When the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States in March 2020, sending millions of office professionals to work from home while shutting down most of the retail and service economy, government officials in most states were quick to designate construction as an “essential” business.
Along with doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, government and a modicum of other “essential” professionals, on-site construction workers ventured out each day into harm’s way to continue building—and they have continued that work every day for the nearly five months that have passed since.
But the built environment that workers may have been used to before the pandemic is no more. Along with the rest of the world, a strict list of safety measures have been instituted on most, if not all, construction jobsites, as experts have continued to discover how the virus is transmitted.
Each jobsite now must adhere to rigorous physical distancing measures to ensure that workers stay at least six feet apart from one another—a tough ask on most projects considering the level of close collaboration required to build most structures. Shifts have also been staggered to control the number of workers on a jobsite at a given time. Temperature checks are now the norm.
And, of course, face coverings are now worn by all on-site workers—regardless of whether they’re working indoors or outdoors.
Picturing faceless faces
Tara Garner has been there to capture it all. Since 2012, Garner has been a prominent construction photographer in Southern California, drifting across the region from jobsites in Los Angeles to San Diego and up and down the West Coast to photograph construction workers as they build our world.
Why? Garner doesn’t just love construction—it’s in her blood. She comes from a family of ironworkers, including two brothers that continue to work on jobsites across the region.
Outside of the workers themselves, Garner (Instagram: @ucpbytara) knows what it’s been like to be out on a jobsite during a scorching California summer day, labouring under unfamiliar conditions as projects race to stay on schedule and budget while operating with intense—and often uncomfortable—safety measures due to the pandemic.
Not only does Garner, who operates her business under the name Under Construction Photography, spend a lot of her time photographing the workers, she also gets to know them on a personal level. After all, some of the workers on the sites she shoots on are literally family.
“The first thing you really see is no faces,” Garner said.
While the surrounding circumstances of the job have changed dramatically, Garner said most of the workers aren’t missing a beat. It’s their families, she said, that have had to adjust the most. “Their life has changed, so talking to these guys on a personal level, these are the stories that we talk about,” Garner said.
While the larger construction industry has, for the most part, carried on during the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, Garner’s business has not been immune from the fallout. “It’s definitely impacted my business tremendously,” she said. “It’s made me have to hustle 10 times harder.”