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Capturing the Covid-19 pandemic behind the lens of a Hopi photographer

Gilbert Honanie has taken photographs for more than three decades, but never thought his camera lens would capture a historic pandemic.

TUBA CITY, Ariz. — It's said a picture is worth a thousand words, but each photograph of the Covid-19 pandemic captures the weight of a global pandemic.

“As a photographer, you do see it,” said photographer Gilbert Honanie. 

Gilbert lives in Tuba City; one of the hardest-hit areas in the world in the early months of the Covid-19. “At one point, one funeral a day. One of my best friends lost a brother, a sister, an aunt, and his own mother to Covid.” 

Gilbert has taken photographs for more than three decades, his love for capturing images passed down from his father.

“My dad, he had an old Pentax camera. He handed it off to me and from there I started taking pictures of our family vacations and whatnot,” said Honanie. He enjoys taking family portraits, local sports, landscapes and nature and he's shared his love for photography with his daughter.  

He works as an assistant manager at the Tuba City Auto Zone, located in the painted desert and home to around 8,600 Navajo and Hopi natives.  

Since the start of the pandemic, his lens has captured images of resilience and sorrow. “This pandemic has affected a lot of people. You see their long faces, their dead stares. As a photographer, you still have to shoot away,” said Gilbert. 

But throughout the pandemic, Gilbert has also taken photographs of celebration. From vaccination efforts to the birth of his grandchild. “There is hope we can get through this,” said Honanie. 

The Navajo Nation is now leading the way in vaccination efforts. 

“Everybody is stepping up for their vaccine. Family and friends are telling each other to go to this vaccine event and get vaccinated and we are helping each other out of the hole we all fell in at the same time,” said Dr. Naomi Young, Family Medical Physician Tséhootsooí Medical Center.   

Gilbert's photographs have shown his community's shared trauma and victory. He's looking forward to the day when Covid-19 is out of the picture but hopes his photographs will allow people to look back and see what they went through. 

"What we did wrong or did good and maybe be able to reflect and maybe prepare if something like this ever happens again." 

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