Chandler photographer brings out masks’ beauty The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler photographer brings out masks’ beauty

October 20th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Chandler photographer brings out masks’ beauty

By kevin reagan
Staff Writer

A Chandler photographer is using her artistic skills to document the COVID-19 pandemic through a more positive perspective.

Emily Vance, a digital photography student at Arizona State University, has snapped dozens of portraits over the last few months depicting models showcasing a variety of face masks.

She has photographed a mother adjusting her child’s mask, college students displaying their ASU-branded masks and local politicians demonstrating their own mask-mandate policies.

The collection of photos has been published online in an album Vance has called “The Masked Portrait Project” and she hopes will exhibit the beauty and kindness that comes with putting on a mask. 

“We need more positivity in the world right now,” the 28-year-old student said.

Vance started the project after assisting her history-student husband Marc take some photos for an archiving assignment he was completing in response to the pandemic.

Vance was dispatched to document long lines stretching outside supermarkets and citizens stockpiling shopping carts with toilet paper – familiar scenes that could be seen across the country as the COVID-19 virus first started to proliferate back in March.

Vance said taking the disturbing photos every day quickly grew to be too taxing on her mental health and she longed for an escape from the pandemic’s grim reality.

“I just started to get really depressed from it,” she recalled. “It was a really scary time back at the beginning.”

And the pandemic wasn’t only hurting Vance emotionally. Its economic impacts quickly began to hinder her finances after many of her freelancing gigs were abruptly canceled due to COVID-19.

Despite these setbacks, Vance still wanted to continue taking photographs and wondered how she could utilize her creativity to give back to the community. 

Vance was in the midst of completing a course on portrait photography and thought she could find a way to snap portraits that could positively reflect society’s current turmoil.

The pandemic has sparked anguish and rage across the country, Vance noted, and much of that hostility has been the result of local governments forcing citizens to put on a mask.

If there was an album of portraits that normalized face masks, the photographer thought, some people might change their attitude.

“It doesn’t have to all be negative,” Vance said. “I think there was a lot of negativity about wearing masks in the beginning.”

Vance began by posting a couple pictures on Instagram and their popularity quickly escalated to a Facebook group, followed by an entire website dedicated to Valley residents modeling their favorite face masks.   

The pictures have even caught the attention of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who recently agreed to pose for one of Vance’s portraits outside City Hall. 

“It’s already bigger than I thought it would be,” Vance said about the project.

The project’s sudden success has helped to affirm the photographer’s lifelong ambition of becoming a working artist.   

Vance said she grew up knowing she was never going to follow a traditional career path and instinctively knew she’d pursue some sort of artistic endeavor.

Though her family warned she’d never make money in the arts, Vance explored her creative side until she found her calling.

“I would love to draw and paint but I just don’t have the patience for it,” she joked.

Photography ended up becoming Vance’s passion and has given her the opportunity to document pivotal life moments of both friends and strangers.

She’s been present at weddings, graduations and most recently photographed her first childbirth. It’s a job that opens up a window into a person’s life, Vance said, and allows someone to observe a moment that can never be recreated again.

If there’s one lesson Vance has learned through enduring a six-months-long pandemic, it’s to give thanks to the power of technology and the internet.

The pandemic restricted artists from leaving their homes, Vance noted, and yet everyone still found ways to exercise their creativity by snapping photos off of their iPhone and sharing them online.    

“It’s made me appreciate the fact that more people do have access to art and photography,”  she said. “I am a firm believer in community over competition. The more artists we have get involved, the better.”

Vance’s pictures can be seen at 

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