N.Y. Photo Curator: Global Photography Awards- 'Where Photography & Philanthropy Meet' FIRST PLACE: Eric Cousineau - FRANCISCO MEAT DEPARTMENT ASSOCIATE, EL PAISANO SUPERMARKET, SANTA FE, NM 2020
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Curator Anne Kelly's review:
"Many of us spent at least the first few months of the pandemic at home  — perhaps only emerging to buy groceries. Meanwhile, others continued to leave the safety of their home daily to work in businesses that were deemed essential.  

Eric Cousineau is a photographer and an essential worker.  In this ongoing project, Eric is making atmospheric black & white portraits of other essential workers, from grocery stores to hospitals.   The photograph that I selected for 1st place is a portrait of Francisco, a meat department associate at a small local Latin American grocery store in Santa Fe, NM.

This ongoing project is a collaboration with Center" 

Anne Kelly asks, "This is not your first series of black and white portraits. What did you learn when shooting past portrait based projects that may have helped inform "essential workers"?"
Eric says, "The first black and white portrait series I did was for my senior thesis which I photographed over the course of about eight months. I would take an 8x10" camera and white backdrop to a local soup kitchen and set up next to the entrance during lunch time. I'd start asking people if I could take their portrait, and the first few times I was set up no one would step in front of the camera. I would just keep coming back and I started to talk to people more, and they would start asking questions about my camera that they had never seen before and slowly I was able to get people to stand in front of the camera.

They would ask me what I wanted them to do, and at that time I really didn't have much experience taking portraits other than of people I already knew. I ended up telling them to pretend that their photo was going on the cover of Time magazine and pose how they would want the world to see them. I would let them figure it out, and when they told me they were ready I would take the photo. 

That was the last time I took black and white portraits until the summer of 2019. At that time I wasn't in a great spot mentally, I was becoming more introverted than I was already, and I was isolating and just feeling really alone. So I decided to force myself to start taking portraits of coworkers, friends, and people I only knew from facebook. I just went through my friends list and if they lived in the Santa Fe area and wanted their portrait taken we'd set up a date and time.

I'd bring my camera and strobe over to their house, set up and photograph. There were some days I did 6-8 different portrait sessions, I did about 100 portrait sessions in a six month period. 

So yes these two other series definitely helped me with the Essential Worker series, especially the latter. That portrait series more or less helped me get out of my shell, because I'm an extremely shy person. I love taking portraits, but I have a difficult time talking to random people.

I can't take full credit for the idea of the Essential Worker project, but because of the second portrait project I was approached by Center, based in Santa Fe, NM to see if I was interested in being commissioned to photograph this idea they had honoring frontline workers.

Without hesitation I said yes, and the project has evolved from there."

Anne asks, "You are an “essential worker” - do you view any of these images as self portraits?  If so why or why not."
Eric says, "That's a good question that I have never thought about. Being an essential worker myself I feel more connected with the people I'm photographing no matter what their profession. Once I tell them I work at Trader Joe's I feel there is an unsaid bond between myself and the person I'm photographing.

We are both grateful to still have a job, but we both know what it's like to deal with customers that don't want to follow the mandates put in place. What it feels like to wish you could stay home and not worry on a daily basis you might get a virus that you don't know how it's going to affect you. So yes, now that I think about it, I do see a little myself in them, in the moment I'm taking the photograph."

Anne asks, "What limitations did you face when making this work?  

Eric says, "Time is the biggest limitation. I'm a single dad with two kids at home doing remote learning, and I work full time. So the spare time I have to work on this project is very limited.

Because of my limited time to photograph, I find locally owned businesses easier to get permission to photograph in, corporate owned businesses are a little bit harder. Sometimes the store manager will give me the go ahead, but most of the time they tell me they'll have to call corporate to see what they say, I hand them my business card and never hear from them again. In the beginning I used to follow up to see if I could come photograph, one business in particular, corporate gave me permission but left it up to the store manager for the final say. The manager did say yes, but everytime I contacted her she would say she would get back to me about a date and time I could come photograph. She never got back to me, I got tired of following up so I moved on. Getting permission to photograph in Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center took a long time, it was about five months before they said it was okay for me to enter the hospital to photograph. 

Recently I have decided to take a bunch of time off of work, (and when I don't have my kids) to work on this project for the next two months. I plan on going to as many small towns and villages to photograph essential workers and see how people in very rural areas in New Mexico are making it through this pandemic."

More about Eric Cousineau:
Cousineau says, "As COVID-19 restrictions pushed many of our daily routines into remote work from home, or worse into unemployment, some workers were deemed “essential.” Among them, healthcare professionals, grocery store and postal service workers, and many other essential personnel remained out in the world while the rest of us shelter in place. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, essential workers include those whose jobs are critical to maintaining the infrastructure of the country.

These essential people are still out in the world, putting themselves at risk of contracting the coronavirus for the sake of social stability. Strangely enough, the majority of those deemed essential are also representative of low-income positions that rarely offer health benefits despite the increased risks of working in public spaces in the age of COVID-19."

Eric Cousineau, a photographer, and essential worker employed by Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe, NM, found himself among the at-risk community of workers keeping our food supply functional. CENTER approached Cousineau in March about collaborating on a photo-project documenting and honoring the essential workforce he is part of. CENTER’s Curator of Public Engagement, Matthew Contos, provided project guidance and support, working towards creating a portrait exhibition in town.

Cousineau pressed on making images of his postman, mechanic, gas station clerks, teachers, friends, and anyone he encountered who agreed to pose for a portrait. Over the last several months Cousineau built a body of work and eventually gained access to the COVID-19 unit in Saint Vincent Hospital, in Santa Fe, NM.

Next up, Cousineau will be documenting the health workers. We are honored to share his collection of essential worker portraits to recognize those who are risking exposure to keep our groceries stocked, our internet running, our packages delivered, and our health clinics open.
To all the essential workers, we see you. Thank you for what you do. We need you and we are grateful.

Eric Cousineau is a commercial and contemporary photographer. He holds a degree in photography from Oakland Community College and received a BFA from the College of Santa Fe in 2003. Cousineau studied with documentary and art photographers David Scheinbaum, Steve Fitch, Nancy Sutor, and Tony O’Brien while earning his BFA. He was born in Iowa City, raised in Flushing Michigan, and currently resides in Santa Fe, NM.

Career highlights
Essential worker, Center, Santa Fe, NM 2020
8 of the most powerful photo stories of this week, Buzzfeed, August 29, 2020
IMAGES FOR SALE (Contact artist directly for sales)
Francisco Meat department associate El Paisano supermarket 
Santa Fe, NM 
22X17" Archival paper
$1500 unframed
Limited edition of 20
signed on back

Gabriel President Auto Angel's Santa Fe, NM 
22X17" Archival paper
$1500 unframed
Limited edition of 20
signed on back

Kim and Carla Closet volunteer's Pete's place (shelter) 
Santa Fe, NM 
22X17" Archival paper
$1500 unframed
Limited edition of 20
signed on back
Contact: Eric Cousineau
Instagram 505-795-8158