How Four Creatives Are Finding Light in the Midst of a Pandemic


We began discussing this feature back in May, when the world was sheltering in place, COVID-19 was ravaging through communities, and many creatives were forced out of work. As part of this, we wanted to explore the unique impact that the pandemic has brought to the creative industry—in many instances challenging and humbling, but for some, quite hopeful and renewing, too. Despite these unprecedented and painfully divisive times we are living in, it strangely feels like we are moving toward something great—possibly even a fresh start.

Ahead, we spoke with four incredible photographers and directors on how they find light during dark times. Their lessons and more, below.

Nadia Lee Cohen | Los Angeles, CA

Where are you based right now?

“L.A.—I think it’s the longest period of time I’ve spent here without leaving.”

Has the time spent at home given you more time to brainstorm new projects or ideas? Any that you’re eager to start once stay-at-home orders are lifted?

“It has. I’ve been putting off writing a project for a while, and finally I can’t use the excuse that ‘I haven’t got the time’; so I’ve been writing and working on wrapping up a photo book consecutively. The only thing I really struggle with is maintaining my focus whilst I’m in my own space. I have a tendency to focus really well on mundane tasks, like folding towels, making tea, or staring into blank space, rather than actually doing what I’m supposed to.”

How do you feel about creativity and productivity during quarantine or during times of hardship, in general?

“I imagine it must differ for everyone, but great art usually emerges from tough times. It feels productive to learn, at the moment, so I have put a pause on my projects to make sure I educate myself on racial injustice, what is currently happening in the world and has been happening for centuries. It’s important to get this conversation going with friends of mine and my immediate family.”

Outside of photography and directing, are there any other hobbies you’re exploring?

“At the start of quarantine, I jumped on the chef bandwagon and made my aunt Phyllis’ famous coffee cake—she wrote me the recipe by hand and emailed it to me, which was so sweet. Not sure if I can add ‘baker’ to my skill set just yet, but I was shocked at how great it turned out.”

Do you have any advice for artists, freelancers, or creatives out there who are struggling as a result of quarantine?

“Usually I would say try not to scroll through Instagram too much; however, I think now it’s more important than ever to stay informed outside of the mainstream media, so Instagram can be helpful. Perhaps, use this time to find some inspiration in what’s currently happening in the world, and make art that you feel could be positive and make people feel good.”

What’s keeping you sane right now?

“My friends.”

Could you share the five things motivating you and keeping you creative?

“I’m not sure if I have five things. I’d say my inner guilt at not finishing projects might be so strong that it counts as five.”

There’s a lot of discussion on inclusivity in the fashion and art world right now—can you share your experiences and thoughts on the matter?

“For me, the fashion world has always lacked inclusivity, which as a result led me to street casting in order to find more diversity in models than using model agencies. I think it’s hugely important that there is light being shed on this now to ensure that real change happens and we can actually see the results of this change, rather than it being a lip service.”

The A$AP Rocky music video you directed (for his song “Babushka”) features cops portrayed as pigs—where do you stand on protests calling to defund and abolish the police?

“I am absolutely in favor of defunding the police. There are situations that call for other types of care workers rather than sending the policethey are just not equipped to be addressing every social issue. The funds from the extensive police budgets could go towards other much-needed public health services and programs, like schools, mental health services, and the homeless—this would hopefully lessen the need for police intervention.”

What’s on the horizon for you next, professionally speaking?

“I am working on completing a photo book that I am very excited to finally release.”

And lastly, any charities you’d like to call attention to or organizations you’re working with?

“If you are financially able to donate, then this is a great cause:
Homeless Black Trans Women Fund.”


Photos: Courtesy of Nadia Lee Cohen. Left: Makeup by Nadia’s L.A. neighbor and good friend, Sam Visser.

Cary Fagan | Houston, TX

In his words…

“This time has blessed me with the opportunity to seek greater potential within myself. I’m already creating projects that are not limited by quarantine. For example, I partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to challenge viewers in an at-home chair-stacking challenge.

“There’s no rush to create. This is something I’ve always stood by. Spending time in quarantine and social-distancing has given me more patience and time management.

“I am exploring sound. I play the saxophone, theremin, synthesizer, and omnichord—I’m finding the right sounds to create a few soundscapes for future gallery exhibitions.

“During this time of uncertainty, we need to be present. We should listen to our inner voice. Most importantly, we need to seek balance within.

“Right now, I am working on designing a line of chairs under CHAIRS ARE PEOPLE.

“The five things motivating me right now:
1). “Using my voice.
2). “Becoming a leader.
3). “Spreading positive energy; encouraging perseverance.
4). “Working on more art during usual times.
5). “Writing. Oh, and riding my bike.

“As a whole, I feel the industry is a little whitewashed—maybe still. I’ve experienced the lack of diversity with my opportunities and see it all the time. Personally, I think the industry has created division amongst Black artists, making it feel that it’s only available for one of us.

“I think that if they [white industry leaders] want to have a place in this conversation, it’s best to listen first.

“I’d love to call attention to Black Girls Code. The youth is our future.”



Photos: Courtesy of Cary Fagan

Alana O’herlihy | Los Angeles, CA

In her words…

Go Slowly insane in an Isolated Barn
Grow my armpit hair
See things, don’t see things
Cry in front of windows
Befriend Cutlery
Declare yourself KING

“I have been really taking time for myself—and only myself—for the first time in a long time. It feels good, I am appreciating it. I am finding VERY old pictures of my family and myself that I am drawing major inspiration from.

