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Renowned photographer launches Covid-19 project

August 27, 2020
George Pimentel, Image Arts ’92, on the red carpet at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival in 2015.

George Pimentel, Image Arts ’92, on the red carpet at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival in 2015.

Earlier this year, when it became clear the Coronavirus pandemic was shaping up to be more serious than anyone could have expected, renowned photographer and Ryerson graduate George Pimentel, Image Arts ’92, found himself looking into the past and planning for the future.

Ordinarily, the celebrity photographer would be preparing to head off to the Met Gala in New York City and the Cannes Film Festival, but instead, he found himself digging through old photos online to see what life looked like for people during a previous pandemic. 

“I started researching the Spanish Flu by Googling photos and I was just blown away by how shocking it was,” he said. “Someone had a sign on their chest saying wear a mask or go to jail. That was their norm.”

Seeing these photos inspired him to start documenting his own experience during the pandemic. One day in April, Pimentel went to visit his 86-year-old father, who had been quarantining inside his home. He recalls calling him as he pulled up in front of the house and asking his father to step outside for some fresh air.

“He came out with his little mask, and I hadn't seen him for three weeks, and he saw me and he put his hand on the glass,” Pimentel said. “It was sad because I couldn't hug him, but our hands touched the window.”

Pimentel managed to capture this moment on camera and posted the photograph on his Instagram, external link, opens in new window account. Shortly after, Canada Covid Portrait, external link, opens in new window was born.

Canada Covid Portrait features photographs taken by Canadians across the country that reveal how the measures taken to contain the virus have made life different. The photos are published on the Canada Covid Portrait Instagram page, external link, opens in new window. The goal is to create an archive that  captures this moment in time for future generations.

Eventually, Pimentel and his collaborators hope to include select photos in a coffee table book and an exhibition.

Couple takes a stroll in the rain wearing their masks in High Park in Toronto. Photo: George Pimentel, Image Arts ’92

Couple takes a stroll in the rain wearing their masks in High Park in Toronto.

Pimentel says he is enjoying hitting the streets taking photographs for this project because it reminds him of his time on campus.

“I’m going back to my roots, where I feel like I'm at Ryerson again, “ he said. “I'm photographing the streets like I'm 18 years old again, and I’m doing it my way with full control and I haven't had that in a long time.”

Although Pimentel is looking forward to getting back to the glitz and glam of entertainment photography, he described Canada Covid Portrait as the most important project of his career.

“I want my photos and everyone else’s photos to reflect this abnormal time,” he said of the project. “It’s so important that we have photos for our archive that we can look back on one day, to show this moment of history.”

Lambton-Kingsway Jr. Middle School, Class of 2020. Photo George Pimentel.

Lambton-Kingsway Jr. Middle School, Class of 2020. Photo George Pimentel.

Father Fernando at St. Mary’s Church prepares the social distance seating using caution tape. Photo George Pimentel.

Father Fernando at St. Mary’s Church prepares the social distance seating using caution tape. Photo George Pimentel.

Man wears NBA mask in Kensington Market in Toronto. Photo George Pimentel.

Man wears NBA mask in Kensington Market in Toronto. Photo George Pimentel.

People protest for Black Lives Matter in Dundas Square in Toronto. Photo George Pimentel.

People protest for Black Lives Matter in Dundas Square in Toronto. Photo George Pimentel.

If you’re interested in sharing photos for this project, you can email your photo to submissions@canadacovidportrait.ca or use the hashtag #CanadaCovidPortrait on Instagram.