Christopher Burkins: Ghost Campus

This photograph was taken over the summer in July 2020. I was walking around the campus at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland looking for natural surroundings to photograph on the campus. This place is special to me because I was a student there from 2014 to 2018. It is usually not very busy even during a normal summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic schools, colleges and universities went mostly online starting in March. Remote learning continued through out the summer semester and is still going on in the fall semester. Harford Community College was mostly empty this summer except for security and people going for walks and runs or playing tennis. The campus is very walkable and people frequently use the outdoor spaces when classes are not in session. It was both nice and haunting to be on the campus while it was mostly vacant. I enjoyed photographing the natural surroundings. With classes being moved online to slow the spread of COVID-19, this opened up more opportunities to photograph the plants and landscapes on the campus.

I called this photograph “Ghost Campus” because of how suddenly it went from being full of students and faculty to being empty. According to folklore, a ghost is the spirit of a person who died without completing a task or was not given a proper burial. When I was on the Harford Community College campus this summer, I thought back to my time as a student there. Nobody even considered moving the entire semester or academic year online, though some classes were taught online. I kept expecting students and faculty to be walking from building to building and maybe even give me dirty looks for being on campus with a camera. I had to remind myself that the pandemic is still going on and that it has been a few years since I was a student there anyway. Seeing anything that reminds me of the world before COVID-19 is like a ghost. The pre-pandemic world was cut short by COVID-19 and no one had time to mourn it properly.

On a lighter note, being on a mostly empty campus gave me a better chance to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the college. I always enjoyed the scenery on the campus, but I did not have the time to appreciate it as a student. I regret not having that appreciation then, but I allowed it to build up. Now I enjoy seeing the plants growing all around the campus and they have been one of the best cures for my pandemic anxiety. The specific area of the campus in this photograph is one that I rarely set foot on even when I was a student. I decided to photograph areas of the campus that I never got a closer look. While the lack of students was disappointing, I made appreciating college’s natural surrounding more relaxing and enjoyable.

The plant in this photograph is a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and there are a lot of these where I live. I did not know they were on the Harford Community College campus until July of this year. The beauty of these flowers made me think about making the best out of the least ideal situation, something I think we can all relate to. Just like this plant rose from the ground into something wonderful, we too will rise from COVID-19.

I took the photo with a Nikon D3400 DSLR camera and edited it in photoshop to give it a similar appearance to a painting.

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