Of N95 Masks and Condoms

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I sometimes cannot help but to feel I am living in some poorly-written situational comedy, more so now than usual.  On the day of this writing, April 29, 2020, Chicago and the State of Illinois are in the 39th day of shelter-in-place.  The word “quarantine” certainly has a better ring than “shelter-in-place,” but to call this a quarantine is quite inaccurate.  I can still leave my flat and go outside for a walk in my neighborhood, which would not be possible under a literal quarantine, and I do not have an Italian mayor threatening to use a flamethrower if I do not return to my abode.  (This actually happened in Italy, look it up!) 

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In the words of fellow 80 Proof Photos artist Annamaria regarding this frame, “the collection of important things.”

If I am honest, I have been suffering from bouts of regret and remorse for not being more aggressive at documenting the COVID-19 pandemic.  I am no where near the frontlines of this historic event; my lenses have not seen any hospitals, testing sites, food distribution centers, protests, counter-protests . . . none of it.  I can imagine this is what Tim Page felt while watching the Tet Offensive happening on television instead of being there in the middle of Saigon of Huế with his Nikons (again, look it up). 

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The remains of a disposable Kodak camera.  One sympathises.

The reason why I am not there at the frontlines, photographing a masked nurse standing in front of a right-wing protester’s truck as though it was “Tank Man” at Tiananmen Square all over again, is this: if it were only my own self and body that I am putting in danger, I would be definitely be there with my Leica.  But that is not the case.  This is a contagious and potentially debilitating respiratory infection that has killed over two-hundred thousand people around the world at the time of this writing.  I cannot in good conscious become a vector and spread it to my sister who is also my flatmate, or to anyone else less than two meters of me. 

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My sister watching Easter Mass, live broadcast from Holy Name Cathedral.

And so, I am relegated to documenting the pandemic in my neighborhood of Hyde Park and at a physical distance of which I am not accustomed. 

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Hyde Park usually has a contradictory surrealness to it, which is one of several reasons why I refuse to leave nine years living here now.  It is an incredibly diverse neighborhood in many respects, but a rather unified one in an esoteric sense.  It is a hustling and busy neighborhood, but it can also be a calm and quiet one.  It is usually a clean and beautiful neighborhood, but at times, and especially recently with the pandemic, it is riddled with enough litter to make the Native American in that 1970s anti-pollution public service announcement cry.  (Said Native American, “Iron Eyes Cody,” was actually played by an Italian-American born Espera Oscar de Corti in Louisiana who insisted his actual Sicilian father was Cherokee–again, look it up!)

I think what amazes me most is the resilience of Hyde Parkers–and Chicagoans on a whole–to carry on with life in spite of having to queue up for normally already overpriced groceries. 

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On the other hand, whenever I see masks and latex gloves strewn across the side walks, it makes me think of something Henri Cartier-Bresson has said: “I love life, I love humans beings, I hate people also.”  (Cue crying Italian-American.)

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But whenever I see a condom wrapper or a used condom itself around the parks ( at multiple and different locations), my reaction is not of disgust but rather sheer and uncontrollable laughter.  I will not even attempt to fathom the mechanic of how do two human beings at a public park engage in a tryst while social distancing and keeping two meters apart.  At least they are practicing safe sex?  Though, I have not seen any discarded masks next to said discarded condoms.  Oh well, as long as they inject themselves with Lysol, it should be all grand.

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Photographs shot on Kodak Etkar 100 and Tri-X 400 film, developed by the always awesome Ana Malek (Instagram @anashootsfilm) who has set up a film-developing service from her home during shelter-in-place.

© Khoa Dao, K. Dao Photography, 80 Proof Photos



Author: Khoa A. Dao

Renaissance man with the temperament of a beagle; easily bored, needing to be active and explore, prone to picking fights with the Red Baron.

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