Artists responded to U.S. 1’s invitation to share visual thoughts, feelings, and discoveries during our current health crisis.

This week Pennington-based photographer Joanna Popinska says that photography was “a remedy for COVID fears” and notes the following:

Like so many, COVID added an unprecedented amount of stress on my day-to-day life. Worrying that my chronic illnesses might be the difference between life and death would be paralyzing at times. This heightened sense of fear made me restless, easily distracted, and perpetually uncertain — what is sometimes aptly referred to in Buddhist philosophy as “monkey mind.” I distracted myself by catching up on some reading and cleaning (and re-cleaning and re-cleaning) the house, but nothing tamed the fear and uncertainty — nothing except photography.

Photography brings me to a sloth’s pace, which is exactly what I (and maybe all of us) need right now. Going slow means taking everything in: the sights, the smells, even the sounds. It means disconnecting from any expectations of my destination, and instead fully embracing and concerning myself with the immediate moment.

Prior to the pandemic, the scarcity of people enjoying the outdoors would always make me a little blue. Now that the parks are reopened, I’m overjoyed to see more couples and families and even shutterbugs like myself passing through the uncertainty by spending time in nature. Admittedly, some might be visiting the park out of sheer boredom and desperation to break the monotony, but I like to think that whether they know it or not, people are drawn to the outdoors because of how reassuring the environment is.

Nature has the extraordinary and exclusive ability to make the most bizarre and spectacular seem normal. Whenever I work with flowers or little critters that are infinitely diverse in color and shape and size, I get an uplifting feeling that tells me nature isn’t working against us, it’s working with us, and as long as we respect it, we will be ok. Whenever I can, I try to spread this simple idea through my work by emphasizing all the joy to be found in nature, whether it means sharing a shot of a dazzling flower or a colorfully winged bug fluttering about its business.

Sometimes I’ll receive an email or comment about how one of my works uplifted someone and gave them, for a brief moment, a respite from the fear. As a wordless advocate for nature, this is a big win in my book, and this is how we beat the uncertainties of the virus — not with fearing for and obsessing over the worst, but by respectfully and carefully searching for the best.

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