“This, I believe, is what sets the HRH series apart from most other editorials. Instead of me being an outsider, trying to understand my subjects, I’m in the trenches with them. We’re eye to eye on what it’s been like to be labeled “High Risk” during the pandemic, what it’s like for a stranger to judge our life’s worth by saying “Sacrifice the Weak”. I’m grateful for my experiences during the pandemic, as traumatic as they have been, because I think it’s why my fellow “High Riskers” are so willing to open up and share their story with me. We’re in this together.”
Madison Thorn is a 30-year-old artist with a serious look in her eyes and a terrific way with a conversation. Her photographic essay, “High Risk Humans,” is a deft capturing of nice and normal local folks and some wheels in the music scene, all of whom suffer from this or that malady and are thus more susceptible to the coronavirus. They’re the High Risk Humans — we all are, but these people quite a bit more so— and still they have to venture out for bread and milk like everybody else, and brave engagement with maskless douchebags and whatever else may be hanging in the air.
On highriskhumans.com, a click on someone’s photo reveals the story behind the image. On the following pages is a collection of images from the series, coupled with a story about each image from Thorn.
The genesis — like everything else related to COVID, began last spring. “Let’s see,” she begins, “everyone had pretty much the same April, right? Our jobs were gone. Before that my career in photography was going pretty well, and then everything pretty much came to a screeching halt. And then with COVID, I’m in what the CDC calls the high-risk category. I’m a type-1 diabetic, which is an autoimmune disease, so all of a sudden I found myself in this list that you don’t want to be a part of.
“I couldn’t leave my house. I had a roommate who didn’t wash his hands. I was unsafe all the time. I don’t really remember much of March and April. And then John Prine died and it was honestly the lowest point I’d experienced in a long time. And then a couple of weeks after that there was that protest to reopen businesses in Tennessee and Nashville, and someone took the time out of their day to write “sacrifice the weak” on a sign. It wrecked me. I thought I was already at the lowest point possible and that just hit me.
“I stayed in bed for about two days,” Thorn continues. “I had three friends who were also in the high-risk category, and I texted them and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m trying to do here, but I want to photograph the high risk.’ I asked, ‘will you let me photograph you?’ and they said absolutely. So that’s where it started.”
St. Louis born and bred, Thorn tied up her wagon here two years ago. “I had a band back in St. Louis, but I didn’t come down here to be a musician,” she says, making her the only musician in history who came to Nashville NOT to be one. “I can sum everything up by saying I was born a photographer and raised as a musician. I’m a third generation photographer but spent my youth running around St. Louis’s music scene,” she says.
‘I don’t know what I’m trying to do here, but I want to photograph the high risk.’ I asked, ‘will you let me photograph you?’
“I think the youngest person on High Risk Humans is eight and the oldest is The Mangler (Phil Kaufman) who just turned 80” says Thorn. “You have a broad range of individuals, and my thought was … those who say sacrifice the weak, I wanted to make them understand what
Not that it wasn’t a personal journal for Thorn too. “You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me, but with my Type 1 Diabetes being an autoimmune disease, I find myself on the list of potential casualties. People of all ages and backgrounds fall into this group — and largely through no fault of
Thorn sums it up best on highriskhumans.com when she says, “Everyday battles just to exist has been the ‘High Risk’ way of life long before COVID-19 came around. These people are incredibly strong because of that — and to refer to them as ‘weak’ is simply ridiculous. We’re going to change that narrative.
“I wanted to start this project because, more so than anything else, I felt tragically alone. After weeks of capturing portraits of friends and new friends, I have come to realize that I am far from alone. Despite these terrifying times of isolation, humanity is very much intact and thriving.”