In her project titled “By a Thread: Pandemic Portraits,” Katie Howie has been exploring what it means to be human during the pandemic. The project includes portraits of more than 115 people in the Twin Cities area.
More importantly, Howie describes the project as a living history because the people she photographs also share thoughts about their lives over the last year.
A Metro Transit bus driver describes the lessons she’s learned from this time. A nurse practitioner reflects on the pandemic’s toll and the memories it brings up from her work during early days of the AIDS crisis.
“It's people sharing their heart at this particular point in our collective experience and our history,” Howie said.
The St. Paul-based photographer began the project last March when Gov. Tim Walz announced the state’s first stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Howie saw social media posts from friends who are hospital workers looking for N95 masks. That inspired her to capture the bravery and heroism of the essential workers. Since then she’s expanded the project to include others in the community affected by the pandemic.
“Meeting people and hearing their stories, it's been so uplifting,” Howie said. “Because even in the midst of all these hardships there’s much resiliency.”
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Her portraits include doctors, teachers, bus drivers, artists and others standing outside their homes. Some were friends, but many have been strangers who were referred to her from “somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody.” However, through the project, those strangers have become friends. They stay in contact and Howie looks forward to getting together with them again, when it’s safe to do so.
These connections are what inspired her project’s title because “we’re all connected by a thread,” the 40-year-old said.
When asked what it means to be human at this time, Howie said that it means to be vulnerable and care about other people. “During the pandemic, you wear a mask and stay at home so that people you don’t know are safe,” she said.
“That's the other thread in all of this is these people all care so much about their fellow human,” Howie said. “They care that they take on great risk to themselves and that's been so inspiring to me.”