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‘Stories from Six Feet’ documents search for connection in isolation

The photo series encourages Chicagoans to maintain the CDC’s recommendation for social distancing without sacrificing human connection.

Helena Kim and her fiance, David Romano, on the balcony of their West Loop apartment.
Helena Kim and her fiance, David Romano, on the balcony of their West Loop apartment.
Angela Conners Treimer

It’s Angela Conners Treimer’s job to take photos of the most beautiful places on Earth.

As a commercial resort photographer, she travels over 100,000 miles each year, capturing luxurious images in places like Cabo and the Maldives.

So when the coronavirus started to spread and travel bans went into effect, Treimer was furloughed — for three months at least, and maybe longer.

“For the first time in three years, I wasn’t living on an airplane, you know? Whenever we were advised by the CDC to not travel, my world kind of flipped upside down,” she said. “I just started brainstorming: What am I going to do for the next three months? This is the first time in my life that I haven’t had a 9 to 5.”

Searching for normalcy and human connection, she decided to look for beauty elsewhere.

That’s how her project, “Stories from Six Feet,” came to be.

“Stories from Six Feet” is a photo series that documents the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Chicago through the eyes of its residents in isolation. The project lives on Instagram under the handle @StoriesFromSixFeet.

Treimer has captured photos of over 100 individuals, couples and families all over the city. Each image is captioned with the subjects’ names, neighborhood and a paragraph about how they’re holding up.

Angela Conners Treimer poses with her husband, Ben, on their front steps.
Angela Conners Treimer poses with her husband, Ben, on their front steps in Lake View.
Angela Conners Treimer

Treimer said she hopes the photo series will encourage people to maintain the CDC’s recommendation for social distancing without sacrificing connection with other people.

Helena Kim and her partner live in a loft apartment on the top floor of a building in West Loop. When they agreed to have their photos taken by Treimer, they weren’t sure how she’d manage it without coming inside. To their surprise, Treimer showed up with a drone.

“She was just down there with her drone and her remote control and her car, and we were just kind of shouting back and forth, like, ‘Hey!’” Kim said. “I know some of my other neighbors kind of came out just to check what was going on.”

Treimer has taken photos of people in all different kinds of quarantine situations, from studios to high-rise buildings to single-family homes.

Sameka Gates, a seventh grade teacher and mom of two, was introduced to Treimer’s work by a friend at church. When she got her pictures back, she started crying.

“Even though right now everything is uncertain and we’re in a space where there’s a lot of hurt and pain, there is some time where people are just happy,” she said.

Sameka Gates and her kids, Kylee, 11, and Ethan, 5, sit on their front steps in Hermosa.
Sameka Gates and her kids, Kylee, 11, and Ethan, 5, sit on their front steps in Hermosa.
Angela Conners Treimer

Quarantining together isn’t always easy. In addition to teaching her seventh grade students, Gates is homeschooling her kids due to school closures — forcing her to learn what they need to learn, too.

“I’m up early in the morning and go to bed really late; it’s busy, busy, busy,” she said.

Gates isn’t the only person who has opened up to Treimer about the struggles of keeping it together while stuck at home. Many of her subjects have shared their struggles with mental health amid the isolation.

“It’s kind of amazing just to see how open and vulnerable people are being with a complete stranger,” Treimer said.

David Yanong Beltran and Diana Bowden peer out their window in Logan Square.
David Yanong Beltran and Diana Bowden peer out their window in Logan Square.
Angela Conners Treimer

The stories shared in tandem with each photo are central to the project’s mission.

“When you put a photo and a story together, it feels very personal,” Kim said. “It feels very much like, ‘Wow, this could have happened to my neighbor, or this could be anyone.’ It gives emotion to the photos and just kind of ties it all together to paint the bigger picture of what’s really happening.”

Treimer said she hopes to document the stories of at least one person in every neighborhood in Chicago before Gov. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

Gigi, Jarrett, Jeanne and Elijah Stevens on their trampoline in their West Loop backyard.
Gigi, Jarrett, Jeanne and Elijah Stevens on their trampoline in their West Loop backyard.
Angela Conners Treimer

Some day, those photos and captions may be used to help tell the city’s story of surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. Treimer hopes the story’s message is clear.

“I want people to know that at one point in their lives, we were all unified by this,” Treimer said. “We were all together in something, and we all knew, together, that we were going to get through it.”