It's a warm Sunday morning in December - a welcome surprise amid everything else 2020 has thrown at us.
I'll take it; winter has never been my favorite, and the fresh air and sunshine are a balm to my weary soul.
Nursing a steaming cup of coffee from Mrs. London's, I sit across the table from a young man I've only just met.
Jon Dragonette is a native of Saratoga. He grew up alongside a twin brother and a loving mom and dad. After graduating, Jon moved to San Francisco, where he lived for six years, then on to Los Angeles, where he's been for the last 11.
As a freelance photographer, he had to pivot - rethinking his work life, just like the rest of us when the pandemic hit.
"Jobs weren't coming in like before," he tells me, taking a sip from his to-go cup. "Lockdown was hard on all of us. I decided to self-assign a project to keep me from going crazy."
Jon began walking around the city, taking in the eerie silences, the empty streets, the tall buildings with closed doors and darkened windows. He took photographs and developed them during those first several months, noting the deadness - realizing more each day that it was people, not beautiful architecture, who breathed life, energy, and hope into LA's neighborhoods.
Deciding to camp along the Kern River in central California for a little while, Jon found himself slowly shifting gears when contemplating his photography project. "I thought about how every single person is affected by COVID-19," His piercing eyes turn away for a moment, and he grows quiet, watching people walk by us on Broadway. "People are surviving, and people are dying. There are too many folks losing their jobs, a roof over their head, and food on their tables."
I take a deep breath and share how my oldest sister just passed away - how none of us could be there with her during the last horrid months because of the pandemic.
It's hard to breathe; the pain is overwhelming. Tears leak out of my eyes. I take a moment to compose myself, and Jon lets me. I tell him how grateful I am for the hospice nurses who could sit beside her at the end - but lament it should have been loved ones instead.
"That's what I mean," he emphatically states. "We're all suffering this year. And the disease should be banding us together, right? Instead, we're more divided than ever. There's social unrest, mask debates, political discord, and so much more."
Jon decided he wanted to make a difference - no matter how big or small it turned out to be. The Corner of Covid and Main Street became his focus.
He began photographing people instead of buildings, human beings instead of empty streets. His images were black & white, capturing a bit of the anguish and uncertainty, both tears and smiles behind his subjects' masks.
"About a month into the project, I opened an email from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. They'd caught wind of the project and wanted to know if I'd submit my work as part of their permanent archives."
WOW - talk about a huge honor.
"By then, I was thinking about branching out - traveling across the country to document everyday people from all walks of life, taking photos and listening to how they were dealing with this catastrophic illness and its fall out."
When I ask him where his travels led, he rattles off a list of cities in quick succession.
In early November, he left for Phoenix; then Austin, New Orleans, Birmingham, Nashville, Ashville, Washington DC, Philly, NYC, and Saratoga, where he's been able to check in with his family these last few days. He tells me it's been great to see loved ones, even though it's under crappy circumstances.
Jon grins and nods his head when I ask if they'll be part of the project too. Like, umm, of course.
"Look, the message of my project is simple; Every single person is important. Every single one of us counts. I feel good being able to record so many faces across the USA. In the end? I hope to show unity - in our country and across the world as a whole. We've never needed it more than today."
I couldn't agree more.
You can contribute to Jon's GoFundMe page here: gf.me/u/y3ui5g
Or find and follow him on Instagram: @jondragonette
Simply Saratoga Magazine is published by Saratoga Publishing, LLC, who brings you such award-winning niche magazines as Saratoga Bride, Saratoga Family, Welcome Home and the weekly newspaper, Saratoga TODAY!
We love Saratoga Springs! The people, the shops, the history, and of course racing season. Our Mission is to bring you everything Saratoga.
We would love to hear from you.