A documentation of Sarah’s landlady, Blanche Romey, a lifelong community activist who fought for affordable housing for New York City seniors, during the pandemic. Text by Rachel Jones.

Blanche Romey never minded picking up an extra loaf of bread or a dozen eggs from the grocery store for one of the residents at the Duncan Genns Apartments, where she’s been a community center volunteer for 30 years.

But in early April, as COVID-19 cases rose in New York City, the 80-year-old grandmother with decades of experience as a community organizer and affordable housing advocate, began to notice more and more empty shelves at the stores in Bushwick, her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Then she learned that the community center had closed down.

“I see how the isolation and the depression is hitting some of my people,” Romey says. “I tell them to pray and get out there early before the crowds come. I tell them you can’t stay cooped up all the time.”

Romey’s resilience typifies the paradox of life for older people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have survived physical and psychological traumas that in theory could prepare them for the grim scenario of lockdowns, isolation, and diminished functioning. But that wisdom and endurance doesn’t lessen their risk of severe illness and death from coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eight of every 10 coronavirus deaths have been people over the age of 65.

“I can understand the loneliness, and that’s why I do what I do,” she says. “I have my aches and pains, and my eyes are going, but I give God thanks. I have to keep on pushing. They need the help, and I need to know that they’re doing okay.

Slow as Summer is, Still was photographed with the support of a commission during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City from the International Center of Photography. This project was later funded by the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Funding for Journalists.

Slow as Summer is, Still was exhibited at the International Center of Photography in 2020.

Texts and Reviews:
Christina Santucci, Foto Femme United, 2020
International Center of Photography, on exhibition for COVID New York, 2020
Rachel Jones, National Geographic, 2020
Alicia Garza, TIME, 2020
CatchLight, Behind the Lens, 2020