A Pandemic Year in Images

El Segundo-based photographer Sarah Ainsworth experienced a creative shift during the past year, re-discovering her own yard and documenting domestic life during the Safer at Home order.

Photography by Sarah Ainsworth

Q&A by Maureen Kingsley

Photographs taken by Sarah Ainsworth at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic include those of plants and birds in her yard, vistas of nearby El Segundo beach, close-ups of beach plants and trash, and domestic scenes.

Photography is both a creative pursuit and a means of chronicling history. Local photographer and frequent Scene contributor Sarah Ainsworth found that over the past 12 to 15 months, from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, her photographic impulses underwent some fundamental changes as she documented her life and produced assets for clients from behind her viewfinder.

Here, Sarah presents some of her favorite pandemic-era images and shares details of how this strange period in human history affected her work as a photographer.

The El Segundo Scene (TESS): How did the arrival of COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions on leaving the house affect your photography from a creative perspective?

Sarah Ainsworth (SA): Well, I am, or I was, primarily a landscape photographer, and while I’ve taken many photographs at the local beach over the years, I find peace in the mountains and forests, so having to stay home full time was a shock to the system. Like most people, I was overwhelmed by what was happening and went into survival mode. When I did feel like taking pictures, I reached for my phone as often as I did my “real” camera, which I never used to do. I stopped caring so much about the technical perfection of photos and started caring more about the emotional impact they could have. For the first time, I signed up for and have kept up with a weekly photo challenge. I don’t always get great shots, but it gets me to pick up the camera and stretches my creative muscles.

TESS: Did your selection of photography subjects change quite a bit to reflect all the extra time spent at home?

SA: Absolutely. Most of the nature photography I did was with a macro lens instead of a wide angle, and I did a lot more product photography. Many of my clients are small shop owners or crafters who’d lost access to their in-person sales venues. In my personal work, I shifted from vast landscapes to more intimate views. When I did leave our property to go to the beach, my subjects were more often shells (or trash) on the sand than sweeping views of sea and sky. I finally got some great pictures of our backyard hummingbirds and of my favorite black phoebe. I photographed lots of bees, and I identified birds I’d never seen before. I took a few pictures from our balcony that I previously would have left the property for. I stayed home and watched beautiful sunsets instead of rushing down to the beach to photograph them. I shot still-life scenes. I photographed the daily moments of my children’s lives and actually edited those images.

TESS: I know you are a gardener and enjoy growing plants on your property. Have you been more inclined to photograph the products of your garden during the pandemic?

SA: Oh, definitely! I’d always dreamed of growing enough flowers to have bouquets in the house, but travel made that difficult. So we planted a huge garden. I used many of the flowers as props in product photography, and shot others on their own before giving them away. I’ve turned many of those images into greeting cards. I’m doing a lot more flower photos this year. I also did a photo shoot for a luffa, just because I was so darn proud of having grown it.

TESS: You have a history of traveling to beautiful natural areas and photographing them. When frequent travel feels safe again, do you have any chosen spots you look forward to visiting and photographing?

SA: The list is long. LOL. I’d had a dream of getting the kids to all the national parks in the continental U.S. before the oldest leaves home, and I’d still like to do that, but after really immersing myself in the microclimate of our yard over the last year and discovering things I hadn’t noticed in the past decade, I’m seeing a lot of value in slowing down and doing a deep immersion in a few locations. I really want to get back to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The kids haven’t been there yet, and it’s an amazing park and a good place for astrophotography. I have a dream of hiking sections of the John Muir trail and photographing the High Sierra, but that’s more a 10-year goal than an immediate one. The Sierras are magical. I could probably spend the rest of my life wandering up and down U.S. Route 395 and its connectors and never get bored. And the kids love Keough Hot Springs, so that’s probably one of the first places we’ll go. Then we’ll sleep in the shadow of Mt. Whitney.

Hey, reader! What interesting photographs did you capture during the pandemic? Where would you like to travel once you feel ready? Let us know at editor[at]theelsegundoscene.com. We’d love to print your photos and travel dreams in upcoming issues of The Scene.

This feature appears in the May 2021 issue of The El Segundo Scene.

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