From businesses to hospitals to schools to families, COVID-19 has forced people into a season of great change and uncertainty, causing people to adapt to new circumstances in the age of social distancing. For many, this has been a cause for reflection and doing their part to stay alert and distance themselves in public. For others, like NYFA Documentary alum John Saponara, this has been a time of giving back to the community and utilizing creativity to bring awareness and hope to others.
John Saponara grew up in Yonkers, New York, a suburb just outside of New York City and recalls, “from as young as I can remember I wanted to be a photographer.” His photos have since appeared on book covers both nationally and internationally, including the New York Times bestseller Eat Pray Love. He also founded the crowd-sourced project, Picture Black Friday, and his commercial clients include: Sony, Intel, HP, Oprah, and New York Magazine, just to name a few.
A volunteer packing face shields in Bednark Studio (Photo courtesy of John Saponara)
Saponara has been working at Bednark Studio and volunteering his time with other organizations, while also documenting workers and volunteers who continue to make the community safer by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional supplies for individuals and families in the age of COVID-19.
Bednark Studio, a full service fabrication company in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has been Saponara’s source of inspiration for documenting what is happening behind the scenes. “It’s there [Bednark Studio] that my portrait project formed,” he says. The portrait series follows the workers and volunteers who are working day and night to create PPE like face shields for medical workers or dividers for Uber/Lyft drivers.
Portrait of a volunteer in Bednark Studio (Photo courtesy of John Saponara)
“In the portraits, I’m there as a worker, so I do them when I can in my breaks or in a spare moment,” says Saponara. “In both cases, I don’t want to interfere; just be the proverbial fly on the wall.” The photographs are symbols of those who are working behind the scenes in NYC and all over the world, who are actively volunteering their time or working additional hours to provide PPE equipment or additional, essential supplies for others.
Masks for Docs volunteer headed to deliver PPE (Photo courtesy of John Saponara)
Another group Saponara has been volunteering with has been Masks for Docs, formed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “They connect PPE with doctors and medical staff that need it,” he explains. “Motorcyclists help get where it [the supplies] needs to go.” The grassroots organization is composed of volunteers from the tech, business, arts, and members of non-profit communities, who have banded together to make a difference for healthcare workers not only in New York City, but all over the world.
A volunteer for Brooklyn Mutual Aid buying supplies (Photo courtesy of John Saponara)
Saponara also mentions Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, who help “get food on the table of the neediest families in Brooklyn.” In just one weekend alone, Saponara mentions that he and other volunteers were able to feed 200 people in need. “We collect donations of food and money and use those collections to buy groceries that we then deliver to families.”
Saponara says the groups that he has been able to work with and document are “a combination of the private sectors innovation and the power of people and community to get things done to bring about change effectively and efficiently.”
New York FIlm Academy thanks alum John Saponara for his service to the community and for sharing his portrait series, and encourages anyone who is interested in learning more about each organization to click the links above for more information on how to get involved.
To view more images from Saponara’s portrait series and his other works, click here.