While most Minnesotans are under the governor’s order to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, journalists were exempted as essential, meaning they are allowed to go out to cover the news. The majority of the Star Tribune staffers are working from home, covering Zoom meetings from their kitchen tables and living room chairs. The production crew performs the daily miracle of putting it all together from their homes.

The exception is the newspaper’s photo and video staff. They can’t work from home. From the beginning, editors have emphasized caution and distancing, insisting that staff put safety and health above the story. We asked three photographers to explain how they’re managing to do extraordinary work while staying safe.

Leila Navidi
How has your job changed since the pandemic has upended life around the world?

I have to work faster and smarter now. It's more challenging now to gain intimacy with subjects because of the barriers to physical space and the precautions that we must take with personal protective equipment. It takes up a lot of my brain space thinking about protecting my subjects if I am asymptomatic and also staying safe from the virus. There is less creative capacity and space for cultivating that intimacy.

Journalism is sometimes described as the first rough draft of history. If so, do you see your job as even more crucial now?

Yes. We are out in the streets. And we have a responsibility to our community and to history to capture this moment accurately and responsibly.

Tell us the story behind your favorite photograph of the last couple months?

While searching for subjects for a photo essay about high school students dealing with the cancellation of proms this year, I came across Deborah Rathman. Deborah was so upset about her daughter Serafina Rivera missing prom during her senior year at Nova Classical Academy that she decided to throw a prom in her home. The prom was a two-person affair, for Serafina and her boyfriend Ben, and was held on the third floor of Rathman's home. It was complete with decorations, music, a beautiful set table with flowers, a multi-course dinner and a big screen that played prom-themed movies like "Back to the Future" as the couple swayed on the dance floor. I love this photo because it give our readers a glimpse of the quiet ways that people have been able to find joy amidst the hardship of this pandemic.

Jerry Holt
Has your approach to your job changed?

I have been struggling with approaching people while wearing a mask to photograph them. Normally, I always try to make eye contact and sometimes shake hands with people to establish trust, and to help them relax. I recently had to photograph an older woman in her home, who was making masks for the Brooklyn Park Fire Department. I spoke with her on the phone before going to her house giving her a description of what I looked like and that I would be carrying cameras. After spending some time with her, she was wonderful, so I told her about my concerns about wearing a mask. She told me that I was ok, just as long as I did not say “This is a stick up.”
How are you keeping yourself safe?

I always have a clean mask, Clorox hand wipes for cameras, steering wheel, car doors, gear shifter -- pretty much anything that I touch. My car is my office, so I try to keep it germ-free as best that I can. After every assignment I apply hand sanitizer. When I come home all of my work shoes are kept outside in the garage. When I enter my house I pretty much remove all clothing, putting them directly into the wash, and scrubbing my hands before entering the rest of my home, and then I shower.

Tell us the story behind your favorite photograph of the last couple months?

A week before Easter, I got a text message from colleague Liz Flores with a photo of a flyer with New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Runney Patterson. The flyer was about an outdoor church service in the parking lot that he called "Park and Praise.” I contacted Pastor Patterson about attending Easter services and he said yes, but it snowed that Sunday. On Easter Sunday morning I called (staff photographer) Jeff Wheeler telling him that Archbishop Hebda would be blessing parishioners in St. Paul. I was already shooting another assignment; Jeff made a great photo of Archbishop Hebda losing his hat with the strong winds blowing. The next Sunday morning April 19, I got an early morning text from Pastor Patterson telling me that the 10 a.m. services were happening. I watched Peggie Hicks raise her hands in prayer through the sunroof of her car as Pastor Patterson delivered a fiery sermon in the parking lot. This is an example of three photographers working together as a team and producing two amazing photographs.

Glen Stubbe
How has your job changed since the pandemic has upended life around the world?

One of the things I loved about my job was the variety of subjects I get to see and photograph, like Iowans sizing up presidential hopefuls, little kids learning to play the harp, auto testing at the coldest place in the lower 48, farmers finding innovative ways to promote better soil, watching immigrants become new citizens, and flying with an aerial acrobat.

Now almost all news is seen through a COVID filter.  People are scared and confused, they are angry and they are trying to cope with so much that is unknowable. They are exhausted, some are sick, some are unemployed. Everyone is stressed. The virus and the ripples it creates will be with us for many years. My job for as long and far as I can see will be documenting how people and communities are coping with COVID and what happens to our world in its wake.

How are you still able to get photos and videos that still show the story you want to tell under the circumstances?

Some days it seems bleak, but every day Minnesotans wake up and try to figure out what comes next. They find ways to connect with each other, to eat, to love, to work, to learn, to entertain each other.  My job is to photograph people doing all of that, the restaurant owner trying to stay open safely, the students struggling to keep learning, the Mayo doctor trying to find a way to stop the virus, and senior living center workers figuring how to help residents connect safely with their families on Mother’s Day.

While it may be a bit more difficult than it was before COVID, capturing things that are amazing or powerful, or sad or wonderful is what I’ve done my whole career and it is a privilege to keep doing it for our readers.

Journalism is sometimes described as the first rough draft of history. If so, do you see your job as even more crucial now?

For sure. Most people can’t or don’t want to leave their homes now.  They depend on photographers to show them what it looks like out there day by day. This COVID story keeps changing and evolving. Strategies we thought to be true in March may be seen very differently in April and again may seem more entirely right or wrong by mid-May. So many events and situations would go unseen, with details easily forgotten without the work we do. Photographers have to be out there every day capturing what they witness first-hand so people who want to look back, check their recollections and see true examples of what life looked like, will have our images to establish the truth. We have to do this to help those who write the next versions of history.

Tell us the story behind your favorite photograph of the last couple months?

An assignment took me to Claremont in southern Minnesota and from there drove back along county roads through every small town I could find. Then in Wanamingo I spotted a hand-painted sign along the highway thanking “healthcare and hometown heroes” on one side and on the other side was the reassuring “Everything’s gonna be all right.”  Farther into town I spotted a man raking a school baseball field. He was joined shortly by two neighborhood brothers, one a Cub Scout, the other a Boy Scout and they were all cleaning up the baseball field.  They kept a safe social distance while loading broken twigs and sticks into barrels for disposal. 

Retiree Larry Van DeWalter has been grooming this and other fields around Wanamingo for years.  His son coaches a team and some of his grandkids play here.  Jacob Coffee, 9, and his brother Joe, 11, were bored spending so much time in their house when they saw Larry out on the field and wanted to help. 

Kids may or may not play baseball this year, but Larry wants to be sure the field in Wanamingo is ready for them if they can do it safely.