The epic COVID-19 memorial in the National Mall in one stunning photo

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For more than 30 hours on the National Mall in Washington, DC, photographer and National Geographic explorer Stephen Wilkes watched people move bicycles through the sea of ​​white flags beneath him to explore the 20-acre area. He saw skateboarders roll through, selfie-takers frame shots – and passers-by are slowly realizing that every flag represents a life lost to COVID-19.



4,882 photos taken over 30 hours.  More than 670,000 flags represent American life.  An unpredictable level of grief.


© Photo by Stephen Wilkes
4,882 photos taken over 30 hours. More than 670,000 flags represent American life. An unpredictable level of grief.

On September 18 and 19, starting before sunrise and ending after sunset, Wilkes took 4,882 photographs of the art installation In America: remember, an exhibition aimed at conveying the enormity of the country’s pandemic losses. He and his team then combined the photographs into a single composite image that was part of himself Day to night Series.

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“One of the things I was trying to capture was the epic scale,” says Wilkes. “It’s almost impossible to grasp all of this.”

(See flags on the National Mall pay tribute to America’s devastating COVID-19 losses.)

To do this, Wilkes spent two days floating 45 feet off the ground in an elevator – high enough for a bird’s eye view, but low enough to recognize people’s gestures and body language. He positioned the elevator on purpose: he wanted the National Museum of African American History and Culture (left with the rising sun above) to be a focal point because “so many people of color have been dramatically affected by this virus”.



A close-up of the photo gives a glimpse of Suzanne Firstenberg, the <a class=artist who created the installation, who is approaching the crossroads from the left with a blue hat and backpack.” src=”https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/the-epic-covid-19-memorial-on-the-national-mall-in-one-stunning-photo/{"default":{"load":"default","w":"80","h":"48","src":"//img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAP0As1.img?h=481&w=799&m=6&q=60&o=f&l=f"},"size3column":{"load":"default","w":"62","h":"38","src":"//img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAP0As1.img?h=376&w=624&m=6&q=60&o=f&l=f"},"size2column":{"load":"default","w":"62","h":"38","src":"//img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAP0As1.img?h=376&w=624&m=6&q=60&o=f&l=f"}}” bad-src=”https://static-entertainment-eus-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/sc/9b/e151e5.gif”/>


© Photo by Stephen Wilkes
A close-up of the photo gives a glimpse of Suzanne Firstenberg, the artist who created the installation, who is approaching the crossroads from the left with a blue hat and backpack.

The catwalk was another eye-catcher with which he drew the viewer into the picture. In a certain stroke of luck, which he attributes to “the magic that sometimes happens when I take photos,” an expansive cloud formed near the Washington Monument. “The path leads you up into the picture,” says Wilkes, “and the clouds pull you around.”

His camera angle was fixed so that all photos were taken from a single point of view. When he discovered “small moments, small vignettes”, he pressed the shutter release.

In the 13 years Wilkes has worked since its inception Day to night Project he photographed many significant events (Inaugurations of the President, the 2020 commitment March, the Tour de France) and iconic locations (Yosemite, Coney Island, the Western Wall in Jerusalem). This one was different, he says, “because it involved a loss of life unprecedented in American history.”

Suzanne Firstenberg, the visual artist who created In America, designed the installation to help people understand the amazing numbers. Those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 can personalize a flag with their name and a message or make a request through the exhibition website for a volunteer to write a flag for them.

When visitors come across these flags, Firstenberg wants them to think, “Oh my God, that person was a father, a mother, an uncle. The family’s grief must be immense, ”she says two days before the exhibition opens on September 17th, and you look at 660,000 other flags. It captures the essence of a family’s grief and yet magnifies it for the nation. “



Photographer Stephen Wilkes (right) and Lenny Christopher, his assistant, were raised 45 feet for a total of 30 hours to photograph the flag installation on the National Mall in Washington, DC


© Video by John Boal
Photographer Stephen Wilkes (right) and Lenny Christopher, his assistant, were raised 45 feet for a total of 30 hours to photograph the flag installation on the National Mall in Washington, DC

When Firstenberg was planning the exhibition, she ordered 630,000 flags – to prepare for what she thought was the worst scenario. She soon realized that she had a lot more to order. On the opening day, the death toll exceeded 670,000. Three days before the exhibition closes on October 3, 693,000 will be exceeded.

It would have been easy, says Wilkes, to take a picture that lingered in the dark so much death. But Firstenberg created the installation to appeal to our common humanity. “I wanted the picture to reflect the hope that we will come out of it,” he says. “It’s a moment of reflection. And maybe a moment when we need to get together. “

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