We didn’t intend the irony of our feature story “Where Were You When?” It’s a roundup of on-Grounds recollections from alumni during some 16 assorted historical events, going back to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. For some months, we had that planned as the summer cover story.
That’s where we were, just when the world came down with a pandemic. This issue of Virginia Magazine comes to you with everything in flux except our press deadline. Like so many of you, we’re still taking our measure of events as we see COVID-19 touch more and more people we know. We can’t say where the coronavirus is on the curve nor where the narrative is along its arc. We, along with the University, continue to assess where are we now and, come fall, where will we be.
It’s a developing story. As we endeavored to tell it, we wanted to give you a sense of the life of the University during one of the most extraordinary semesters in living memory. Our special report looks at how UVA has confronted the coronavirus, starting with University leadership, and the cascade of decisions that moved the classroom to the internet in eight days and the hospital to high alert stat. We tell the stories of some of those whom shelter-in-place affected most, among them fourth-years, athletes in the prime of their college careers and the students who couldn’t just go home. Beyond Grounds, we checked in with alumni in health care to get accounts from the front lines.
Throughout, we’ve sought to convey the ineffable surreality of it all, this familiar landscape turned eerily unfamiliar during what’s supposed to be its busiest and most beautiful time of year. To depict that, we turned to Andrew Shurtleff, for the past 18 years director of photography for The Daily Progress. Amid the quarantine, Shurtleff explored Grounds with an infrared camera, specially refitted to capture only higher-spectrum light signals, those imperceptible to the human eye.
Appropriate to our purposes, the technology shows the world in a different light. It coaxes benign-seeming blue skies to reveal their darker portents. Verdant trees become an otherworldly white.
“When you add infrared, it just makes it unreal, makes it fantastic,” says Shurtleff. “You can take the ordinary, … a shot of the Rotunda like everybody else does, but when you shoot it in infrared, it just makes it extraordinary.”
Which sums up the now, the surreal semester just ended, this odd between-times for the University of Virginia. We wonder how history will remember it. Maybe some decades hence an interviewer can get the more seasoned perspectives of the graying members of the Class of 2020, asking them, “Where were you when?”
Richard Gard (Col ’81)
Vice President, Communications, UVA Alumni Association