Photographer Stephen DiRado was preparing for a March 19 book signing for his book “With Dad” at the Davis Art Gallery, whose host Davis Publishing in Worcester, Massachusetts, had just released his collection of images compiled over 20 plus years documenting his late father, Gene, going through the painful stages of Alzheimer’s, when Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker instituted an order limiting large gatherings. Once the governor ordered all nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations and issued his first stay-at-home advisory, DiRado, known for spending extended periods of time on his photographic series, including “Jump,” which documented divers leaping from the American Legion Memorial Bridge on Martha’s Vineyard made famous in the movie “Jaws.” A 2012 Guggenheim Fellow, DiRado is a professor in practice of photography at Clark University’s Visual and Performing Arts Department. Artscope’s managing editor, Brian Goslow, caught up with DiRado as he was in the early stages of shooting, “During Virus Times,” which he hopes will be amongst his shorter projects.
BRIAN GOSLOW: YOU WERE PREPARING FOR THE MARCH 19 BOOK SIGNING OF “WITH DAD” AT THE DAVIS ART GALLERY AND MUST HAVE BEEN PREPARING EMOTIONALLY FOR THIS EVENT AND SUBSEQUENT PROMOTIONAL ACTIVITIES; ARTISTICALLY AND PERSONALLY, WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR THAT TO COME TO A SUDDEN STOP?
STEPHEN DIRADO: “With Dad,” a deeply personal photographic journal illustrating my father succumbing to Alzheimer’s, did come to a sudden and abandoned stop. This was just days before its grand public debut. It took 20 years of preparation, along with an incredible support group for everything to fall into place to make for a book I am very proud to share. The second the COVID-19 virus shut the world down, I didn’t even consider the heightened attention towards the book. Without hesitation, saving a life matters far more to me. The book will have its day down the road, without a doubt.
BRIAN GOSLOW: WHEN AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR “DURING VIRUS TIMES” SERIES AND WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL GOAL IN DOING IT?
STEPHEN DIRADO: Thoroughly familiar with taking on long-term projects as a documentary and portrait photographer that investigates intimate varied social settings, there was hardly any transition starting in on this project. Since January, COVID- 19 was on my mind and its possible impact in our community. On March 12, when my university shut down, I documented the last class in session. I told the students they were the first of many photographs to come under a (working) title, “During Virus Time.” Giving a name to new project creates a framework to wrap my head around its purpose. Everything from this moment forward, I will be scrutinizing it from a whole new perspective.