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PPD Readers Pandemic Projects: Tracy Boulian and David Ahntholz's "Athletes Persisting"

By David Schonauer   Thursday July 16, 2020


Focus on what you know.

During the pandemic, the Southern California-based husband-and-wife photo team of Tracy Boulian and David Ahntholz began a project showing how athletes were coping with the coronavirus lockdown. Former athletes themselves — Boulian was a competitive swimmer and Ahntholz a soccer player — the photographers wanted to share “athlete stories of persistence, dedication, adaptation, and creativity,” notes Boulian. The result was their series “Athletes Persisting,” which we feature today. Below, the photographers describe the work.


When Covid-19 hit, we were inspired to create imagery and tell stories in our community. As former news photojournalists, we felt it was important to go back to our roots and show how people had been adapting, creating, and living in a profoundly changed world. As former athletes we couldn’t imagine how our former athlete-selves would have coped with losing out on months of training, and we wanted to share athlete stories of persistence, dedication, adaptation, and creativity. We produced and shot everything as a team with just the two of us, finding real people with interesting stories and telling their stories in stills, recording short audio interviews, and also capturing some motion.

We started the project by putting calls out on social media and contacting friend in our area. We also approached people we ran into on the street while outside walking our dog, asking if they knew anyone who might be open to being photographed as part of our project. People were wonderful and helped us connect with athletes they knew. We asked every person we photographed if they knew of anyone else who might be open to being photographed, and the project grew exponentially. We got to the point of having more great people open to being photograph than we had time to photograph. We’ve taken a short break from shooting to catch up on editing, but still plan to continue the project over the coming months.

We shot everything outside in Southern California and from a safe distance of at least six feet away from our subjects. In order to keep equipment to a minimum, and therefore reduce our footprint, work quickly, and to avoid touching anything unnecessarily we chose to work only when the natural light was either soft or dramatic. We worked with reflectors and flags to utilize the natural light as much as possible. We also used drones and an underwater housing when appropriate in order to find creative ways to tell each person’s story of perseverance. We’re very comfortable working nimbly and adapting, so we embraced the challenge of working differently and lighter than normal.

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