Under any other circumstances, images of ordinary, domestic life like these might have given context for some other idea or issue. In a typical feature story, these photos might have set the scene in which some more central or unique experience would have played out.

Graisen (left) and Liam study online.

Snack break.

Liam bargains with his mom.

But when I took them last week, it was precisely the ordinary and the domestic that seemed to be the point—the thing to be featured, against a backdrop that is still, for many of us, more mental and emotional than it is physical (though that appears to be changing rapidly with every passing hour). 

I’m not sure what to make of that reversal yet. Looking at these images while in a dark and/or anxious state of mind—with the sense of an encroaching and invisible threat—feels surreal. What these photographs literally depict is normal, daily life, or at least the attempt to maintain one. But that normality also seems so eerily fragile, knowing and feeling what we already do.

Graisen focused.

Graisen squirreled in his blanket fort.

Play break.

Liam in his blanket fort.

On the other hand, normality, or the semblance of it, seems to be the only thing that we have to hold onto and ground ourselves with. Even as we charge headlong into history, our dependence on something that we can make into a routine and therefore predict keeps us from feeling like we’ve gone into a complete, directionless tailspin. The true state of affairs may actually be that we are unable to keep up, clueless about what’s coming. But we are committed to always having “new normals.”

Incidentally, it was to highlight one specific feature of the most recent “new normal” that I photographed the Wallace boys for: classes moving online, which I gather is happening from kindergarten to college. Did it feel more “new” or more “normal” to watch the boys’ teacher reading a picture book on the laptop screen while their mom prepared a plate of cheese and crackers on the freshly lysol-wiped countertop behind them? To be sure, a lot about that situation is new, and that’s probably why it ended up as my assignment in the first place. But I suspect what matters about it to the Wallaces, to the general public, and to me, is the normal.

Bay City, MI
March 2020

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