From chaos to creativity: Lawrence High artists capture pandemic emotions in photos

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A K-12 teacher for almost three decades, Angelia Perkins loves challenges.

But the COVID-19 pandemic threw “chaos” at the Lawrence High School photography teacher that remains difficult to define, Perkins said in an email interview. 


“I feel like I have been in a fog for the last year,” she said. “My 28 years of teaching experience was wiped away and I felt like a first-year teacher only without any training. I am a people person and for the most part, I have lost contact with many students with their cameras off and some may only type a message periodically in the chat. It is maddening to not have the hands-on experience that the visual arts demands.”

The Times asked art teachers in the Lawrence school district to share some of their students’ work reflecting on the pandemic. In this installment, LHS students share photos and writings from their portfolio class, which they can take after completing Photo 1 and 2.

“I want to 6-feet hug every single one of my students who have persevered and created some amazing photographic imagery! They did not take no for an answer and they will never know how much their passion to create helped me and many others make it through this year,” Perkins said.

With limited art supplies distributed during remote learning, she said, students needed to tap into their creativity and find inspiration outside electronic screens.

“Pandemic or not, I get to work with some of the best creative humans, and many of my students have made some amazing art throughout these less-than-ideal conditions,” Perkins said. “Many were forced to find inspiration in the interiors — those of their home, themselves through self-portraits, internal family celebrations and struggles, and internal isolation. All those can be maddening or magnificent.”

Perkins calls art “ her therapy” for speaking to the world’s problems and helping cope with problems out of her control. Where there is chaos, she said, creativity will rear its head and surprise everyone.

“The amazement of art/photo is that it doesn’t matter your experience, the ever-changing, complicated world challenges us all equally to expand our creative thinking skills,” Perkins said. “Many humans will always be able to voice through imagery what they cannot do through words.”

Audrey Basham, junior

Barrier Beyond Our Comprehension

The pandemic was a shock and the past year has been full of many ups and downs. Something that I think most people have in common when it comes to the past year is that we were all scared and felt helpless at some point. So many changes have taken place within the past year whether it is online school, not being able to see family and friends, or dealing with grief from a loved one passing. 

With “Barrier Beyond Our Comprehension,” I displayed the feeling of the unknown that we have all felt toward the pandemic and the loss.  I used a doorway with people on either side to display the barrier between something that seemed so simple and easy before the pandemic hit, yet grew to be a much more complex issue.  Whether you interpret it as loss of seeing a loved one, loss of an experience, or loss of someone close to you; I wanted each viewer to be able to relate to my image and feel the separation and isolation that this year has brought.

Creeping Through the Seams

This work is inspired by the prompt “hanging by a thread.” I aspired to do more than the literal interpretation of “hanging by a thread.” Doing further research I found the saying has such a wide variety of meanings. With my work, I have displayed the raw and emotional side of hanging by a thread. I focused on the idea of feeling fragile, weak, unstable and even close to failure. I feel that my work truly shows these deep inside emotions. Today we live in a world that can be so demeaning to one’s thoughts and emotions, making it hard to reach out and ask for help. The sharing of one’s emotions can be hard to do on a day-to-day basis. When it comes to raw emotions this is something we all experience and feel. Emotions (especially the tough ones) need to be talked about. Acknowledgment that these feelings are okay is essential to working through rough times.

With these works, I displayed what is not talked about and what is looked down upon in today’s society. I have done this by using twine as a representation of being held back. The backdrop is lined with many years of school assignments. This shows a common overwhelming stressor for many.  The use of light and shadows helps display the blank emotionless faces we all carry around within us on a daily basis. My work highlights the raw emotions we all face throughout our lives with a positive acknowledgment toward beginning supporting conversations.

Hidden Behind the Shadows

Face landscape, what does it really mean? With this work coming from an assignment inspired by face landscape I wanted to focus on the beauty of one’s natural appearance.

The topic and idea of the unaltered face is not something that is ‘approved’ in the world of social media. Because the world of social media is a highlight reel of one’s life, I wanted to display the fact that many people are hiding behind the highlight reel. Since many people are hiding behind that reel they are not comfortable with their true selves. I chose to display the lack of self-confidence that is fed by social media in my image. I used a window curtain to help hide and take the focus off of the model’s face. I also chose to use black and white to add to the effect of the uncertain nature that social media provides.

Madison Freed, junior

I have lived in the Lawrence area my entire life. My aunt and grandmother gave me my passion for photography and have inspired me to continue developing my passion.

On the Line

These two images are from a series I created about the repetitiveness of life. As the pandemic drags on, the feeling of living the same day over and over again has been constant. Not being able to see friends and do things I used to enjoy paired with online school has given life a terribly repetitive feeling.

