and how that sense of uncertainty prevailed over every decision you made or over every social interaction that you had.

I will try to describe how the simple acts of shaking hands, going in for a hug or just sharing time and space with friends and colleagues were suddenly frowned upon and discouraged. How walking through a supermarket went from mundane everyday behavior to one where people's eyes didn't meet and there was a palpable sense of disconnect between shoppers themselves and those people expected to work through the pandemic. I would have to describe how COVID-19 exposed the lie of "trickle-down economics" and laid bare the visible inequality between people, groups and marginalized demographics.

In 10 years, I would have to describe how COVID-19 affected the place I worked and loved being in with my community. The Utah Pride Center had to move its largest and most significant fundraising event—the Utah Pride Festival—which provides the funding for our life-saving work. We had to close our doors to communities who came in always knowing that there was a safe space and a friendly face and ear for them. I will speak with great admiration about the staff of people who, seemingly overnight, moved our resources, programs and services online and kept connecting with our community members and kept being a resource for those in need. I would have to describe some of the worst days of my career as I had to lay off friends, admired colleagues and longtime staff in order to best preserve our financial resources and plan for our center's future in this time of uncertainty.

It will be strange to try to describe the loss felt as my husband, Brad, and I canceled family celebrations for my father-in-law's 80th, Brad's 50th, my mom's 70th and my Ph.D. graduation. Each cancellation contributed to that sense of disconnection, while at the same time adding to the guilt of how lucky we are to be healthy and safe. In the end, I guess I would point to this T-shirt in 10 years time and explain that we went into 2020 with wide-eyed rainbow optimism and excitement, but it becamed a year that opened our eyes and ripped off our rainbow-colored glasses.

COVID-19, and the events surrounding it, stomped all over the dreams, hopes and lives of so many people—and that deserves a little rage and fury.

And yet, even in that feeling of anger, I will be reminded of the people, neighbors and friends who through chalk drawings on the sidewalk, teddy bears in windows, food drives for those in need and conversations shouted at a good 6-foot distance and through masks refused to let go of our collective humanity and used their proverbial middle finger to say, "Get off our rainbow, COVID-19!"


Wasn't prepared for the emotions

I was prepared in every way except emotionally. I had food, gas, alternate power and finances—but at the end of the third week of quarantine and self isolation, I felt I was losing it. Found myself with tears sobbing for no apparent reason.


This one threw me into outer space

I am normally a warrior for my business. I can take on any scary thing. Honestly, I feel like I have taken on many scary things, but this threw me so far into outer space, I had no way to plan or navigate a plan. The last eight weeks have been constant plan re-evaluation. I couldn't guess how this would or will end, if my business would be able to re-open, if I could keep my people paid, etc. What the hell do we do? That's the challenge.


melancholy & hope

COVID 19 is a powerful teacher. Mother Nature's pedagogy of melancholy and hope.

I've spent my quarantine settling into this discomfort. I'm learning how to better cook, where I source food, how animals are treated in factory farms and what I place into my body. I'm expressing more gratitude for the people I love and the art humans create. I'm driving less.

I'm comforted by the astounding fact that every person on the planet—all 7.5 billion of us—are enrolled in the same global curriculum, opening texts with a shared anxiety over our uncertain future.

Through struggle comes purging, then healing.

COVID-19 is a powerful teacher, come to save us from ourselves.


events gaVe me something to look forward to

My greatest psychological/emotional challenge has been spending so much time alone. I've struggled with depression most of my life and being confined to the same space with very little human interaction can feel lonely and isolating. It's easier to think too much and for your mind to play tricks on you.

I so miss being able to go out to events and festivals. They provided a place for people like me to get out of their heads, have fun and just vibe to music all night without any judgments, all while being surrounded by some of the most loving people. Events gave me something to look forward to when I feel like I didn't have much. This period of time has really taught me how much overthinking and isolating yourself can affect your whole life. I can't wait until we're all able to go out and let loose again.


Mentally prepared

I've lived through worse—where food wasn't even available. This pandemic is scary, but I was mentally prepared for this. I'm careful, but I'm not afraid.


