Creativity that Connects Us

Posted on April 30, 2020 by Dan Gilmartin

The stay-at-home order has made such a difference for so many staying healthy during the pandemic, but, if we’re being honest, it’s been hard. We’ve felt disconnected, and sometimes bored. We miss our friends, our families and our coworkers. We miss being part of a social fabric that is made strongest through our connections with people in our community.

Since the stay-at-home order in Michigan was announced, Linda Busen of Highland, MI missed feeling connected to her friends and family. Being a creative person, she landed on a way to fix it, so she pulled out her camera to help fill in what was missing.

Linda is an avid hobbyist photographer. Her father always had a camera in hand to capture holidays, birthdays, and other family moments and she credits him with inspiring her own interest in the craft. “I don’t remember ever not having a camera,” she says. She didn’t start sharing her photos with people other than her friends and family until about eight years ago. She now displays her craft on Instagram. Photography has also replaced her scrapbooking hobby over the years. Instead of these keepsakes of her children’s lives, the photos now stand on their own to mark moments big and small worth remembering.

Milford Portraits COVID PhotoIn these unprecedented times, Linda wanted to document the effect the COVID-19 pandemic was having on her community. “This is nothing like we have ever seen before and hopefully, will never see again,” she said.

Inspired by a photographer in Ontario, Canada taking photos of their neighbors & community, Linda began her photo-journalism project by taking photos of the empty parks and streets in the Milford and Highland area. “It really started with just driving around Highland and Milford to take photos of the empty streets, the gas station prices, and the emptiness that we see around us in the places where there is usually a lot of activity.”

Downtown Milford is a walkable community that is normally buzzing with people shopping at local businesses, kids exploring, and friends and families spending time together. Linda’s black-and-white photos of the empty walking paths and shuttered store fronts evoke a somewhat haunting and sober tone.

But Linda also wanted to see her family and document how they are doing during this time. Her parents and her brother live not too far from her in the Howell and Brighton area. She then got in touch with her parents and brother so she could see them, from a safe distance. She wanted to know that they were okay in the moment. “I needed to see their faces and know they were good.”

She documented the moments by taking portraits of them while they stood on their front porches and she remained in her car. Seeing her family made her feel more connected and reassured her that things will eventually be okay. That hope and reassurance was something she thought other friends and neighbors might need too.

After sharing her photos on Facebook, requests started coming in. More friends and friends of friends began asking Linda if she could come take photos of their families. What she found in this process was that people needed to feel connected to each other and seeing a recent photo of a friend or loved one helped a lot. “People needed to see each other now, not just a profile picture of them from a six months ago. People want to see their faces and see that they’re doing well now,” she remarked.

Linda ended up driving 230 miles and spent over 11 hours, visiting 12 cities, and photographing over 100 families.

She takes her photos in black and white, to not forget the somber time that the world is facing right now. It’s a serious time, full of worry, sickness, and fear. But, “people are still happy, and people are still well,” she said, “we have to look at the good things happening right now.”

Outside her hobby, Linda works at Starbucks and was a former guest teacher in the Huron Valley School District.  She hasn’t taught in almost two years now but loved every minute of it. In these uncertain times, Starbucks is providing some certainty by keeping its employees on the payroll until May 3 even while its stores are closed. Her husband, a police officer in Birmingham, MI, still has his job, and the department has been taking extra precautions to keep their officers safe. Two of her three kids, her high-school aged son and her daughter in college, are at home with her now. Her adult daughter lives on her own – Linda misses her deeply.

When asked about her community’s response in this crisis, she said she’s really heartened to see what people have done to help. Since schools have been shut down for the rest of the year, Huron Valley School District collected all the disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and N95 masks – three pallets full – that they had in their buildings and donated them to Huron Valley Hospital.

What is Linda Busen looking forward to most when this new “normal” of social distancing is over? “I want to drive-by and hug everyone that I can. I miss them. I want to have my whole family over for a barbeque.” Until then, she finds comfort in her own family photos – and in seeing that her portraits reassure so many others.

This is a time to reflect on what we care about most deeply in culture. Is it the food, the shared experiences, the music we love, or the parks we take our walks in? How can we use our imagination to preserve those special things and leverage our creativity and shared ambition to make them better? When this is all over, let’s build more and stronger versions of those things that we are missing so deeply right now, together.

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