Creative Quarantine: Photographer Jonathan Aguilar

A man walks in front of a burning cop car during a protest over the police killing of George Floyd | ©Jonathan Aguilar

Jonathan Aguilar spoke with Esthetic Lens recently about his life post-graduation from DePaul University and into the world of COVID-19. He touches upon dashed plans, adapting on the fly with malfunctioning equipment, and making stronger photographs due to his own discomfort.

1. How are you holding up?

Ehh *shrugs* COVID-19 has completely changed how my 2020 was supposed to be. Instead of walking the stage in front of all my friends, family, and classmates for graduation, I had to watch a YouTube video with a slide of my name on it. I was also supposed to head to Washington D.C. for a class my last semester and visit Europe this summer. During my final quarter at DePaul, my camera’s autofocus broke, and during some of the biggest protests in Chicago, I was shooting all of it with no autofocus. For about two weeks in July, I was without my camera because I sent it in to be fixed. During that time I felt naked and lost without my camera. It has been a pretty sad year, but my work has flourished in the chaos. 

Man in smoke in Chicago, Illinois | ©Jonathan Aguilar

Hands up Chicago | ©Jonathan Aguilar

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

COVID-19 has made it so that I am constantly uncomfortable. No longer am I able to take simple photographs of happy everyday situations, instead, I am forcing myself to take photographs of the reality that we are currently experiencing. Not only have 185,000+ Americans died from the pandemic here, but there has been civil unrest throughout the entire summer. And to top it all off there have been several natural disasters. It feels disingenuous for me to take photographs of happy moments, so right now I have focused my work on the protest occurring across the country.  

Blue Lives Matter supporter punches protester | ©Jonathan Aguilar

A man shot and killed during civil unrest in Cicero, Illinois | ©Jonathan Aguilar

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

The main thing that COVID has done for me is to put me in uncomfortable situations and figure out ways to make photographs during those times. Even when COVID is over I want to continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations because it helps me create stronger photographs. I also want to continue going out and covering things with a group of LatinX journalists from DePaul that I have been doing things with during COVID. 

Man pepper-sprayed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin following the police shooting of Jacob Blake | ©Jonathan Aguilar

Police in riot gear stand in front of the courthouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin | ©Jonathan Aguilar

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

Ashlee Rezin Garcia is a photojournalist at the Chicago Suntimes. Throughout the pandemic, she has been constantly creating compelling photographs. She has become one of my favorite photographers in Chicago. Photojournalism during this time is extremely important because it is documenting the history and Ashlee’s photographs show the reality of what is occurring. 

Jesus J. Montero is a recent graduate from the DePaul journalism master’s program. This summer he has been creating amazing aerial photographs showing Chicago from the sky. He has also been out and covering different civil unrest across the Chicagoland area. 

Police officer’s baton in Kenosha, Wisconsin | ©Jonathan Aguilar

A Trump supporter walks the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin during the President’s visit after the police shooting of Jacob Blake | ©Jonathan Aguilar

5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?

I have been watching a lot of movies by A24 (American film studio). The types of films this studio makes are really interesting and I feel as though they make you think throughout the films and even after they’re done. My favorite movie that this studio has created is Uncut Gems. I believe they did something really special with that film and I truly enjoyed the anxiety-driven ride I went on.

Love in Quarantine | ©Jonathan Aguilar

I have also been reading through the works of Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work! and Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad). During COVID there have been a lot of times where I have felt uninspired and found it difficult to work. I was introduced to Austin’s books by my girlfriend, who is a graphic designer, and they have really helped to reinvigorate me. His work really gets behind the crux of being an artist and doubting yourself. It helps me feel like I am not alone in this struggle to create.

Jonathan Aguilar | Photo Credit: Elvira Aguilar

Jonathan Aguilar is a recent graduate of DePaul University, receiving a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and a minor in Photography. His work has been featured internationally and has been published widely. Jonathan was key in founding DePaul’s first Spanish publication, La DePaulia. Since graduating, he has been freelancing and teaming up with other journalists of color.

“As an up-and-coming photojournalist, my goal is to be known for my objective point of view and passion for giving the unrepresented communities a platform to be seen and heard. Being Latinx and bilingual, I strive to document an unbiased view of what is happening in the world, so that people can grow in their understanding and empathy for communities outside of their own.”

Jonathan Aguilar can be found online: