Starting on Memorial Day Weekend, photographer John Madere set up an impromptu portrait studio on the beach in Montauk.
I wanted to see if I could capture some sense of emotion on the masked faces of people in a setting that is normally fun and carefree. I set up my camera on a tripod at the entrance to a popular beach in Montauk, NY. That beach has become much more crowded than usual as many residents of New York City have fled their urban environment for safer spaces. I approached the most interesting looking people and asked if they would pose for me with their masks on. I shot at a socially safe distance using a long lens.
Photographing in that busy spot for a couple of hours each day also allowed me to experience the diverse attitudes of people who chose to wear masks—or not. My subjects were often committed to keeping themselves and others safer from Coronavirus by diligently wearing their masks even when socially distanced on the beach. Many tried to make the best of it, deploying fashionable and creative masks. It seems that one’s mask can reflect one’s personality—even more so than their choice of wardrobe.
I approached the most interesting looking people and asked if they would pose for me with their masks on.
Some beachgoers openly scoffed at the need for social distancing and the way that masks impinge on their freedom. Several even boasted that they weren’t afraid of the virus, missing the point that wearing a mask is also about protecting others.
A large part of Montauk’s population is affluent, and the community might not be seen as particularly diverse—but there was a dramatic diversity of opinion regarding the politically fraught etiquette of mask wearing. I think this series of beach portraits conveys cautious optimism and care for others—and an appreciation for personal style and natural beauty, even as our world gets turned upside down.
Here are a few of those who posed wearing their masks.
Where do you live: I live in Manhattan.
How many masks do you own? 3–4
Where did you get this one? I think I bought it at a pharmacy in my neighborhood. Nothing particularly special about it but thought it would be nice to have a bandana in the mask rotation.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? To be honest, Memorial Day Weekend was my first and only time on the beach since COVID started.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? Obviously it’s nice to be mask free for a change. I prefer not to wear one when I’m outside and away from other people. But in this case there were a lot of people on the beach, especially near the entrance. Honestly, the main reason why I wear my mask at this point is out of courtesy to other people. There’s such a wide range of feelings being in public these days, with or without masks. I want to respect that and make sure the people around me feel comfortable and relaxed. Isn’t that the point of being on the beach in the first place?
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? I work remotely, so from a professional standpoint not much has changed, but just about everything else did. New York City is not much of a fun place to be when you can’t enjoy all it has to offer. However, my wife is an ER doctor in the city so all that was happening with COVID felt really close to home. It guess we just felt like it was our obligation to stay inside and help the city get through this crisis.
Nick and Finn
Where do you live? Montauk
How many masks do you own? 2
Where did you get this one? My wife bought it
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Sometimes
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I don’t mind wearing it since it keeps others and myself safe.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? It hasn’t been easy, but it has given me lots of quality time with family and dogs.
Hurricane Mike & Noah Avallone
Where do you live? MTK, NYC, & VT
How many masks do you own? Too many
Where did you get this one? I got mine at the Legendary Banked Slalom held annually at Mount Baker in WA. Noah got his from one of his Snowboarding sponsors, Giro Helmets.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Only on line at the Ditch Witch or when around strangers
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I’m confident that the beach is safe if people are maintaining social and physical distance. The mask is most important when indoors and around strangers or when it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? My kids are doing virtual school and it has given us more time to schedule our lives according to the weather, waves or snow.
Connie Giordano Cortese
Where do you live? Montauk, New York
How many masks do you own? Currently I have a basket full of masks. I am obsessed! When I see a cute one on Instagram I buy it.
Where did you get this one? I believe the mask I am wearing was one I purchased on Instagram.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? I always wear my mask on the way to the beach. If I can maintain social distancing, then I do not wear it on the beach, however it is always with me. I feel that it is of utmost importance to wear a mask.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Sheltering at home has helped me to be more creative. I have been much more productive in my studio. I have learned that I don’t need as many things as I thought I did. Oh and thank god for my Peloton, as I have been working out almost everyday with my Peloton community! I do miss social interaction with my friends and of course my family. Oh, I did attempt to make sourdough bread but after several failed attempts I am giving up! I hope that I have become a more compassionate person during this pandemic as I have seen so many people suffer. I am lucky to be living here, in beautiful Montauk.
