NEW ORLEANS (AP) – When the nurses’ eyes photographed for Robert Fogarty’s latest project aren’t expressive enough, the words are always there – on forearms, faces or chests.

For those unfamiliar with his previous similar projects – including portraits of people affected by the Boston Marathon bombing and the Pulse Nightclub massacre – Fogarty is the creator of Dear World. That’s the name for his special occasion shop on Dearworld.com, which features photo sessions that incorporate the signature word-on-skin style. and a non-profit organization on Dearworld.org where “we tell the stories of our time”.

Some of the portraits that photographer Daymon Gardner took for the new Dear Nurses project inspire hope and resilience. Some remember a lost patient. All of them are about the attempts to grapple with the sudden onset of COVID-19 in New Orleans last spring, from the accelerated death rate and attempt to comfort dying patients isolated from their loved ones, to worries about their own health and that of their families.

Little explanation is required for some of the messages.

“The heart rate went 60, 40, 10 …” it reads on the interlocking fingers of a nurse.

Another portrait is reminiscent of a horror movie poster. The nurse looks over a breathing apparatus strapped to her face that resembles part of Darth Vader’s helmet. “YOU DO NOT WANT TO VISIT COVIDLAND,” it says on her chest.

Other messages are cryptic. You need to read the accompanying essay to find out why a nurse scrawled “THE BREAD PUDDING PROMISE” on the outside edges of his hands. Or why one doctor among the 39 participants wrote “I NEED NORMAL SALINE” – the words in reverse order with backward-facing letters – on his crossed arms.

Seeing the finished product was cathartic for Ochsner nurse Sanders Coley. “I don’t think I could control my emotions because it just symbolized all of the things that I think I suppressed in the last year,” he said.

“We’ve all experienced so much anxiety, stress, and depression and we couldn’t really let go and show that,” he added. “I think the production actually conveyed what we were through somehow.”

A graduate of the University of Oregon with a major in journalism, Fogarty came to New Orleans as a volunteer with the AmeriCorps, serving for a period in the city administration while New Orleans recovered from catastrophic flooding after the levee breaches in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina.

He said Dear World was born from an idea he needed to make some money when the local NFL franchise got the still-struggling city up with a championship in 2010.

“I started ‘Dear New Orleans’ in the back of a bar the day the Saints won the Super Bowl,” Fogarty recalled in an interview. “I settled in a $ 5 tip bucket and asked people to write why they love New Orleans.

“I often wonder … if the Saints hadn’t won this game, what I would do.” The work became popular locally on social media. “Next time I know, I’ll be at the Saints’ Ring Ceremony, photographing Drew Brees.”

At a subsequent event, a man chose not a New Orleans-centric message, but a personal message to write on his chest: “Cancer Free”.

After that, Dear New Orleans evolved into Dear World and projects in which each subject, in Fogarty’s words, is “the first line or reference to a story that only they can tell”.

The Dear Nurses project, which also includes an 11-minute video documentary showing some of the nurses at work and at home, was conducted with the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. According to Fogarty, this organization recruited and nominated participants from New Orleans hospitals.

Does he have a favorite among portraits and stories? Persuaded to choose one, Fogarty talks about the nurse whose compassion was rooted in words she heard as a restless girl of 16 years. In the portrait, the words are emblazoned on her neck and chest while she smiles at the camera. Those are the words that may have saved her life when she called a suicide hotline and heard the woman on the other end of the line say, “I’m here for you.”