As an inherently social person who thrives on conversation and company, it didn’t take long for the COVID-19 quarantine to start to take its toll on me. I went through the activities that I think many others did in the beginning, but panic baking, depression running and rage cleaning only got me so far. The battery of feelings related to all of the unknowns of the virus was overwhelming at times and I needed a distraction. Inspired by the slew of incredible photographers making impactful, timely quarantine-related images, I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t make the best of the state of things and create something too. The CDC’s social distancing guideline of maintaining a distance of six feet between each other seemed like it could be an interesting jumping-off point for a portrait series, so I set some parameters for myself: a 50mm lens, which most closely replicates the way the human eye sees; a single light on a boom arm to give the photos a cohesive look and to ensure no contact; a six-foot stick to maintain distance and compositional consistency; and, of course, a mask.

I worked on the process and look of the photos while photographing the people in my home - my wife, son, and mother-in-law - and then, nervously, began asking friends if they’d be comfortable participating. I was surprised to get almost all yeses. Alan was the first person outside of my home that I photographed. As I was shooting, I slowly started to realize that the process of making the photos was just as, if not more, important to me than the photos themselves. I was able to have a focused, in-person, one-on-one conversation with a friend at a time when we normally wouldn’t be able to. As the project grew and I made more portraits and collected more conversations, I started feeling better about things in general. The looming topic at hand was always where our conversations started, but we almost always inevitably transitioned into more meaningful and personal topics. I began to feel more comfortable with sharing my feelings and trusting my friends with them. They seemed more willing to do the same. The conversations I have been having feel safe and familiar, yet stronger and more precious.

There’s something about this pandemic and quarantine that is bringing us together. I’ve been talking with people online that I haven’t talked to in years. People are being more vulnerable and honest about how they’re being affected. Folks are reaching out to one another in a very genuine way to make sure they’re okay. Societally, we are more united now than at any other time than I can remember. Humanity is flowing freely. I (perhaps naively, and quite against my nature) have begun to feel genuine optimism for how things will turn out and that we may actually learn a lesson in how we should prioritize the ways in which we care for each other. We are (re)learning just how much we need each other.

About the photographer:

Justin Hadley is a Marietta resident and one-half of the team at HADLEY(s) Photography (the other half is composed of his wife, Rickelle Hadley). Their studio is located on the Marietta Square at Winters Street Studio. The Hadleys have captured many of Cobb Life’s cover features, including the Santa Claus on the cover of the December 2019 issue, the 20 Under 40 winners on the cover of the January issue, and many other award-winning cover shots and photos. They also specialize in headshots, conceptual/narrative portraiture and theatrical production photography.

These photos and more will also be displayed on the Fence Art Gallery on the M2R Trail through the Marietta Square, which premiered during TrailFest on May 9 and will remain until July 9. The gallery will then travel throughout the county over the course of the next year.

For more information on Justin and "Six feet, from friends," check out the podcast he did with Cobb Life Editor Katy Ruth Camp under the Marietta Daily Journal podcast here: https://mariettadailyjournalpodcast.libsyn.com/can-the-marietta-farmers-market-survive or look for the episode "Can the Marietta Farmer's Market Survive?" under the MDJ Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

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