Where do you live? Manhattan and Montauk
How many masks do you own? Two cute ones, and a bunch of paper masks
Where did you get this one? I bought it on Etsy. I don’t have a sewing machine so I decided to look for something that would be cute.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? When near other people but not when surfing.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? Honestly, I don’t like how a mask feels but it’s an important thing to do to take care of other people. As I said, I don’t like it but I have an elderly parent, friends have babies and elderly parents. Some friends have immune suppressed spouses. I want to protect all of these people, and masks statistically prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s a small inconvenience to save lives.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? I’m on Zoom most of the day meeting with staff or clients. Everything that used to take 10 minutes now takes an hour. It’s frustrating and I miss working collaboratively with my team.
Sisters Annabelle & Charlotte with Sloane
All age 4
Sloane’s mom’s answers:
Where do you live? TriBeCa and Montauk
How many masks do you own? We each have an N95 mask and a cloth mask.
Where did you get this one? We ordered our N95 masks in early February before a flight, which also happened to be before the shortages. There weren’t many options but we found these cheerful ones for kids. It was important to us that our daughter wasn’t afraid of her mask or ours. My mask is by Tracy Feith.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? We wear them in the parking lot or queueing up at the Ditch Witch. So far the beaches have been pretty low key with plenty of space. It’s how I remember Montauk as a kid.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? We come here to get sand between our toes, so if the crowds pick up and we need to put our masks on then that’s what we’ll do. It’s the respectful thing to do. We have to look out for each other as a community. Wearing a mask is a simple act of altruism. So many talented people and designers have made lovely versions to make it more fun. Check out the beautiful masks by Royal Jelly at the Crow’s Nest shop.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? (from Sloane) I have to put my mask on now…
Annabelle & Charlotte’s mom’s answers:
Annabelle & Charlotte
Where did you get this one? The masks are handmade by our Baba (the girls’ grandmother). We have a couple of different ones as it looks like we’ll be wearing them for a while. Might as well find one you really like.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? We wear our masks when social distancing is not possible.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? Getting kids to wear masks can be challenging so we found a way to involve them in choosing the pattern to help them to feel good about wearing them. As parents I suppose we want to demonstrate that wearing a mask isn’t frightening, it’s familiar. We wear ours when we do fun activities like walking to the ocean or ordering food from the Ditch Witch, when social distancing is not possible. To be honest, it didn’t take much for these girls to understand why masks are important. We talk about it, we model it, and in turn they demonstrate what they know. Kids are bright and will grow brighter still amidst all of this.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? This period of time has had a significant impact on each of us. Even the experience of being a child has changed. I look at this as giving them a new experience.
The girls added:
Charlotte: I wear a mask because of the virus and I don’t want to get sick. I have a polka dot one and unicorn one and I love the colors.
Anabelle: When I have to wear it I know the mask protects me and stops the spread of germs. It’s fine wearing it, I just wish I had a whole outfit for my body to match!
It’s my way to show we are all looking out for one another.
Where do you live? Manhattan, West Village
How many masks do you own? 5
Where did you get this one? My friend I was surfing with kindly gave it to me.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? I do when I’m going to or from the car or when I’m in close proximity to others I don’t live with.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I think it’s smart to wear one anytime I’m close to anyone I’m not living with. I feel like it’s my way to show we are all looking out for one another. I take pride in wearing a mask and am grateful for others that do as well. We are all in this together!
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? I’ve found it to be a great time for reflection and an opportunity to truly reconnect with the things that are important.
Where do you live? East Hampton and Brooklyn
How many masks do you own? Two…and counting
Where did you get this one? My mom made the mask I’m wearing. She’s a Home & Careers teacher, so when we became required to wear a mask, she was quick to whip out the sewing machine.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Only when I’m waiting in line for Ditch Witch. Otherwise, when I’m at the beach, I’m out surfing. And, thankfully, riding a 9’ board comes with social distancing built in.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I’m happy to wear a mask. Having grown up on Shelter Island, I feel strongly about protecting our community. Wearing a mask is another way I can show my love and respect for others.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? The forced deceleration was more than welcome. Pre-COVID, I didn’t realize just how much stress I’d been under living in the city. Being back home, in the sun and surf, has given me the opportunity to slow down and realign with what matters most. I’m grateful for this time, for sure.
Thankfully, riding a 9’ board comes with social distancing built in.
