Last fall, West Hartford photographer Ginny Kemp started documenting the efforts of frontline workers in the Hartford area.
Starting Sept. 23, those photos and the stories behind them will be on display at the Noah Webster House as part of a new exhibit.
Kemp developed the idea along with the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society. Using her connections throughout town, she started seeking people who have been working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her subjects include health professionals, teachers, grocery store workers, first responders and bus drivers.
“All of us right now are in awe of the people who stepped up and put their own health at risk to get us through this,” Kemp said. “For me, when the opportunity presented itself to honor these people, I was beyond excited. When something tragic happens...everyone wants a job and to feel like they are contributing in some way. The people who are featured here are all heroes. They inspired me.”
It was important for Kemp that the exhibit went beyond images and included the thoughts and emotions of each frontline worker she interviewed who felt comfortable sharing them.
“Certain themes kept coming up,” Kemp said. “All of them are super humble. They talked about how they were one of many who were either part of their firehouse or the ICU unit.”
For instance, she said, there’s a bus driver named George who works for CTtransit. The 40-year employee only called out once during the last year and a half. Kemp was able to spend an hour on his bus with him, talking and taking photos. It’s just one of many interactions that Kemp said “knocked her socks off.”
“Everything is so charged and polarized right now,” Kemp said. “When you actually meet someone and you realize they’re a human being...for me it was a great antidote for being overwhelmed when I’m exposed to bad news. It was another affirmation that there’s all these beautiful and strong human beings in the world. It was a reminder that you might come from a really different place but really most of us want the same things. We want a strong community and we want safety.”
To further that, the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society will be collecting testimonials and comments from guests who visit the exhibition. All that, Kemp said, is planned to go into the historical society’s archives to help better capture this moment in time.
All of this, Kemp said, stems from her childhood where she loved listening to stories of perserverence in her family. It starts with her great grandma, who after the death of her husband moved the family to Detroit for work.
“I’ve always been drawn to people’s stories,” Kemp said. “Even as a kid, I remember being interested in stories that people in our family would tell that had to do with perseverance. I drew strength from my great grandma even though I never met her. I was intrigued and wowed by her ability to step up and create a life for her family. Somehow it was reassuring. I’ve always been so drawn to people who somehow create something good out of something tragic.”
That attitude of perserverence is on display in her exhibit, Kemp said. And she hopes viewers of the exhibit experience something she was able to while doing the project, which is to gain a new perspective when evaluating and reflecting on the last year and a half.
“It was so healing for me in terms of being reminded that even though we are up against a lot in the world right now, there are so many helpers in the world right now,” Kemp said. “I was so reminded that there’s so much goodness. There are some true silver linings. There’s been tragedy and we need to honor that and what people have been through. But people have also been really strong and helpful with one another.”
The exhibit opens on Sept. 23 with a free opening reception at the Noah Webster House from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibit will remain up through the holiday season.