Nate Burrell Photographs St. Louis 'COVID Days'

Musician Tonina Saputo.
Musician Tonina Saputo. NATE BURRELL

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Nate Burrell - ESTHER ROSE
Nate Burrell

Dozens of familiar (though masked) faces and businesses are represented, many but not all of them housed on Cherokee Street, where Burrell lives. The Whiskey Ring, the Mud House, Earthbound Brewery, Yaqui's, Flowers and Weeds, the B-Side and more are all part of the series. For those, Burrell says, it was as simple as stepping out of his house.

"I wasn't at first sure who to shoot, and then in thinking about the reality of logistics and things, I started out with people right here in my neighborhood, steps outside my door on Cherokee Street," he says. "So, you know, 70 percent of those photos are images of places I see community all the time congregating and people coming into the neighborhood to congregate at these places, whether it be bars or record shops or coffee houses or pizza parlors. So that was the easiest, just from a familiarity standpoint, as far as getting people to be willing to do it."

From there, Burrell says, he started thinking about the community at large and how many businesses and people were going to be hit hard by the challenges presented by the virus. He started reaching out to people across town, and the vast majority of those he tapped to be part of the series were on board.

Dead Wax’s Jake Kamp and Jeremy Miller. - NATE BURRELL
Dead Wax’s Jake Kamp and Jeremy Miller.

"I just kinda thought about my community as well outside of [Cherokee street] and institutions and fields that were going to be different," he says. "The dining experience is going to be different going forward, and how does that impact, from servers to chefs to line cooks to dishwashers and to owners? So I tried to reach out to different fields and just kind of went with people I knew or people where I go and spend my money. Places I respect."

From a logistical standpoint, interacting with 79 people over two weeks during a pandemic presents challenges, to say the least. Burrell used a telephoto lens in order to properly keep his distance, and he wore a mask and gloves. Most subjects would stand in place for the photo, and then Burrell would shoot eight or so frames, moving around them and adjusting his camera settings accordingly until he had the shots he needed. From there, it was a quick goodbye, and onto the next one.

"It's not like I hung out there shooting the shit," he says.

Hector Medina, Oscar Medina, Cesar Medina at El Torito Supermercado. - NATE BURRELL
Hector Medina, Oscar Medina, Cesar Medina at El Torito Supermercado.

Burrell has put the complete set of photos from the series on his website, He plans to keep the series live on his site for the foreseeable future, and in five years, he wants to do a showing at an art gallery, though he's not yet sure what that will look like.

"Initially I was thinking ten years would be a cool retrospective, but in reality a lot can change in a business from now until then, regardless of COVID," he says. "So maybe revisiting it — not having a show while it's fresh or anything like that; that seems senseless. But maybe revisiting it, and whether that be showing these photos in a gallery or whether that be doing another round of photos with these folks and doing a cross-comparison, I'm not quite sure. But everybody that is involved is aware that there's going to be something after this, whether it be a show or something. I imagine it will come out in print form in some fashion for sure."

Going forward, Burrell intends to keep shooting — and St. Louis will remain his focus. He says he's been working on a Polaroid series of the city's architecture, using a box of long-expired Polaroid Spectra Softone film — "some of the shittiest-selling film in Polaroid's history," as Burrell describes it — to capture unique images of the city that a lesser photographer would surely never be able to pull off.

Musicians Kellie Everett and Ryan Koenig. - NATE BURRELL
Musicians Kellie Everett and Ryan Koenig.

And, of course, he plans to get back to shooting musicians and live music as soon as possible.

"As far as music goes, honestly, I just have to wait," Burrell says. "I'm still gonna do it. Everything is gonna change, but I work in collaboration with the bands. And they're gonna be moving forward; it's just gonna be at a different speed and with different variables. I'm not gonna abandon that just because their industry changed. Especially here, you know? I take pride in being asked to help a lot of bands present themselves to the wider world. And I'm gonna continue to do that, whenever bands start having the chance to do that again."

Rob Engelhardt at B-Side. - NATE BURRELL
Rob Engelhardt at B-Side.

About The Author

Daniel Hill

Daniel Hill is editor at large for the Riverfront Times and he demands to be taken seriously, despite all evidence to the contrary. Follow him on Twitter at @rftmusic.
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