Where do you live? East Hampton
How many masks do you own? One in each vehicle so…many…
Where did you get this one? The mask in the photo I got online from a British company that makes emission-proof products for commuters who cycle. As an avid municipal cyclist I’ve had it for years
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Depends on the particular beach population of the moment
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I feel that they are necessary on the beach on occasions of overpopulation by non-familiar individuals. My particular beach community typically consists of individuals who are very familiar, extremely health conscious and who lead a relatively sequestered life. No particular sentiments about mask wearing but to say that it doesn’t hurt to follow health suggestions
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Sheltering at home is a familiar practice—many of my friends and I live out at the End on purpose…
Where do you live? Montauk
How many masks do you own? We’ve got options at our house—a few masks, bandanas, and head wraps
Where did you get this one? I got this mask on my friend, Lee Vosburgh’s, recommendation. It’s from the company Sweat Less and is very comfortable and easy to get on/off.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? When I am not able to maintain social distance from others, I do wear my mask on the beach.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I don’t like wearing a mask anywhere, honestly, but this isn’t just about me. Even though I don’t like wearing a mask, I do feel good about doing so in these circumstances. It feels like a small and simple act of love and respect for others, for my community, and for the world at large, really.
It feels like a small and simple act of love and respect for other.
Dominique Muller Le-Bars
Where do you live? Biarritz, France
How many masks do you own? 5
Where did you get this one? Hand made in the US by Eskayel, woman-owned fabric design house from Brooklyn. All mask sales profits go to Direct Relief who is helping provide protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? In the parking lot.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? Vital in congested environments.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Blessed to be in Montauk and close to nature during lockdown. It exceedingly helped mitigate sentiments of anxiety, boredom and frustration that some of my friends experienced whilst living in the City.
Joe and Will Del Rio
(answers from Joe)
Where do you live? Norwood NJ and Montauk NY
How many masks do you own? I’d say I have around 4–5 masks that I reuse.
Where did you get this one? I believe I got this mask from Amazon.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Not usually, but I always keep one with me just in case I run into people.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I don’t love it, but it’s my responsibility to keep myself, and those around me safe. It’s strange to drive around town, and to see people in masks, but it’s encouraging to see that everyone is taking this seriously.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Obviously everything has been put on hold, but I’m very thankful to be spending so much time with my family. They are the best type of support system to have in a time like this.
I am so grateful to my colleagues and co-workers at Northwell Health for working so hard to keep our patients and each other safe.
Where do you live? Rockville Centre, NY
How many masks do you own? 10
Where did you get this one? I ordered it from Etsy (a shop called MaskWonders) in hopes that the beaches would open.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? I wear it in any area where we may be in close proximity to others and where there are rules that it must be worn—walking in and out of the parking lot, on line at the Ditch Witch, and walking to our chairs.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I’m happy to wear anything that keeps my family and all of the other families safe while enjoying the peace of the beach. As a Maternal-Fetal Medicine doctor I take care of pregnant women with high-risk conditions, whether maternal, fetal, or both. Pregnancies couldn’t pause during the pandemic, and I am so grateful to my colleagues and co-workers at Northwell Health for working so hard to keep our patients and each other safe. Masks save lives. Masks work. We need to continue to be safe and respect the safety of those around us in order to never ever go back to the situation in March and April in NY.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? As a physician I couldn’t really shelter in place. But the whole situation made me appreciate the little things and reconnect with simple family time. We played Boggle and UNO. We took bike rides and wrote letters to friends and family. I am so grateful to my husband who managed to keep my kids on a schedule with remote learning and kept them entertained while I was at work.
This one I made from a punk band T-shirt.
Katrina Del Mar
Where do you live? NYC (East Village) & Montauk
How many masks do you own? I think I have about 7—a few N95s from construction work (for going into stores), a few my cousin made from cloth, this one I made from a punk band T-shirt, and from my designer pal, Claire Fleury, a very “couture” neoprene mask!
Where did you get this one? It’s made from a Lunachicks t shirt. They’re a great NYC punk band who were about to go on tour for the first time in about 20 years this spring; as part of gearing up for it they had new t-shirts made. Then, of course, it all got canceled because of COVID-19. I’ve been a big fan of theirs since we were all teenagers, we used to go to their shows at CBGB’s. I was their photographer for a few of their albums and band shots. Their lead singer, Theo Kogan, designed the kooky bat lady logo, I surf with her husband sometimes, he’s also a visual artist and guitar player. I just thought it’s so goth to have a bat virus protection from a bat logo punk shirt. In January I did some painting work with Gina Volpe, their guitar player; she gave me the T-shirt at the end of the day. It didn’t fit nicely as a shirt so I cut it up into a mask when it became clear to me that COVID-19 was going to be around for a long time. A punk T-shirt really wouldn’t be great protection against the virus indoors, but it’s a way for me to show respect for others as I pass them on the beach or in the parking lot. It stays under my wetsuit while I surf and I can easily pull it up as I pass people.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Yes, I do, if people are closer than 10 feet or so.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I think it shows self respect and respect for others to wear a mask. I don’t like it, it’s not comfortable, but it’s really a minor inconvenience compared to a major illness. Look, I read a lot, and everything I’ve read clearly indicates that mask wearing is an important way to beat the spread of the virus. None of us know whether a person nearby is infected and asymptomatic, possibly sneezing from hay fever and also infected with COVID-19.
