Photographer captures Edmonton in the time of COVID-19

A local photographer and writer explores how COVID-19 impacted her community

Local photographer and writer explores how COVID-19 impacted her community

Chalk wall in Boyle-McCauley thanking medical personnel for their hard work (Rebecca Lippiatt/ Edmonton in the Time of Covid)

When Edmonton photographer Rebecca Lippiatt was doing front porch portrait sessions in spring of 2020, she realized that those photos were chronicling the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on everyday people.

"I wanted to document people's experience of COVID," Lippiatt told CBC's Radio Active. "It should be documented." 

That was the seed that grew into Edmonton in the Time of COVID, a collection of stories created with a $5,000 grant from the Edmonton Heritage Foundation. Lippiatt hopes it will show future generations how the virus changed society right down to individual homes. 

Lippiatt has a degree in science where she specialized in microbiology, and a deep interest in pandemics. 

Local photographer and writer Rebecca Lippiatt collected stories from her community on Alberta Avenue (Rebecca Lippiatt/ Edmonton in the Time of COVID)

In her research of previous pandemics, Lippiatt found many stories from the perspective of "caretakers" but very little describing how life changed for average citizens.

"When you look back at previous pandemics, there's not a lot of history around how everyday people navigated their way through the pandemic," she said. 

Donna Paliwoda stands in front of the Royal Alexandra Hospital where she works as a medical device reprocessor. (Rebecca Lippiatt/Edmonton in the Time of COVID)

Finding the stories

The first story Lippiatt told was about an Edmonton mail carrier. 

"For some people. That was sort of like their only touch point, with the outside world," she said.  

When she had a specific story in mind, Lippiatt would ask around for a nurse or a child who would speak to her. 

Listen | Rebecca Lippiat used the pandemic to get to know her neighbours better

Edmonton photographer Rebecca Lippiat used the pandemic to get to know her neighbours in a unique way. 6:35

At the start of her project, Lippiatt found that most people were eager to talk. She said there was something optimistic about 2020 — a hopefulness and a feeling that the vaccine would fix everything. 

This year, she's finding that people in her community are exhausted and fractured. 

Initially, people talked about adapting to the restrictions and other changes brought out by the pandemic. 

In summer 2020, Lippiatt wrote about a woman who was struggling with "long COVID" — persisting, long-term symptoms of the disease. 

Patricia Dunnigan and Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on their front porch, without their large family. (Rebecca Lippiatt/Edmonton in the Time of COVID)

"That really interested and scared me at the same time, because there was almost nothing in the media about long COVID," Lippiatt said. 

In looking back at her project, she said she thinks about the memories of her ex-husband's grandmother, who was six years old when the influenza pandemic of 1918 reached her home in Britannia Beach, B.C.

"She said she was the only person in her family who didn't get sick. And she remembers nursing family members." Lippiatt said. 

"The other thing she remembered were the coffins coming down off the mountain." 

She hopes her writing project will eventually become part of the permanent collection of the provincial or city archives, to give future historians a peek into the COVID-19 pandemic.

For her, the stories offered a form of healing.

"I hope that when people read this it will help them process their own emotions around the pandemic," Lippiatt said.

With files from Radio Active


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