Diary; July 18th, 2020 – Photographing COVID-19

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First, just to be sure we are on the same page that with the naked eye we cannot see a virus like COVID-19, least photographing it as these micro particles are just too damn small. Which is why the pandemic is such an issue; you cannot see the lurking danger.

You can see a human hair which is 75 microns in diameter, but a virus (and bacteria) are in the size range of 0.12 micron (like 625 times smaller than a human hair and why it is imperative to always wear mask), much smaller than we can see, least be able to photograph with the normal equipment we own, even if using a macro lens in conjunction with a really large sensor. The photographs of virus that are in the news are captured with some very sophisticated electron microscope systems and out of reach of anyone who does not have really deep pockets. By the way, if you have a really huge contamination, you can see the huge colonies growing on the media in a petrie dish.

Which takes me to my COVID pandemic photographic series question; how do you photograph the un-photographable, something that small like a COVID-19 virus? Since I can’t photograph the actual thing, then my question is how do I create something that might be representational of what might be lurking out there? Something that metaphorically might look like things we can’t see? That may, or may not, have the visual qualities of smallness, danger, environmental or other attributes of something we can’s see that is potentially surrounding us.

Yesterday I referred to my day-job, which most of us need to get by while continuing to develop our artistic practice until becoming famous enough to become an artist full time.   As a scientist working in the sterile pharmaceutical industry for too many years, I have been dealing with microbiological contamination (the big word for virus and bacteria) as to how to control it. So I have lots and lots of experience dealing with something I can’t see, but I know its lurking out there. Also why I know masks are effective. And so over the years, I have been thinking about this as a subject, but how to create something that visually has some aesthetic qualities that would be interesting to contemplate or create a narrative about the unseen.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early March, I was utilizing my experimental/play process on a new subject just prior to the CA shelter-in-place. Then I started to realize this new series as a potential metaphoric subject about the unseen. Thus this photograph, above, resulted. One aspect that  I have been evaluating is the color fringing that occurs, whether green or purple, as it seems that creates a small encapsulating wall around the circumference of the highlight, similar to the wall structure of a virus or bacteria. Most folks would try to eliminate this visual attribute as being distracting or not ‘true’, but I can see how I can take advantage this colorful artifact. cool.

I had made this photograph about two months into the shelter-in-place, after it was partially lifted for going out with masks, etc allowing me to head out and explore. I will admit that this series is still a work in progress while evaluating various alternatives and tweaking the resulting images. So I am not sure if this and my other images have all of the visual elements that could visually represent a virus like COVID-19, nevertheless I enjoy playing with these images to see if I can create something that is representational of the unseen.

Which means I need to come up with a name for this new series while developing an artist statement. More to come!

Cheers & stay safe,



My other exhibitions and workshops:

The Photographers Eye’s gallery exhibition, Living and Photographing in the Time of COVID-19group virtual exhibition that includes two of my diptychs from the series A Developing Crisis. This online exhibition is from May 8th through August 1st, 2020.

Medium Photo 2020 Workshop: Developing a Creative Book workshop that I will be leading, is now rescheduled for September 24 – 27th, 2020, a four-day extended weekend workshop in San Diego.


Featured artwork; Fresnel Coefficients 0008 (Quantum Elements) copyright 2020, Douglas Stockdale


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