The Washington Post Magazine

Portraits from the front lines of the pandemic, through the lens of the 19th century

Melissa Rodriguez, 34, an intensive care nurse for nine years at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Breanna O’Connor, 25, a firefighter and paramedic for five years with the Flagstaff Fire Department.

Dylan Weatherhead, 43, a nurse in the step-down unit for three years at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Historic times call for a historic process. This collection of tintype portraits of medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus harks back to an uncertain time before modern medicine — a time when a cough could spell disaster. Tintype photography, a nearly 170-year-old method, does not result in a clean image: It embraces our human flaws. As we fight this virus, we have had — and will continue to have — flaws in our process. It has been messy, and it will keep feeling that way.

I started this project because my wife is a nurse in northern Arizona. She works primarily with coronavirus patients, and I wanted to tell her story visually, through a profound portrait. I soon realized many of my friends in the medical and first responder fields had their own stories — unique perspectives shared only by those on the front lines.

So over the course of April and May, I captured these stories in more than 120 tintype portraits. It was my tribute to each of them for their heroic work, and my reminder to all who come across this collection that we will fight this till it is done.

Tintypes won’t fade for hundreds of years; they will outlast most other mainstream forms of photography. In the distant future, I want people to look into the eyes of these workers and find their courage as well as their struggle. I want people to see the resilience we generated in the face of this virus.

Jen Adams, 28, an intensive care nurse for one year at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Kristen Massey, 37, a critical care flight nurse for eight years with Guardian Air Transport.

Cynthia Stratmann, 21, a nurse in the step-down unit for one year at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Lyndie Saville, 36, a nurse for eight years at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Marette Gebhardt, 28, a communicable-disease investigator for six years with Coconino County Health and Human Services.

Ali Martinez, 44, a flight nurse for 12 years with Classic Air Medical.

Elizabeth Sauvage, 37, an internist for three years at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Michael Felts, 39, an engineer and paramedic for 14 years with the Flagstaff Fire Department.

Eric Retterbush specializes in alternative photography in Flagstaff, Ariz. See more portraits from his project at www.ericretterbush.com.