During a more than 30-year professional photojournalism career, John Moore has documented the struggles of people across 70 countries on six continents. He’s covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; the continued COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.; and he’s spent years putting a human face on the issue of immigration in the U.S. and Latin America.
Moore has been a senior staff photographer and special correspondent for Seattle-based Getty Images for 17 years. Prior to that, he worked mostly for The Associated Press, where he won a Pulitzer Prize covering the war in Iraq in 2005. He was posted internationally for 17 years, in Nicaragua, India, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt and Pakistan, and has won World Press Photo honors five times, including the 2019 Photo of the Year for the iconic image “Crying Girl on the Border.”
Last week, Moore came to Seattle to turn his lens on the city and capture how Seattle is coping with its own issues, including homelessness, the opioid epidemic, crime and pandemic recovery.
“My goal as a photojournalist was to show what these challenges look like,” Moore told GeekWire. “I don’t see my role as promoting policy solutions to complicated issues, but rather documenting what I see.”
His first visit to the city for photo coverage came two years ago, in March 2020, when Seattle was “ground zero” as COVID arrived in the U.S.
“Seattle provided a glimpse of what the rest of the nation would soon be seeing,” Moore said of that time. “The tragedy at the Life Care Center in Kirkland was one example, but also seeing how office workers emptied out of downtown Seattle, giving the city the look of a ghost town long before other U.S. cities.”
Returning to Seattle after two years, Moore did a series of diptychs (below) in particular places around the city, showing what certain scenes looked like in 2020 and then again almost exactly two years later.
Moore, who lives with his family in Stamford, Conn., is on the road about a third to half of the year. He said the problems that Seattle faces are tough, but not completely unique. Nationwide, many downtown areas have been slow to recover after office workers went home to work remotely and businesses that relied on those workers suffered.
Moore’s visit happened to take place at the same time as the Downtown Seattle Association issued its annual State of Downtown report and held an event to discuss the issues facing Seattle’s urban core. A rise in crime is the most pressing concern that has tech companies and employees either leaving downtown for good or debating whether to come back.
“The urban crime wave is also a national phenomenon, although in some cities it’s more violent and in others more theft related,” Moore said. The New York Times, for instance, reported on nine mass shootings across the U.S. last weekend that highlight the country’s continuing crime wave.
“There are so many factors which converged during the pandemic, including the protests of 2020 and what came from that,” Moore said. “How these combined to exacerbate Seattle’s pre-existing challenges has been endlessly debated locally — and has, we know, been addressed by voters.”
There is also much debate in Seattle around the crisis of affordability and homelessness and how much the city’s tech boom is to blame for compounding the situation.
Moore’s images of tents, garbage and people in crisis — against the backdrop of a growing city — illustrate what many in Seattle see and react to on a daily basis across downtown, the I-5 corridor and in many neighborhoods.
“The wealth gap between rich and poor is not particular to Seattle,” Moore said. “Yes, it’s true that tech wealth is in a category all its own, which visually contrasts with tents on the street, but there’s versions of this all over America — and worse yet in the developing world.”
Moore believes that Seattleites have a general bent towards kindness that perhaps makes them generally more aware of the disparities that exist within the city. But he said it’s heartbreaking to see so many people mired not only in homelessness, but also in severe opioid addiction, which is extremely hard to escape from alive.
But within that community he witnessed humanity and kindness.
“There are some beautiful people within the homeless community who care for each other with tenderness, even within difficult circumstances,” Moore said. “I made one photograph [above] of a man checking up on another after he had passed out while smoking fentanyl at an encampment.
“That moment touched me profoundly and I feel fortunate to have made that image.”
See more of John Moore’s photographs on his Instagram feed.
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