"It's not some faraway land or happening to someone else. People are dying right now and in our hometown, in our community."
Stephanie Keith is a freelance photographer covering the COVID-19 outbreak in the world's current epicenter, New York City. Keith has been behind the lens covering newsworthy events for over 10 years. From the Standing Rock riots to Occupy Wall Street, she’s seen a lot … yet she says she hasn't seen anything like this before.
She said: "They were taking the bodies out of the hospital. And they were using a forklift to carry the bodies to the refrigerated trucks outside the hospital."
The day she shot this scene was a turning point for Keith.
Keith: "That was really hard. And I cried in my car for a while. And then when I went home, I just needed to hug my son. It was just really sad... It was really hard to get out of bed the next morning to be quite honest. And then I ended up deciding that I can't cover that aspect of the pandemic."
For now, Keith snaps life-affirming stories — everyday heroes like grocery store clerks and a pharmacist in Queens. … She photographed health care workers who demanded personal protective equipment while holding photographs of their colleagues who died from the virus.
Keith: "Just to see the bravery of these everyday people that are, like, dealing with it day in day out and trying not to get infected at the same time… to me these are the real, true New Yorkers."
To tell their stories, Keith goes to enormous lengths to protect herself. It takes her an additional hour just to get ready. And even before she touches her camera…
Keith: "I always put my gloves on before I even touch it. ...These are the two most important things I need when I go outside."
News photographers are considered "essential" workers, and that comes with a cost. The National Press Photographers Association spoke with Newsy. The organization represents over 6,500 members, including Keith.
Mickey Osterreicher, General Counsel of the National Press Photographers Association said: "The biggest obstacle that photographers face, unlike other people that try and report the news, is that they have to go out and be in the field to report it. They can't just phone it in … Photographers don't have that luxury. "
Keith tells us that she tries to shoot most of her photographs from inside her car.
Osterreicher: "They need to go out there. They need to stay safe, and They need to be creative in ways to capture and tell compelling stories."
Cat Sandoval (reporter): "What you're doing now is also very dangerous. And especially at this time, what keeps you going? What keeps you out shooting? I know, yes, it's a job, but you're also risking your life…"
Keith: "You know, this is my home. This is New York City. This is where I've lived for 25 years. My whole life is here… I'm a photographer. I have to… show people what's going on. It's really important. People need to know what's going on."
Cat Sandoval, Newsy, Chicago