We don’t know how long immunity lasts for those who’ve come through the illness: the virus may be mutating. Some of our neighbors are elderly, or immunocompromised.
We’ve been applauding the front line and essential workers every day all spring. We applaud the nurses, the doctors, the EMTs, the firefighters, the fishermen, the farmers, the grocery store workers, the bus drivers. Those people deserve our gratitude; it’s the least we can do to put on a mask to show respect to those who are saving lives, feeding us, getting people to their jobs.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Money wise it’s been rough, but as an artist I’m not unaccustomed to living on fumes. Quarantine simplified things in a radical way; I’m a distractible artist who needs to create so it was almost like being in a residency—it helped me to focus. I made little movies, worked on some paintings, I finished a music video and released a single for my band, Tracy City. I’m a bit of a hausfrau, too, so I turned the earth in a garden, planted some potatoes and peas, cooked meals from scratch. I called friends & family, did Zoom meetings. I did a bit of local surfing, distant from other surfers.
Recently I participated in some peaceful (masked) protests and paddle-outs for Black Lives Matter; to be around people again after being very isolated all spring was stunning and powerful.
Nicholas and Viktoria Hammel and their parents Anthony and Christine
Where do you live? White Plains, NY is our main residence. Sag Harbor, NY is out summer home.
How many masks do you own? Many disposable and approximately a dozen reusable.
Where did you get this one? Dad purchased the masks for all. Nicholas was against wearing them at first so he purchased one with his favorite sneaker brand. Mom’s mask was handmade and purchased from a Southampton store owner online. Dad wore his running gaiter.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? Yes as recommended by the local ordinances.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? It is not preferred. It is uncomfortable but hopefully temporary. We are following recommendations assuming that those implementing the guidelines know what they are doing. If it helps it was worth it.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? We are sheltering in place at our Sag Harbor home. It is larger and enables us more space indoors and outdoors than our place in Westchester. I miss interaction with friends and extended family. Hopefully we can get back to normal shortly.
Dr. Harry from Montauk Chiropractic
Where do you live? I live in Montauk and Rincon
How many masks do you own? I have and wear four different masks
Where did you get this one? The mask I’m wearing was a gift.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? I wear a mask in the parking lot and around my neck on the beach. I only wear it if I am closer than 6 ft to someone whom I have not been around on a regular basis over the last 2 months outside of the surfing community.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? My feelings with regards to wearing the mask are mixed but I think that they are a necessity and understood as the norm for close public contact at this time.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Sheltering at home hasn’t really made too much of a difference for me. I am lucky to have been able to surf while enjoying home life, many home improvement projects, as well as really good food.
Lisa DuBusc Miller
Where do you live? Montauk, Rye, and Rincon.
How many masks do you own? I own about 35 masks now. The first ones I received were mailed to me from my aupair who lives in the Czech Republic, Today I feel as if I’m constantly acquiring masks all the time. And I just recently took a Roberta Roller Rabbit beach shift to the tailor to have it made into masks because it’s such a beautiful cotton design.
Where did you get this one? The mask I’m wearing in the photo is one that I got at my local pharmacy and I just love the happy pattern. I’m looking at masks more and more as wearable fashion that may be here to stay, so I’m embracing them as a style statement and a means of protection.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? No, I don’t wear a mask on the beach and I don’t plan on doing so. The beach just feels too open and spread out and open air.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? I do feel that wearing a mask is important when in a large group or a close setting. Breathability, ease of putting on, and attractiveness are the most important features for me in choosing a mask. But I wear a mask only when I truly have to.
How has sheltering at home affected your daily life? Sheltering at home gave me the opportunity to spend unexpected time on a daily basis with my three children and that has been a wonderful silver lining.
I just recently took a Roberta Roller Rabbit beach shift to the tailor to have it made into masks.
Wayne & Monty Margolies with Snoopy
Where do you live? Amagansett
How many masks do you own? A bunch. A friend sent us some N95s and my wife’s friend sent us some custom ones from Apolis.
Where did you get this one? It’s one of the ones my wife’s friend from Cali made.
Do you wear your mask on the beach? If a lot of people are around. Mostly we wear these, or scarfs or cover up.
How do you feel about wearing a mask? Unfortunately, it’s prudent.