The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably altered the way Americans live their lives. Masks and 6 feet of social distance are the new normal.
How will we tell the story of this time to future generations?
While that answer remains unclear, photographer and history teacher Debbie McGeorge is documenting Moorestown’s story. Aided by two of her former students, Sedona Young and Jacqueline Blizzard, McGeorge is creating “Moorestown 2020, A Photographic Narrative,” a collection of images that features township residents during the pandemic.
Done in partnership with Perkins Center for the Arts, the proceeds from the project will benefit the center.
At the end of March, Executive Director Kahra Buss reached out to McGeorge to ask if she had any interest in collaborating on a photography project with Perkins. Inspired by a friend in Boston who was producing a documentary photography project, McGeorge and Buss developed their idea from there.
“Fifty [to] 100 years from now, the narrative and the stories of COVID are what will illuminate this period in history,” Buss said. “We talked about the human aspect of COVID and the day-to-day experiences. We talked about how a photographic narrative tells stories.”
McGeorge and her two students spent the next two months photographing people outdoors using long lenses and maintaining distance. Whether it was a resident out walking the dog or families taking a moment to gather on the porch, the three women shot an array of vertical, black and white images that McGeorge hopes showcase the diversity of the town and its experiences during this time.
She admits it was initially uncomfortable to approach and photograph strangers from a distance, but as the project has evolved, it’s helped her feel closer to her Moorestown neighbors.
“In a time when we are not making connections, we are in our homes and our doors are closed, we need connections, and we need to document what’s happening to us,” McGeorge noted.
As a history teacher at the Upper Elementary School, McGeorge frequently uses photographs in her lessons. But while she can teach students about a specific moment in history, photos can help them understand on an emotional level what was taking place. For that reason, the images will also be turned over to the Historical Society of Moorestown to aid in its documentation efforts.
The longer the project has gone on, more and more families and community members have reached out to McGeorge to be included. As of now, the photographers have captured more than 1,000 images. McGeorge has uploaded them to a gallery on Perkins’ website where people can purchase prints of the photos, and a portion of the proceeds from the prints go directly to Perkins.
Buss said McGeorge’s emphasis on capturing history dovetails perfectly with the initiatives of the Perkins Folklife Center, whose mission is to preserve South Jersey’s cultural history.
“Photography shows the world and life in an entirely different dimension,”’ Buss said.
“It is capturing something that is not easily observed or understood at the specific moment of an event.”
The photos represent phase one of the project and the second phase is currently in development. McGeorge said people will be asked to submit one horizontal image of the inside of their home that speaks to the historic moment. Anyone can submit a photo. Buss and McGeorge are also planning a podcast to accompany the project that will delve into the concept of photographic composition.
To learn more or to purchase a print, visit ttps://perkinsarts.org/exhibitions/mooretown-2020-photographic-narrative.