Through our lens: A tale of two encounters

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  • A FedEx driver returning to his truck is the only activity at 12:30 p.m. on Main Street in Northampton, Monday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The United Congregational Church of Holyoke at 300 Appleton St. sends prayers for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Monday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A line of people wait for entrance to Big Y in Northampton on Thursday of last week. On the previous Tuesday, Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s public health director, and the Board of Health ordered that all grocery stores, supermarkets and convenience stores implement customer occupancy limits based on square footage, monitor one entry and one exit point, and provide markings and implement techniques to encourage proper social distancing, among other changes. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sigrid Schmalzer, center, and Jeff Korff, left, both of Northampton, take part in the Northampton Committee to Stop the Wars weekly peace vigil in front of the Hampshire County Courthouse on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College President Edward Wingenbach agreed to have his picture taken for the Gazette on Thursday of last week in Amherst, even though it was raining. Here, on the Thornton Quad, he waits for a ready signal from the photographer before tossing his umbrella out of the frame at the last second. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Flowers left on the porch of a resident on Pleasant Green in Easthampton on Wednesday of last week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Julia Rainaud, right, 11, of Belchertown has her picture taken by her father, Andy Rainaud, as she poses with a pair of chalk “bunny ears” drawn on a driveway at the end of Shea Street in Belchertown on Saturday. The drawings were part of a town-wide virtual Easter egg hunt, “social-distancing style.” The Rainuad family, including Julia’s, brother Jonathan, left, 7, and mother (not pictured) were just on a long walk for exercise when they happened upon the photo op. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A man crosses Main Street in Northampton at 1:15, Monday, during rain and gusty wind. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Photographer
Published: 4/16/2020 6:40:44 AM

The one universal change I’ve noticed in the progression of pictures that we at the Gazette have taken since the start of this pandemic is a marked increase in, and prevalence of, social distancing. That should more accurately be described as physical distancing because, face it, we are all being pointedly social. But even within this context, I’ve noticed a large range in what you could call “personal space” and each person’s efforts to maintain it — some cautious (rightfully), some not so.

Last week, I met Hampshire College President Edward Wingenbach in front of the R.W. Kern Center to photograph him for a Gazette story. As he walked toward me from his office at the Cole Science Center, we had time to make eye contact and acknowledge each other’s presence. After all, since there was not another soul in sight, there was no mistaking who I was or who he was. After walking the entire length of the school’s quadrangle, he stopped a good 10 to 12 feet from me, and we began our conversation. As I photographed, and each time I moved to shoot from a different angle, I was sure to ask first before stepping closer, and we pretty much kept to that original comfort zone of 10 feet.

Two days later, I had quite a different experience. After photographing the yard of a Belchertown home that was decorated for a town-wide virtual Easter egg hunt, I asked the homeowner for his name. Then, in a kind of “Field of Dreams” moment, separated by an invisible barrier as I stood in the street and he in his driveway, I introduced myself. Reflexively, and without hesitation, he began to remove his gardening gloves to shake my hand in earnest — until both of us, with a smile and maybe a raised eyebrow, said, “Oh.”

It has been five weeks since that Friday robocall from the superintendent announcing an initial two-week closure of the schools in Northampton. And it has been four weeks since I started working full-on “remote.” You could say that news photography is already remote. The difference now is that I don’t go into the office. But I know my overall experience is not unique. Every child in the country is, in effect, largely housebound. And each of those parents is running a home school part time — without the saintly patience of a kindergarten teacher. For most of us, it’s an inconvenience. For many, it’s a struggle. For some, too many, it’s about life and death. So we all keep doing what we can — or more — until we “get to the other side of this,” as people say. And, as always, we celebrate the bright spots where we find them.

Kevin Gutting can be reached at kgutting@gazettenet.com.

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