Finding inspiration amid the pandemic


A mountain skyline at the border of Arizona and New Mexico on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Shot on a Fujifilm XT30, one of Fujifilm’s newest mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses. Ivan Zermeno/The Union.



After being away from school for almost two years, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed me to return to El Camino College (ECC) to finish up my film degree.

Although I decided to return to college, I did not attend ECC immediately when the shutdown first began.

At the start of 2020, I was working as a door-to-door salesman. Whenever I wasn’t working, I spent most of the quarantine locked away within my home gym that I utilized to feel a sense of accomplishment while also getting away from the stress that came from my job.

As lockdown restrictions slowly began to lift, I started to appreciate the beauty of nature after months of being in quarantine. Photography gave me the ability to capture each beautiful moment forever through the lens of a camera.

I was immediately drawn to photography since it conveys messages through visual narratives. It became the catalyst that I needed to feel inspired to go outside again.

Two Buffalos relax in a barren field during a bright day in Arizona on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Buffalo such as these frequent plains and are heavily protected by state officials as they continue to be threatened. Photo by Ivan Zermeno/The Union.
Two Buffalos relax in a barren field during a bright day in Arizona on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Buffalo such as these frequent plains and are heavily protected by state officials as they continue to be threatened. Ivan Zermeno/The Union.

I left my house more frequently to explore my creative side more; this led me to go on hiking trips, road trips and exploring the outdoors gave me many opportunities to add more photos into my album collection on websites like Instagram.

After witnessing that many of my peers had already graduated when scrolling through my Instagram feed, it left me feeling unfulfilled with myself. I wanted to go back to school. I wanted to be proud of myself, but I didn’t know where to start. I needed to find my confidence once again as a student.

To ease my fears on returning to college, I felt compelled to find research on graduations within the pandemic era.

According to data collected by Cal-State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025, two-year graduation rates for transfer students increased from the previous year’s 31% to 44% in 2020.

I turned my frustration from seeing so many college graduates into inspiration upon realizing that there was still a great chance for me to go back and graduate with my film degree.

Before photography, I had worked in the film industry and had always wanted to do documentaries. Because of this, I was inspired to pick up my camera, hoping that the previous stories I tried to convey through film could eventually translate to photojournalism as well.

A Red Fox calmly watches as people take its picture in Arizona on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. Photo by Ivan Zermeno/ECC Union.
A red fox watches as people take its picture in Arizona on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. There are currently 3 types of Foxes in Arizona, the red fox, the kit fox and the gray fox. Ivan Zermeno/The Union.

I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue my studies despite being scared to act. I knew that school would be significantly easier to concentrate on because I wasn’t doing much else going into 2021.

After learning that photography had a direct correlation with journalism and that journalism was linked to film, I decided to enroll in Chris Viola’s photojournalism class at ECC in spring 2021.

As I started to understand the flow of online classes, I decided to enroll in even more classes. Balancing all my classes on top of my job in motion capture and special effects left me working 12-hour days.

I had more responsibilities to handle now as a college student once again, but I didn’t let the workload slow down my momentum.

Over the summer months, I celebrated my successes from the spring semester with food, video games and spending time with my family. But one evening when I was hanging out over at my cousin’s house, I found out that I had caught the coronavirus.

Pedestrians walking and exploring Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sept. 27, 2020. Photo by Ivan Zermeno/ECC Union.
Pedestrians walk and explore Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Most pedestrians would frequent shops and other venues maskless, regardless of COVID-19 cases being at the peak last year. Ivan Zermeno/The Union.

My COVID-19 diagnosis came at the worst possible time because this was the week before the fall 2021 semester started.

A COVID-19 case tracker study from The New York Times indicated that daily COVID-19 cases in LA County had jumped from 3,184 new cases to a reported 13,703 new cases on Aug. 20, 2021 – the same day that I had received my official diagnosis.

Being infected with the coronavirus derailed my newfound inspiration as I couldn’t practice any of the skills and techniques that I had learned from photojournalism and filmmaking.

Even though I was asymptomatic, I still had to be responsible and quarantine myself within my room for weeks, which affected me both mentally and emotionally.

I utilized my time in self-isolation to find inspiration through classic films like “Apocalypse Now” which led me into writing my film scripts. It took me days to readjust but leaving quarantine after my self-isolation period made me appreciate everything that I had going for me in my life even more.

Today, I’m still balancing out school with my work life, but now that the COVID-19 virus is out of my system, I can take preventative measures to safely continue pursuing my passion in finding inspiration through photography, film, writing and journalism.

I plan on visiting the new Film Museum exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to take pictures; documenting a landmark event within our community that I feel so strongly about and connecting audiences through a medium everyone can understand.

Editors Note Sept. 30, 2021, 3:07 p.m.: The story has been edited to fix redundancy errors.