A new photography exhibition, open through August 21, showcases the Black and Latinx workers who kept L.A. afloat during the pandemic.
Hector Robles, Hyun Joo Kim, Kim Chow, Maria Alviso, Lance Goosby, and Nicole Luckie
USPS Letter Carriers, photographed at Los Angeles’ Foy Station.
For letter carriers, the pandemic has meant more mail, more parcels, and more precautions. Nicole Luckie (right) said, “I’m finding my way through this. When you’re out on the street, you have some customers that will come up to you, and they don’t have a mask on, and then they get mad at you when you don’t want to talk to them or take their mail from them. I’m like, ‘Okay, wait a minute, my son has chronic asthma, my mother has kidney failure, and my sister has lupus, so I can’t afford to bring anything home.’” [Photo: Sam Comen]
In December of 2020, Los Angeles-based photographer Sam Comen began photographing the essential workers of Los Angeles—from trauma nurses and grocery store cashiers to truckers and custodial staff—and documenting the toll that the pandemic would take on their lives. Reported during the pandemic’s relentless winter wave, Comen’s photographs laid bare the systemic inequalities that forced underpaid and overworked employees to shoulder an unthinkable burden. They also highlighted their courage and resolve. One year to the day after the country’s first stay-at-home order went into effect, Comen published the work, titled The Longest Shift.
Those images, which include workers from 15 industries and dozens more jobs, are now on exhibit at the Museum of Art & History Lancaster in Lancaster, California; the show will run through August 21. More than three-quarters of the people photographed are represented by labor unions in Southern California, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, a major partner in coordinating interviews. As the pandemic raged on, those unions were helping workers push for stronger pay and job protections. Their message was clear: “Look at what’s happening,” Comen says. “These are our neighbors, our fellow Americans. And how are we treating them? [They’re] standing up despite the odds at great personal risk.”