On March 20, the International Center of Photography announced an open call for imagemakers around the world to post and tag imagery of their experiences as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. The hashtag #ICPConcerned was named in recognition of ICP’s founding principle to champion “concerned photography”—socially and politically minded images that can educate and change the world. Confirmed cases had just surpassed 200,000 globally. It had taken over three months to reach the first 100,000 and just 12 days to reach the next 100,000. By March 24 the number had surpassed 400,000. The virus is invisible and its deadliest effects were happening in near isolation. As the confirmed cases in New York City reached 10,000 the number of #ICPConcerned images on Instagram also reached 10,000.
Photojournalism and documentary pictures sit with staged and more metaphorical photographs. Amateur smartphone pictures are being uploaded alongside the work of professional imagemakers. A whole range of emotions is present: anger, despair, loss, confusion, frustration, boredom, loneliness, strength, and resolve. Data shows the virus disproportionally affects people of color and those who are otherwise marginalized and disadvantaged. Everyone is in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
On May 25, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. The murder was filmed by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier and the video helped galvanize protests against police brutality and marches in support of Black lives around the world. Millions came out of isolation to gather in anger and defiance of centuries of systemic racism and white supremacy.
Within days, streets went from empty to full of protest. Thousands of #ICPConcerned images of the demonstrations were uploaded and shared. Intense debates erupted about the way the protests were being documented. Should faces be shown? Who has the right to photograph? Who was the media commissioning to take photographs?
In June, ICP initiated an evolving #ICPConcerned exhibition in its largest gallery space. One thousand images are being chosen by a wide range of ICP staff—curators, administrators, and educators. Photographers are being contacted, and prints made in the gallery space. No one can visit yet, but the process and the installation are being documented and shown online, taking the images back to the worldwide audience that made them. Eventually, the returning public will be able to come see a visual account of this tumultuous era.
The number of photographs in the show heads toward one thousand, and so far, represents submissions from over 50 countries. Images responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of Black Lives Matter expose the effects of corporate greed, mass unemployment, ecological crisis, and deep fear about the future. What we interpreted as “normal” pre-pandemic is being challenged by what we have learned about the interconnectedness of our problems and the interdependence of our lives.