When the COVID-19 shutdown began, Naperville based photographer Jeffrey Ross wanted to find a way to use his skills to lend a helping hand. He began to photograph various locations and business around the city, documenting these empty spaces that would normally be full of activity in a series called “The Shutdown-Portraits of Empty Spaces.”
Ross: “I started to think about friends that we have and problems they are having with their business, still having to pay rent and utilities and having to lay people off. I kinda wanted to tell that story of all these places that should be busy and should have people in them and full of life. And they’re quiet right now. I thought I could maybe take an interesting picture with these empty spaces and the people in charge of these empty spaces and what that would look like.”
For some, taking the photographs was the first chance for the subjects to return to these now dormant locations.
Ross: “When I photographed the Chamber of Commerce, Kaylin (Risvold) said that she hadn’t been in the office in six weeks. That was her first opportunity when we went in to take pictures and that just shocked me. That’s when it really hit me that it’s been going on for a long time. We’ve all adjusted and I think we are all eager to get back out there but I really start thinking about these places that even when things start up again like the movie theatre. At what point are they able to resume normal operations?”
Ross was taken aback by not only the images of these empty locations, but also the shared experiences of the subjects and business owners-which he captures in the written word as well.
Ross: “That was really shocking to me. I thought I was going to get there and document and run to the next one and just try to tell the story of the empty spaces. It’s really the people that are in charge of these spaces and hearing their stories and the pain they are going through. And how they don’t know what to do next. It’s the unknown, nobody really knows what to expect. It’s tough hearing that from everybody.”
Once the project is complete, all of the images will be going to Naper Settlement as part of their archives. There has also been discussion of a future pandemic exhibit about how the Naperville community experienced the shutdown in different ways.
Ross: “This was just something I felt I had to do. I felt like I had to tell peoples stories in a way I could contribute. I’ve seen a lot of artists and photographers too which really excites me that the creative community is stepping up. I’m glad that what I’m doing is maybe having a positive impact and maybe getting the news out in a way that helps the people who are hurting right now.”
One photo from the series will be released per day on the Ross Creative Works Facebook page, along with a quote from each subject. Reflections on a unique moment, frozen in time, saved for the future.
For Naperville News 17, I’m Justin Cornwell.
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