Finished my degree

A major success I experienced during quarantine was finishing my degree in chemistry with an emphasis in biology from the University of Utah.


How we take the edge off

We learned we can get along with each other well, and we make a killer weekday bloody mary.


A world on pause

What surprised me most during the pandemic is how much I would enjoy the world taking a pause. Looking back on the COVID-19 stay-at-home experience will always be a time of inner reflection and self-discovery on the journey to inner peace.


How to keep my loved ones safe

Alicia is an ICU nurse in Ogden who's thus far worked with eight COVID-19 patients on ventilators. She doesn't consider herself any sort of hero, but we beg to differ. Sure, she chose this career, but she also chose not to quit. She wears a mask and a shield all day, but here's the face patients don't get to see:

I chose a career in health care, and I've been dedicated to it for 28-plus years. I'm not afraid or concerned to go to work at the hospital. My employer has provided me with all the necessary education and personal protection equipment (PPE) to keep me safe while I provide care to the sick and injured.

What's been the most emotionally exhausting question has been how do I keep my loved ones safe? Does my choice to continue to work put my husband and my 2 1/2-year-old daughter at risk? I can isolate from everyone else, but what about them?

My husband and I had to create a plan based on the unknown and the 'what ifs.' Even though I take all necessary precautions, is it enough? Do I move out? Self isolate? How do I protect my family and at what cost?

What I have missed the most during the pandemic is not being able to give love and affection to my husband and daughter. It is heartbreaking to have my toddler reaching and crying for me to pick her up for hugs and kisses but being unable to because I have been at work. She is too young to understand and hopefully, to young to remember.


afraid of running out of food for my boys

This experience was eye-opening in how much our society normalizes a busy lifestyle. We were all so used to constantly going that at the end of the day, things that truly matter were under-prioritized. We failed to see the impact that small gestures, conversations and interactions with others make in our daily lives. I know I am not the only one coming out of this with a better understanding and gratitude for humanity.

There's a feeling of loneliness and fear of what's to come, especially when everyone was panic buying. Also, the fear of running out of food for my boys—going to the stores seeing all the shelves empty, and everyone in a sense of panic—was terrifying.

I miss music, dancing and feeling free with everyone just vibing to the music.

I learned how resilient I am and how much love I have for my boys! I have many great people in my corner! Being a single mom can feel very isolating regardless of a pandemic. This time has really made it apparent we are not alone—we are loved by many.


DAVID & Allie
Refocused and realigned

This time has allowed me to refocus on what's most important. This pandemic actually realigned me creating new and healthier behaviors. It's reminded me that health, family and puppies are most important.

Becoming a dog parent with Allie was the most surprising thing to happen to me during this time.


extreme highs and lows

I'm surprised by the extremes of my emotional highs and lows. My highs are amplified and feel much higher, but my lows feel deeper and lower. I am working to give myself permission to not get too tied up in the lows in an attempt to just move through them."

The earth stood still

In 10 years, I will tell people the earth stood still. Though uncertain, it was thrilling, tragic and incredible. And during that time, I learned my day-to-day patterns are unhealthy.


I need the touch of anyone

I hate being alone. I miss human contact. I have always considered myself to be a severe introvert, but apparently I need the touch of anyone at this point to have a reason to survive, and I can't even get that.

My mom died two years ago, and she is exactly the person I needed to get through all of this. I've broken down so many times in isolation that I wonder how I'm even alive some days.


Missed dining with friends

I've missed going out. My wife and I would eat out a couple of times a week, which is when we would see our friends. This week, I think we've been some of the first people back as places have reopened.


The return of our family dinner

One of the major positives of the pandemic has been the return of our family dinner table. I will definitely be moving forward with a greater appreciation of others. The greatest challenge has been understanding the "why" of it all.


Wants to make a difference

Being a student during this transition was the greatest challenge I've experienced in a decade of higher education. I still have a year of research to figure out during and post-pandemic, but I see my completion of courses as a major personal success. When work and life are put on hold, finding the motivation for school is tough. I'm not sure what the future holds, but I am committed, more than ever, to making a difference.

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