On March 15th, an absurd, tongue-in-cheek image of three women mimicking a 1980s Walmart photo studio stopped us in our Instagram scroll with the following caption:
“Does it look like we are messing around? We aren’t. We are quarantined in our apartment, living off puzzling, Succession, and sourdough, and now we will be entertaining ourselves by taking photos in the COVID-19 Studio. Keep your distance, we don’t want to see you.”
It was the beginning of self-quarantine and almost every professional photographer we knew was getting nervous about their future and potential loss of work. But Luupe Photographer Liz Devine, cooped up with her two roommates in a Brooklyn apartment began making a kind of creative lemonade. The photographer – who’s made her name shooting travel and lifestyle for brands and magazines like WWD, Nylon, Luna Bar, and WeWork, setup “COVID-19 Studio,” hilariously recreating images from art history and pop culture to pass the time and sharing them on Instagram. She immediately garnered press from The NY Post, Gothamist, and ABC News, and continues to bring some much-needed levity to our uncertain days. We caught up with Liz to learn more.
The Luupe: Seven-plus weeks into quarantine, how are you holding up?
Liz Devine: Ummmm, OK? Just kidding, I’m going completely crazy, this is not my thing, I like to be on the move, traveling, socializing so this has been rough but isn’t it for everyone? Can I really complain? Besides taking photos there has been lots of cooking for me, I’ve absolutely perfected my sourdough at this point.
The Luupe: How did COVID19 Studios start?
Liz Devine: There was really not a lot of thought starting this, I thought it would be something fun to do while stuck inside. I don’t do a lot of studio work so I wanted to experiment with that and have a creative outlet to help my sanity.
The Luupe: What was the first photo you took for the series?
Liz Devine: Our first shoot was us in blazers, which was a homage to those 70s studio photos with two images, usually a profile and a straight-on shot. I posted that first image on Instagram and received more comments and “likes” than any image I’ve ever taken. I don’t think people liked it because it was some mind-blowing photo but more because it was some sort of relief from the horrible news that was flooding our brains and social media.
The Luupe: Ha! Totally. It really took us back as well. We love how your images seamlessly reference everything from pop culture to art history. How do you decide on a specific idea for a photo?
Liz Devine: The ideas come from all over the place but mostly my demented brain. The first ones were easy, then we started taking suggestions or maybe it was a prop that inspired me. If I thought of something that made me laugh out loud I knew it had to be a shoot.
One day I woke up and saw all my jeans that I never wear anymore and I fashioned a set of jeans. Another day we went on a walk in the park and dreamed up some fake boyfriends and what their names would be. BOOM, balloon boyfriend movie night was born. Tiger King, how could we not. We all love Price is Right and dreamed of being on it, so we made our dreams come true. I have an ongoing list I just keep adding to.
The Luupe: Amazing! Can you describe your process?
Liz Devine: The process changes for every shoot. Some days I’ll spend all day crafting and getting the set ready, other days our outfits are the true stars so it takes us longer to get ready. We also went from doing one shoot a day to trying to shoot the majority of the shoots on the weekends and maybe just have one shoot during the week. Shooting everyday was tiring on all of us. Now I usually have shoots I want to get done, make a list of props and wardrobe we knock them all out at once. Some shoots require a lot of post-work and retouching. It truly changes for every shoot.
The Luupe: How involved are your roommates in the concept, direction, and creative process?
Liz Devine: The roommates put a lot of trust in my creative vision which I really appreciate. When they ask what the shoot is they are always pumped and supportive and have some amazing suggestions to add to the shoots. The 90s sitcom was very much a joint effort of campiness at its best. We really don’t know how it will all turn out until we start shooting and that’s where they really shine, their faces are made for the camera. I always feel like my faces need to get to their level, they’re naturals.
The Luupe: Has this changed the personal dynamic between you and your roommates?
Liz Devine: We were all friends before we started living together but this is the first creative project we have done together. The shoots have honestly been really good for us during this time. Instead of making each other laugh while yelling at the TV on Bachelor night, we are entertaining each other in a more creative way. We’re all having some good days and bad days during this time but after we come together for a shoot we find it lifts all our moods in the end. I love funny people, and my roommates keep me laughing through this, we have postcards we’re sending out with the tagline is “we laugh so we don’t cry”, and that is the honest truth.
The Luupe: Has working within quarantine + this series, in general, changed how you think about photography, your creative process, and your commercial work?
Liz Devine: A little. The limitations I have within the confines of my apartment have forced me to be creative with every single thing in our apartment. So the creative directing and set designing have been all new for me and really fun. I would love to do more of it in the future. It’s also creating new content daily, that’s a lot of brainpower going into this, my dreams are Covid19 Studio scenarios now.
If anything, it makes the shoots I do out of quarantine seem pretty easy because of all the support and help I usually have on shoots, what a dream it would be to have an assistant and digi-tech on the Covid19 Studio shoots, or a producer telling us what we’ll be shooting every day. Wow, now I miss my photo teams in the real world. These shoots have become my full-time job and the pay is horrible/non-existent.
The Luupe: Congrats on the recent ABC News feature, and the piece in the NY Post. When you started making these, did you have any idea they would take off the way they have?
Liz Devine: Thank you, it’s been so exciting. If you asked me 3 days in, I’d so “no”, but if you asked me 4 days in, I’d say “yes.” Haha, I know that sounds so pretentious but I just had a feeling it would take off and I only say that because of the outpouring of support and positive feedback we got from the photos right away. We are well aware of the severity of the situation we are all in as a world, and it has been hard. We are three girls stuck in our apartment, we are not making a difference like front line workers, we are not saving lives, we are doing very little but it’s what we can do, and that is to make people smile.
The Luupe: Doritos makes a few cameos — have they/ any other brands or pop references got wind of the work?
Liz Devine: SPONSOR US DORITOS! No, they haven’t reached out sadly. We’ll just be in our apartment waiting for that call.