IAP Exercise 2.2: Covert


Make a series of five portraits of subjects who are unaware of the fact they are being photographed.

The Covert Assassin


With the COVID-19 lockdown in full force, the opportunities for taking photos in public have disappeared for now.  So I had another look at some images taken on my recent trip to Italy.  

On 14 February 2020, I visited the Training Humans exhibition at the Milan Osservatorio, which is a dedicated photography gallery within Galleria Vittorio Emanuel, the oldest shopping mall in Italy. It is a beautiful building. While there I took some photographs of passers-by on my iPhone.  

The reasons for selecting these photographs (actually it’s only one photograph, but I’ll explain that later) are as follows.  

When I arrived at Linate airport, I was temperature tested for symptoms of COVID-19. I was aware of the disease but, like everyone (including Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Giuseppe Conte), I had no idea of the seriousness of the situation. The photos selected are individual images captured within one single photograph using the Live Photo facility on an Apple iPhone 11. This facility works by capturing approximately 40 different frames between 1 1/2 seconds before and after the shutter is released.  

The photos feature a stationary central character who appears to be looking out for something not realising the danger he was in from the real covert subject of the picture – the Coronavirus. Within a week the close-by Milan Cathedral had closed, and within three weeks the whole of Italy was under lockdown.  

Freezing the scene by using images stripped from one Live Photo enables me to show the number of people passing an individual in three seconds. The fact that an infected individual may exhale 100 billion viruses each day means that the main character faced possible exposure to 3.5 million viruses from each infected individual seen passing him during the 3-second exposure. 

The cinematic treatment, both in terms of colour rendering and physical dimensions of the photos, was chosen to signify danger and suspense and to allude to a Hitchcock-style drama unfolding before us.

In each image, the Training Humans exhibition sign is visible to signify the effects that the virus has had on us humans. Short-term training is to quarantine practically the entire human race. The long-term effects are uncertain, but there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that physiological and sociological changes may also transpire.  

Dr David Enard, Professor of Biology at Stamford University, states “all organisms have been living with viruses for billions of years; this work shows that those interactions have affected every part of the cell” (1). He further suggests that human responses to viruses have caused 30% of all protein adaptations since we diverged from chimpanzees.  

So far as sociological changes are concerned can you imagine life returning to the pre-COVID-19 normal?  Will we shake hands, be willing to commute on crowded transport when virtual work is available, and fly around the world for business meetings?  I think not. 


(1) Enard PhD, D., 2016. Viruses Revealed To Be A Major Driver Of Human Evolution: Study Tracking Protein Adaptation Over Millions Of Years Yields Insights Relevant To Fighting Today’s Viruses. [online] ScienceDaily. Available at: <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160713100911.htm> [Accessed 21 April 2020].

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