With residents across the region staying at home in compliance with recommendations to self-quarantine, feelings of boredom and loneliness have spread across the tri-state as fast as any virus. In response to a growing sense of disconnectedness, one Northern Kentucky University student is using photography to bring people together.
Adil Akhtar spent his time in isolation developing a photo project dubbed “Staying Safe,” which features a series of portraits showcasing Cincinnatians’ everyday quarantine experiences. The 21-year-old Newport native captured his subjects through their windows, under their doorways, on their front porches, and in their backyards, all while following social distancing guidelines.
The project is a personal extension of Akhtar’s career as an aspiring photojournalist, which he is working toward as a fifth-year student in NKU’s studio arts program. His love of photography started in high school, during which he says he used a basic point-and-shoot camera to document dirt bike races. After more formal training, he began shooting on film and taking portraits of friends skateboarding. “I didn’t have a skateboard at the time, so my contribution was bringing a camera,” he says. “Ever since then, I’ve gotten more and more into it.”
Like most other college students, Akhtar’s education has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. He says he was devastated when schools began to close in mid-March because it meant he would no longer be able to participate in hands-on studio courses. The silver lining was that the flexibility of at-home schooling allowed him more time to launch his “Staying Safe” project. “I realized this was the perfect opportunity to make my mark,” he says.
To find subjects for his project, Akhtar used social media to seek out volunteers that would give consent to being photographed at home. He ended up with a diverse group of participants from across the Cincinnati area, including many living in Northern Kentucky and NKU’s dorms. “The majority of photos I took involved the person saying, Hey, you’re the first person I’ve seen since all of this, almost like we were hanging out.”
Ultimately, Akhtar feels that his project succeeds in illustrating the idea of togetherness. “I wanted to get across that we’re in this together,” he says. “The whole point of my portraits was correlating people’s houses and their personalities with what someone is doing during COVID-19. There really wasn’t one scene that was made by me.”