Right now, we're relying on essential workers to keep the world running, from the nurses who care for COVID-19 patients to the supermarket cashiers who bag our groceries. These workers aren't always getting the recognition they deserve for doing their jobs under potentially life-threatening conditions. So Alex Stemplewski, a 30-year-old photographer based in San Fransisco, decided to give them that recognition by capturing their work on camera.
The photo series got its start in mid-April, after Stemplewski had been staying at home for about a month. He was itching for a new photo project to take on, then realized the perfect subjects were in plain sight.
"It struck me that I could highlight essential workers in a photography project," Stemplewski tells Health. "As soon as I thought of it, I got so excited that I went to the nearest drive-through with my camera to start shooting photos."
For that first photo session, Stemplewski went to a McDonald's drive-through and asked the worker if he would be OK having his photo taken. The cashier at the first window, as well as the woman who handed him his food at the second window, both happily agreed.
Stemplewski posted the photos on his Instagram page and his TikTok account the next day. In the first week, his TikTok post garnered four million views and hundreds of comments from people expressing their appreciation.
"McDonald's official Instagram account even sent me a direct message to thank me for displaying the bravery of their workers to the world," says Stemplewski.
Since then, Stemplewski has shot dozens of essential workers on the job. He brings his camera with him wherever he goes, and he looks for photo ops when he's making grocery store runs, picking up fast food, or on any other necessary errand.
While most of Stemplewski's subjects are workers he encounters during his day-to-day routine, he's turned to TikTok for inspiration on new subjects to highlight.
"I also ask my followers on TikTok which essential worker they would like to see honored next," he says. "Nurses were a popular request that I recently delivered on."
For his photoshoot with nurses, he switched up his style a bit by decorating their masks in glitter, hoping to lighten the tone of the photos and make them feel happier than the nurse photos show in the media these days.
To date, Stemplewski has captured dozens of essential workers in his series. He hopes the series will inspire everyone to remember the often unseen people who show up and do their jobs despite the threat of coronavirus.
"Many of the essential workers I have spoken to do not feel appreciated for their services and for putting themselves at risk to serve us," Stemplewski says. "I admire their bravery and how they put themselves at risk to help keep our world functioning. I feel that they are often neglected and not taken seriously, but what would we do without the workers that deliver our packages, prepare our foods, and supply us with groceries?"
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