Artists on Coping: Jerry Siegel

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping

Jerry Siegel

Born in Selma, AL, Jerry Siegel is a photographer living in Atlanta, GA, and working throughout the Southeast. Siegel focuses his work in the traditions of documentary and portrait photography. His work in the Black Belt region of Alabama was recently published by the Georgia Museum of Art. This monograph, Black Belt Color, focuses on the unique, cultural landscape of the Black Belt region. His first monograph, Facing South, Portraits of Southern Artists, was published by the University of Alabama Press in 2011, and features portraits of 100 Southern artists.

A sign on the side of a truck

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painted bus and dog, Dallas County, AL 2006

AS: How are you coping?

JS: When I first got to the family home in Selma, Ala. to self-isolate, it seemed easy. I brought plenty of computer work to keep me busy. I have my cameras with the expectation that I would work in the area like I always do. I have not felt comfortable being out and about as I had hoped. I have made photos in and around my home as I have done routinely in the past. I had begun to feel a little less relaxed and less hopeful about what is ahead of us. So I’ve started exercising every morning, not reading as much in the news, and staying in contact with my wife and family. They are not here with me.

soap dish, Selma, AL 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

JS: This is a completely different routine. Not going to my studio every morning is the obvious change. I am getting lots of work done, much needed organizing and archiving of images. Usually when I am in Alabama, I spend very little time at the house and I am always driving to some part of the Black Belt to make images. I do talk to my wife 2-3 times a day, but it is difficult not being with her. We usually have dinner together, and with our son fairly often. But this is the decision made and we are making the best of it.

A sign on the side of the street

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Venus, Perry County, AL 2009

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

JS: I’m ok during the day. I work consistently and stay busy. As the sun drops and evening comes it gets more difficult. My mind wanders and goes all over the place. I get sad, but more than anything I feel anger. I don’t believe this could have been avoided, but it sure could have been handled better. I get so angry with people who don’t see the cause and effect of their actions.

A picture containing outdoor, sitting, brown, man

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boy and dog, Perry County, AL 2010

AS: What matters most right now?

JS: Family and friends. Working to stay positive about what‘s going on and trying not to let myself get too far into my head.

A person standing on top of a grass covered field

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girl with barrettes, Autauga County, AL 2017

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

JS: I do wonder what long term societal changes we will see. Will we fall right back into our routines? Might we see a shift in how we work and communicate? I have been amazed how people are adapting, communicating and staying in touch electronically. Especially in the arts. Theatre online, artist talks and interviews in their studios. Drag artists doing performances in their homes. A necessity, but will we see some of these changes stick when we get to the other side of this?

A painting of a person

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siblings, Selma, AL 2020
Melissa Stern is an artist and journalist living in NYC. She has written for Hyperallergic, The New York Press, CityArts and The Weeklings. Her work has been shown all over the US and can be seen here at her websites-