In many parts of the U.S. the reality of social distancing policies have only been in place for about a month. Yet during that time and the few weeks that preceded it, photographers have already churned through a number of phases to document and depict the outbreak.
In a sense, these phases represent visual tropes – a way of immediately understanding that the photo is illustrative of the pandemic. And in its laziest form, these tropes are, in the words of Fred Ritchin, mere “signifiers.” The utilization of a “signifier” elucidates very little about a story. At its best, photos of the pandemic give us context and pull us in emotionally in a way that words can’t. Joshua Bickel’s “zombie” protestor photo is a perfect example of this phenomenon.