“I have also been looking at the moon, which I don’t get to do in New York, so a sweet treat. I have been able to see the world through this experience with my sister and brother, as well as visit some old stomping grounds of mine. Skin care is always a huge part of my life, so I am immersing myself fully in this.

“I have become someone who sends letters in the mail now, which is quite fun—there is comfort in this when I miss the sweet embrace of my friends. Working out via YouTube is something I have also been trying out. Chloe Ting: That is all. Above all, it has been me spending time with research and saturating myself with current pop culture and things past. I normally do this, however; with all this time allotted to us, I have been able to really enjoy watching films, TV, and archiving images. There’s nothing like taking a self-portrait to solve my sorrows. That is always how it has been, and this has never been more comforting than it is now.

“I would like to stress the importance of educating oneself on Black oppression throughout history. The MOST important thing is that we continue to condemn moral monsters (racists) and be the change that our world absolutely needs now AND after the topic is no longer ‘trending.’ I will work harder, be better, and move the mountains necessary to aid in this revolution we are on the brink of.”

Editor’s note: Alana would like to share the following organizations and charities for those who would like to learn more and donate to causes helping to elevate the Black Lives Matter movement: Black Youth Helpline, The Loveland Foundation, and Black Lives Matter.


Photos: Courtesy of Alana O’herlihy

rayscorruptedmind | New York, NY

Where are you based right now?

“I’m in New York City right now.”

Has the time spent at home given you more time to brainstorm new projects or ideas? Any that you’re eager to start once stay-at-home orders are lifted?

“Well, with everything changing and being limited to being inside, I came up with this concept of shooting myself in my house and then pasting me onto backgrounds that I wish I was at, since we can’t go outside—lol.”

How do you feel about creativity and productivity during quarantine or during times of hardship, in general?

“I feel creativity is all about being able to be creative in any environment. That’s where a true creative comes in—when, no matter the circumstances, they can figure out a way of creating. It’s always good to push your talents to levels you haven’t tried before, even if you aren’t fully confident at first.”

Outside of photography and directing, are there any other hobbies you’re exploring?

“I skateboard and play video games—I get a lot of inspiration from both things, so it helps.”

Do you have any advice for artists, freelancers, or creatives out there who are struggling as a result of quarantine?

“Use this time to really plan your goals and dreams! Even when things aren’t going away, time is always so major and important because you can really come up with masterpiece ideas off of truly sitting there and thinking! So don’t ever get discouraged—keep working on your craft and planning on the days to come when quarantine is lifted. It’s always all about remaining positive!”

What’s keeping you sane right now?

“Conversation with friends, tbh—knowing that everybody is experiencing the same thing and just hearing them keeps me feeling calm, knowing it’s not just me.”

Could you share the top three things that are motivating you and keeping you creative?

“I would say one thing is definitely trying this new style of shooting with the projects I’ve been working on—it’s a challenge, and I like challenges! Another is my team; they have so much hope in me and are always checking up on me, so it keeps me motivated to keep pushing the bar to keep making them proud. And three, my dreams always motivate me to stay creative, because there’s still so much I wanna do, so I must stay actively creating and putting out new things/changing the game.”

There’s a lot of discussion on inclusivity in the fashion and art world right now—can you share your experiences and thoughts on the matter?

“The whole game needs a change! In my eyes, everybody is beautiful inside and out, and I wish everybody viewed things that way. Also, there [are] so many talented people out there who don’t get recognized or a chance just because of the color of their skin, and that’s so upsetting to me, because we are all human beings!”

Many photographers have been limited to Zoom photo shoots while in quarantine—what were some of the challenges of shooting virtually? And, more importantly, how did you go about ensuring your Zoom shoots are distinct?

“Well, the main thing was figuring out which style to do and how to do it. I really enjoy this, like what I did with this story—it’s something new to me, so I’m enjoying it!”

Going through your Instagram, I saw a caption that stood out from 2019: “the more u connect w urself & the more u accept ur differences & learn how 2 accept them & work on them, the stronger u will become. don’t ever not love who u are! love urself! always! & keep going!” What was going through your mind then? Do you think this quote is still applicable today?

“It’s 100 percent applicable today! The main thing of growing into a powerful being and being a good person is loving yourself! Everybody is beautiful in their own ways! You shouldn’t ever judge yourself off of others; the fact that there’s only one of each person is honestly amazing to me, because that means you can be the best you ever and be completely different from everybody else, so embrace your differences and always love yourself! It’s better to be you than be like everybody else, because in my eyes, that’s special.”

You’ve shot some notable people, including Billie Eilish, Travis Scott, Rosalia, and others. Have there been any memorable experiences from these shoots?

“I would say the main artist who really inspired me and really pushed me is Travis Scott—that’s a brother to me. The man took me on tour when I haven’t really ever shot a tour before, without even knowing me beforehand, and really trusted me with his image. Me knowing a huge artist like that, being able to trust me with his image, inspired me a lot. Shooting my first magazine cover ever with Travis def is my most memorable memory, because seeing your image on a cover and seeing it everywhere is a feeling like no other!”

Craziest thing that’s ever happened on set?

“Astrofest 2018… My camera died, and I was only able to take three images. The first out of the three is one of my fav photos of all time.”

What’s on the horizon for you next, professionally speaking?

“Man, I really wanna direct more videos—like, I wanna direct a video for a huge fashion campaign! Like, I have so many amazing ideas that I just wanna bring to life, and I’ve really been enjoying directing and learning more about filming!”


Photos: Courtesy of rayscorruptedmind; Styled by Mazurbate


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