Over Again

This image is supposed to represent the toll that repetitiveness can have on people; we are simply not built to do the same things every single day for weeks, months on end. The uniform line of tickets hanging on the string is supposed to represent the days, while the string is life and the way it feels.

Sophia Kaufman, senior

I’m a senior at Lawrence High School. I first started taking photography classes my sophomore year and been taking them ever since. I plan to study graphic design after high school and continue photography.

Making art in quarantine has come with its challenges but has ultimately allowed me to create some of my favorite pieces I made. With restrictions, my teacher, fellow classmates and I have all worked together to expand our ideas and hone in on the environment around us. Most of my work been focused digitally, but I have experimented with other photo methods such as cyanotypes — which are created by laying objects on a special paper in the sun. Another alternative method I enjoy incorporating with straight photographs is scanography, which is made by placing objects on a computer scanner. It’s been really cool to see what I’ve been able to make with the resources I have and the experience has been encouraging to continue my art.


For this piece, I revisited early years of my childhood. I wanted to base it on fears I had as a child. When I was around 3 years old, I learned to how to climb ladders. One day I fell off a swing set ladder and dislocated my elbow. After that, I was afraid to climb up the ladder again until my mom bribed me to with a stuffed animal. The cut-outs of doll arms and legs were taken from scenography pieces I did with old baby dolls that I had loved. Around that age I loved to play but I went through a time when I became terrified of my dolls. I had nightmares that they would come to life, and to this day I still do not like dolls.

Lost in Motion

For the bigger image on the right is a long exposure shot I took to record the little movements and show time elapsed. An element of the piece I really wanted to include was a TV screen because not only does this symbolize boundaries faced during this pandemic whether physically or mentally. The lighting throughout these photos is darker, with some areas having natural light come through. This helps further illustrate the isolation from the outside and the hideaway that many have themselves in during this pandemic. The right side of the piece is a representation of trying to grasp for something, anything really, even with a hesitant hand. The reflective surface indicates my own in-depth reflecting while stuck along with myself, isolated from others, except those I live with. The barrier of myself and the water indicates the disconnect from the world. The ripples and murkiness of the water contribute to the feeling of insecurity and unease. As a whole it shows a warped reality.

Ryleigh Leon, senior

The Tangoing Duo

I chose to do more of a long exposure on this photo because this pandemic has brought obstacles that feel like we aren’t making any progress towards them. The obstacles are moving yet we are in slow mo. In this photo, the subject is moving around the string, trying to be sneaky and careful not to touch it. There were two ideas that I was thinking of when I shot this photo: One was the obstacles of the pandemic, but the other idea was that the coronavirus snuck up on us and we’ve been a step behind trying to slow the spread.

Venturing the Mountain

“Venturing the Mountain” is about the rollercoaster of emotions that people have been experiencing throughout the pandemic. There have been moments of highs and lows with online learning, being inside, and having to adapt. The shadow of the fence is to represent a mountain. This metaphoric mountain feels like it just keeps going up and sometimes you can’t catch a break. The tennis balls represent the events and emotions of every day. Some days are better than others, but you notice the emotions fluctuate more now than before the pandemic.

Alice Lubin Meyer, senior

I am Lawrence, Kansas, born and raised. I grew up around my creative grandparent and mom who helped to set me up for my love of art and conceptual ideas.

Hidden Horrors of Remembering Nothing

The Embodiment of Counterbalance —

These photos are about being caught in the process of life moving forward while trying to figure out where you fit and how to heal and move on with growing into who you are.

Innocence met with harsh realizations and upper hands. 

Hanging by a thread is both literal in these photos as well as figurative, holding the beauty of the flower like a pendulum caught in the air;  the reflection in a circular mirror like a mysterious tunnel into the next stage. 

Tangles representing the confusion of transition. 

The Dishes of Memories 


The pandemic means home

Appreciating home

Staying home

Finding new things to do at home

Exploring home

Looking through overlapping door ways 

And old collections 

Blurry windows 

An outlet from your home into 

The world

Looking through a window 

Symbolic- confined yet observant 

Confined yet observant; a pandemic requirement

Nora Walburn, senior

Today’s Dream

Today’s dream feels like growing old with your loved ones.

Glass Half-Empty

Some people see it as half-full, most see it as half-empty. The glass of the pandemic is seen in many different lights. I started off seeing it half full, getting to sleep in, less responsibility, it seemed like the dream. After almost a year it came to half empty, we got prom but with restrictions, we get graduation but with restrictions. Almost all see it as half-empty.

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