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PPD Readers Pandemic Projects: John Madere's "Masked Portraits"

By David Schonauer   Monday July 6, 2020


What can you capture in a portrait of a masked person?

“I wanted to see if I could capture some sense of emotion on the masked faces of people in a setting that is normally fun and carefree. I set up my camera on a tripod at a busy entrance to a popular beach in Montauk, New York,” says New York-based photographer John Madere of his pandemic project “Masked Portraits,” which we feature today. Photographing in that busy spot for a couple of hours each day, he says, “allowed me to experience the diverse attitudes of people who chose to wear masks—or not.” Below, he describes the project.


I wanted to see if I could capture some sense of emotion on the masked faces of people in a setting that is normally fun and carefree. I set up my camera on a tripod at a busy entrance to a popular beach in Montauk, New York. That beach has become much more crowded than usual as many residents of New York City have fled their urban environment for safer spaces.

I approached the most interesting looking people and asked if they would pose for me with their masks on. I was able to shoot at a socially safe distance using a long lens. Almost everyone was shot in bright sunlight with a scrim overhead to soften the harsh natural light. The background was simple, consistent and out of focus to keep the attention on the subtleties of my subjects’ masks and eyes.

Photographing in that busy spot for a couple of hours each day also allowed me to experience the diverse attitudes of people who chose to wear masks—or not. My subjects were often committed to keeping themselves and others safer from the coronavirus by diligently wearing their masks even when socially distanced on the beach. Many tried to make the best of it, deploying fashionable and creative masks. It seems that one’s mask can reflect one’s personality—even more so than their choice of wardrobe.


Some beach goers openly scoffed at the need for social distancing and the way that masks impinge on their freedom. Several even boasted that they weren’t afraid of the virus, missing the point that wearing a mask is also about protecting others.


Montauk is mostly affluent, and the community isn’t very diverse—but there was a dramatic diversity of opinion regarding the politically fraught etiquette of mask wearing. I think this series of beach portraits conveys cautious optimism and care for others—and an appreciation for personal style and natural beauty, even as our world gets turned upside down.

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