As the novel coronavirus came to North Carolina, a photographer captured scenes around the Triangle.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Bob Karp
“I just have this compulsion to shoot,” says photographer Bob Karp. “I need to go out and see what’s out there, to be a witness to things other people can’t see.” It’s that compulsion that led him to downtown Raleigh and Durham in the days after Governor Roy Cooper issued the stay-at-home order. “I just wanted to see what was out there, to see how people would express themselves, to see who was coming to work,” says Karp. “I wanted to see the difference between yesterday and today.” On his way in from Cary, where he lives with his family, he found his first sure sign of change: the GPS estimated a 15-minute trip, instead of 30 minutes. Downtown, parking was easy and free, and he set to walking.
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First, Karp camped outside the Raleigh Times, hoping to get a nice shot of the line outside the coffee shop (see page 64). Instead, a big truck parked right in front. “I was angry because I wanted to get a particular picture… but then I saw the delivery guy with the mask on,” he says. “It wasn’t early in the outbreak, but it was the first person
I saw wearing a mask.” Karp ended up talking with the man, Donnie Ellis of Wilson, NC, for a while. “It’s funny how people get very chatty when they’re home alone—sometimes people don’t want to engage—but in a situation like this, everyone wants to know the same things: What have you seen? What else is out there? How are things on the other side of town?” Karp says. “People want reassurance that everything is still there.”
Karp shot these photographs over two weeks, sometimes camping out for hours waiting for someone to walk by once he found the perfect location. Sometimes he’d pull over on the side of the road if a detail caught his eye. “If I have the opportunity to get these photos out there so I can move people, or educate them in some way—I feel like that is my purpose,” says Karp. “I think about things in future terms: today, this might be a good photo. But 100 years from now, it will be a great photo, because it will tell the story of history.”