A shot in time: Photo project documents Covid vaccinations in Northampton

  • Friends Sasha Guzik, left, and Rowan Rattner-Weaver of Florence have cause for celebration after getting a COVID-19 vaccination at the Northampton Senior Center. PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • David Thomson, a member of the medical staff at the Northampton vaccination site, said he was happy to do his part by filling syringes. PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • Benjamin Kissinger of Florence said getting the vaccine will let him “come home and see/touch my family.” PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • Paul Shoul, at right, photographed more than 100 people — patients, volunteers, medical staff — at the vaccination clinic at the Northampton Senior Center. PHOTO BY LLEWELLYN SIMONS/COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • Lead nurse Kate Kelley says overseeing the vaccination clinic at the Northampton Senior Center “is the most important work I’ve ever been part of.” PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • Lynne Yamamoto of Easthampton described her feelings about getting her COVID-19 shot with one word: “Relief!!!!!” PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

  • Fareed Hanania of Palmer wrote that after getting his vaccination, “I cannot wait to visit family and friends!” PHOTO BY AND COURTESY OF PAUL SHOUL

Staff Writer
Published: 5/19/2021 1:20:44 PM

A few years ago, Northampton photographer Paul Shoul photographed residents of the former Northampton Lodging, the boarding house on Pleasant Street where people lived in single rooms, for an exhibit at Historic Northampton.

Shoul and his partner on the project, Cassandra Holden, said at the time that the goal was to document a slice of life in the city that wasn’t visible to many people.

Now, for a new online exhibit hosted by Historic Northampton, Shoul has recorded another slice of life in town — one that pretty much everyone can recognize.

In “Getting Vaccinated: Portraits from the Northampton Clinic,” Shoul has fashioned profiles of more than 100 people who came to the Northampton Senior Center in early May to get COVID-19 vaccinations, and of the volunteers and health professionals who run the shot clinic.

As he sees it, those portraits represent a record not just of a particular point in the city’s history — and the country’s history, for that matter — they also tell a story of people coming together in a trying time and emerging with a sense of optimism.

“I was struck by how happy most people looked, like it was a moment of victory,” said Shoul, a longtime freelance photographer and photojournalist. “And for me, it just felt uplifting to see all the volunteers and the health officials doing this work, really giving of themselves.”

Indeed, some of the adults and teens Shoul photographed after they’d gotten their vaccinations struck stagey poses, arms raised and fists clenched like bodybuilders, or with thumbs-up signs, faces crinkled by smiles still hidden behind face masks. Some photos come with captions, too, like one for an older man that says “Less talk. More injections.”

Shoul said the idea for the project came after he received his own first COVID vaccination in March, in Greenfield; he asked the woman who gave him the shot if he could take her photograph. Staff at that clinic, he said, “seemed like the happiest group of people I’d ever seen. It struck me that there could be something more to this.”

He broached the idea to Elizabeth Sharpe, co-executive director of Historic Northampton, who was quickly on board.

“We’re really grateful Paul reached out to us,” said Sharpe. “We thought it was a wonderful idea. It gave us a way to reach out to the public and stay connected with people.”

Over the past year, the museum, which has been closed to visitation since last spring, has compiled a digital record, called ”Covid-19 stories,” dedicated to people’s personal accounts of dealing with the pandemic, including essays and stories, children’s artwork, family photos and more. Shoul’s 100-plus portraits, Sharpe said, “are a great addition to our digital collection, which is something we hadn’t really developed in a big way” before the pandemic.

Emma Winter Zeig, research and education coordinator for Historic Northampton, put all the photos up on the museum website.

Shoul said he had to “jump through a few hoops” when he first contacted city officials about his idea, going first through the mayor’s office and then the Health Department to get permission to photograph people.

But ultimately everyone involved, especially the medical staff at the Senior Center, “was really helpful,” he noted. “They already have a lot on their plate, but they gave me a spot there.”

As the exhibit website notes, the Senior Center clinic is a collaboration between Northampton’s Health and Fire Rescue departments, the Hampshire Public Health Preparedness Coalition, and the Hampshire County Medical Reserve Corps: “It is a massive logistical undertaking that has provided over 27,000 vaccinations so far.”

Working with health and clinic officials, Shoul developed a flyer and release form about his photo project that explained the details and was distributed to patients at the clinic on May 1 and 8. He says Kate Kelly, the head nurse, figured out the best place for him to take his photos, a separate room that people went into one or two at a time.

Some of those photographed wrote down their thoughts to accompany their photos. David Thomson of Northampton, a veterinarian with the Hampshire County Medical Reserve Corps, posed with two thumbs up and the comment “I filled syringes this morning. I felt wonderful doing this! Thank you everyone involved!”

Benjamin Kissinger of Florence, wearing a red baseball cap, posed with arms outstretched as if to receive or give a hug and wrote “I will be able to come home and see/touch my family. This thought makes me cry. Joy.”

And Rowan Rattner-Weaver, 13, who posed with her friend Sasha Guzik — both are from Florence — wrote “COVID is stinky and getting a vaccine makes you sexy.”

Kate Kelly, the head clinic nurse, wrote “Being part of the vaccine effort & response to the pandemic is the most important work I’ve ever been a part of.” Her son Michael, who’s 8, was too young to be vaccinated, but he played his cello for patients at the clinic and posed for a picture himself.

“I wish kids could get the vaccine,” he wrote.

Shoul and Sharpe both hope the online portraits might also spur people who have been reluctant to be vaccinated to reconsider their decision. The photos might also become part of a physical exhibit someday at Historic Northampton on the city’s experience with the pandemic, though Sharpe, with a laugh, said any such exhibit would not be coming anytime soon.

“I ran that idea by some other people, about when might be a good time to do that, and they said ‘Maybe in about 10 years,” Sharpe noted. “I think most of us are ready to shift gears at this point.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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