What I’m Doing: Photographer Joshua Steadman

WALTER contributing photographer and videographer Joshua Steadman shares the ups and downs of sheltering in place.
by Joshua Steadman

Is it perverse to say that I’ve reveled in my time being homebound? 

That it’s brought my family and me closer is a fact. That we still fight about a lot of things is also a fact. However, “Are we watching Free Solo or The Aristocats tonight?” is a typical debate, so I am feeling alright about this.

And I can also see that staying at home has been hard for everyone else, a lot harder than it has been for me. For essential workers, like long-haul truck drivers, nurses, doctors, mail workers, warehouse workers, social workers, restaurant employees, pharmacists, bank employees, police officers, security staff, farm workers, utility workers, construction workers, fuel truck drivers, bus drivers and many others, it’s been way harder than it has been for my family.

For a lot of people this has been, as my dad puts it, the great Lost Summer. For myself, as another friend, Christopher Wilson, puts it, it’s also been the Endless Summer—a bit more ambivalent, and with a bit less gleam. Regardless, this is what I’ve been doing.

Click to expand and view slideshow.

There are quite a few stages to this homebound time. They’re vocalized by myself, or by my wife, or by my kids. Here are a few I plucked from foggy memories. (Everything’s a bit foggy these days.)

I’m bored with staying-in-place.

I don’t want to get out of bed. There’s no reason! I’m hungry. And bored.

I need a beer.

I need another.

I really like my new schedule!

I hate this schedule.

I’m going on a walk.

There are of course the more extreme stages, which are, thankfully, mostly non-verbal.

I’m hiding in the bathroom for a while.

And of course

I just ate an entire bag of those Clancy’s Jalapeño-flavored kettle chips in one sitting.

Our story begins (and it’s a collective story, an experience we’re all having and sharing) in mid-March. For me, it began in a very upbeat, almost innocent way. I’m a photographer and a director, with an office in downtown Raleigh. There were a few photoshoots to finish up in the studio that week, and then I packed my gear, and brought it home to set up my home office—a bevy of hard drives surrounding a laptop and a large monitor occupying the space of about half of the dining room table. All set up, I immediately began to organize. To schedule. To conquer my isolated existence. And I got so much done!

Any project I’d ever half-baked together could now be finished. (Or at least I thought it could.) The website? Redesigned and slimmed down, with proper titles and captions for every entry. Family photos? Lots taken, and lots put up in online galleries, to share with extended family in Georgia and Massachusetts.

I listened to podcasts as I mowed the lawn. I tuned in to Zoom webinars about the state of the photo and video industry. (Initially these consisted of a lot of collective head scratching.) We raked out the multiple-year leaf backlog in the backyard, and made multiple trips to the dump. Bird house assembled and hung. New houseplants potted and tomato plants seeded.

We even got plans for a vegetable garden started, which we never got to, since the family pivoted to another stage of Homebound about a month into our isolation. I call that stage Sh*t Gets Real.

But before our early spring idyll was over, in the middle of April, I contacted my buddy Jerry Oliver, a freelance editor and drone operator, and arranged a drone shoot. We’d both go and “check-in” with friends and families we hadn’t been able to see since the isolation began. I emailed friends about participating, until I’d filled up slots for a full day of shooting. I’d handle the details like scheduling times, and Jerry would, from a safe distance, fly his drone near yards and homes, getting footage of family activities. I ended my emails to all possible participants with a hopeful, “Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear back from you all soon!”

I found myself saying several times during that day, I didn’t care so much whether what we were getting was “good” footage as much as I just enjoyed seeing people I hadn’t seen in so long. And, for some of them, in a setting I’d never seen: their own neighborhoods. Thanks to Jerry, though, the footage was incredible anyway. You can see the video, Safe at Home; it’s a 2-minute romp through friends’ yards and driveways.

And then? A bit of a letdown. Not too much going on professionally. Sh*t got real. My wife and I both applied for unemployment. Neither one of us expected payroll protection to come through for our little company. At least, not anytime soon.

There was so much uncertainty. Should she apply for a job somewhere? Was anyone hiring? Did I need to try and sell some fine art prints, since two other large video shoots had been cancelled or postponed indefinitely? Should I try shooting some stock photography or video? What happens next?

Things somehow slowed down for me and my family even more. I didn’t think they could, but they did. Like, really slowed down. Days blended. Was it Wednesday night, and I needed to put the trash out at the curb for pickup tomorrow?

No, it’s Friday.

Is it the weekend already?

Does it matter?

Emails arrived and were answered, groceries arrived (how grateful we were for the Instacart employees!), and every day my parents arrived, taking one child at a time to their house to work on school assignments, or inviting us to dinner with them, or just walking the neighborhood with us.

I think that in the end my parents may be the thing that kept us sane and whole.

We couldn’t have gotten this far without them. What a pressure-relief valve it can be to send one or two of your kids to visit their grandparents at least once a day. I really appreciate them, and I know how special it is that my kids have grandparents in their lives.

And now that a few states are preparing to open up again, and we see protests at the Capitol building in Raleigh, I don’t know how to react. I know our family has been isolating for a reason. And so far, it seems to have worked. No one in our immediate family has gotten sick. But we haven’t gone hungry. We haven’t gone without. 

And now, back to my regular day, consisting of light reading (due to frequent, almost incessant interruptions), followed by breakfast, Google Classroom technology problem-solving, Zoom calls, podcast listening, more light reading (this time halted for good, by trying vainly to recall the formula for the volume of a cylinder, and realizing that my hero status has fallen quite a bit in my daughter’s eyes these past few months), and then lunch, chores, walking, dinner and bed.

By the way, here’s some suggested reading for those who are homebound currently. Yes, I’ve really read all these in the last couple of months.

The New Rules of Marriage by Terrence Real

The Ice at the End of the World by Jon Gertner, for a real wake-up call on the Greenland ice melt.

Fall: or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson, if you’re more into sci-fi.

P.S. Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you all soon. I love you all.

Photo by Jerry Oliver