For the Record – The power of photography during a global crisis

Nicole Priebe / April 14, 2020

Ben Nelms- Photojournalists are constantly wiping down equipment before and after shoots during the COVID-19 crisis.
(Ben Nelms)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but when you can’t actually capture an image of the one thing everyone is talking about- creativity must prevail.

Ben Nelms is a photojournalist with CBC and has taken shots for top news stories across the country. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, it has been the focus of every news platform across the globe. The virus, only visible through a high-powered microscope is a hard shot for photojournalists to get, so they have to find other ways to make it visual.

Initially, common images photographed during this time were of those who were affected directly- whether that be frontline workers (nurses, first responders, etc.) or patients who contracted the deadly virus.

Since then, what is being photographed more is the effect the pandemic is having on communities across the world. Streets and outdoor spaces that were once highly populated now sit quiet and empty, and to many people’s surprise- pollution is clearing out of the water and sky.

“There really are so many more things we’re seeing now as a result of this virus. The bad- such as refrigerated trucks full of bodies in New York, faces of defeat and exhaustion in hospitals. But there also are images surfacing of hope, and I think those are the ones we need to keep us going through this tough time.” – Ben Nelms, Photojournalist CBC

There has been a significant spike in news consumption since the start of the outbreak and what resonates most with the audience are the images that news sources put out.

“Someone will remember the photo of a nurse with bruising on her face from her mask after working multiple overtime shifts before they remember a few sentences that the health minister said. Both are just as important, but it’s the images that stay in people’s mind and make them think.” – Ben Nelms, Photojournalist CBC

Nelms continued on by explaining how the focus of the whole story (the virus itself) has little value to the eye, whereas the photos taken of the impact it has had- tell the real story.

“If you think of some of the biggest news stories and the images that came with them, majority of the time those images are of exactly that event. With the virus however, photojournalists have to get creative and find ways to make it seen without really showing it.” – Ben Nelms, Photojournalist CBC

During this time, the average day for Nelms and other photojournalists hasn’t changed much. Most of their work is done either out in the field or at home and they never come into contact with other people. Nelms believes that if anything, his job is more important now than ever.

Common images that photojournalists are capturing to represent the virus.
(Nicole Priebe/ Canva)

Listen below to the full ‘For the Record’ interview with Ben Nelms