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Creating a Witness to History: How One Photographer Made a Heirloom Shot - Treasure Chest of Memories


Creating a witness to history

Photographer Heather Kazmierczak composed a photographic portrait that would serve as her family’s witness to history: the COVID-19 pandemic.  Though not all of us have the skills to mimic her methodology, her creative process can help us think of ways we can document our own place in history.  These ideas are useful whether it’s corona virus, outrage of George Floyd, or something else.

Pandemic 2020 a witness to history by Heather Kazmierczak

© Heather Kazmierczak 2020, used with permission


I was moved by the Norman Rockwell-esque feeling of this photo, so I had to find out more.  Luckily, Heather Kazmierczak is my neighbor and willing to answer my questions.  Here’s what inspired her shot and why she created it.

Her Inspiration:

Kazmierczak says she’s always following storytelling and loves photography that tells stories. Additionally, she’s always been intrigued by historical photos. Images that convey what life was like for previous generations.

Her inspiration came from the fact that for her family, the pandemic was completely beyond their experience. “Wow,” she thought. “We are part of world history. Plain ol’ us.”

Her Dream for this Heirloom

Though she hopes her photograph is preserved for future generations, Kazmierczak doesn’t want it kept pristine. “This photo may end up in my great-great grandchildren’s house, all wrinkled up.”

She hopes many will enjoy it and that her son, her model, will be remembered as someone who lived through a significant time in history.

Her Methodology

Kazmierczak was going for an “iconic” photograph.

Her biggest regret is that she didn’t start saving newspaper headlines sooner. The announcement of the pandemic and the Michigan stay-at-home order were long since taken to the curb in the family’s recycling containers.  However, the headline from April 2020 with “Resistance” does freeze the photograph in time.

She was aiming for what she calls a “painterly” look, hoping that the photograph could look old in its own time. That decided the lighting for her.  Taking a page from portrait painters, she used a strobe to imitate filtered light from a window.

As for her son’s role, Kazmierczak says he didn’t really participate in the creative process. He did change from shorts into pants, though, then sat where she said to sit and held the newspaper.

Tips for Creating a Witness to History (Whatever the Event)

“History is vital,” says Kazmierczak. “You can’t live through this time and not want to preserve it.”

Her advice:

  • Think about the specificity of your family’s experience. What story are you trying to tell?
  • Plan your photo shot in advance. If you can, get family members to participate.
  • Focus on elements, such as a newspaper, that lend context to the photo.
  • Try to capture emotions.

There are a lot of easier shots to compose. Some ideas were already listed in Tips for Scrapbooking your Pandemic Experience , but you can also

  • Take a still life of something that represents the change in your daily routines. For instance, one friend has posted a photo of the masks hanging on hooks along with the car keys. For someone else, the telephone may have taken on a much greater significance as the lone mechanism for connecting with older family members.
  • Photograph people who’ve helped you. If your friendly neighborhood FedEx or UPS driver has been a lifeline for you, see if they will pose for a quick shot. If neighbors have been delivering food, ask them to take a selfie with the food and email it to you.
  • You can also take a photo of a family member with a sign expressing gratitude or solidarity.

Your Turn:

How have you tried to capture your family’s witness to history, during this pandemic or during other historical events? Did photography play a role? What types of moments or compositions did you photograph?

Photographer Heather Kazmierczak

© Heather Kazmierczak, used with permission

Heather Kazmierczak is the owner of Captured by Kaz Photography. You can follow her on Instagram at CapturedbyKaz1.

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