Photographer Sam Comen is known for his narrative portfolios, combining environmental portraits of everyday people as well as leaders, actors, musicians, and artists. For example, The Newest Americans series features intimate, thoughtful, joyous portraits of new U.S. citizens immediately before and after taking the oath, produced in partnership with writer Michael Estrin.

Appropriate that on the anniversary of California’s stay-at-home orders, Comen has partnered with UFCW Local 770, the union representing more than 30,000 retail food, pharmacy, meatpacking and food processing, laboratory, healthcare and cannabis workers in Southern California, to release a new visual journalism project — The Longest Shift.

The photographs, video portraits and first-person stories represent lived experience from people employed in a wide range of industries from warehouse workers to healthcare providers to rideshare drivers, case workers and food workers — the real people who kept working in the face of a deadly virus for the last year, so that others could stay home and so that others could live. Their warm crispness and the lowkey magic of the motion effect creates an emotional engagement and a sense of empathy that also radiates from their harrowing, yet doggedly hopeful, stories.

Sam Comen’s The Longest Shift: “Today we’re here. Tomorrow’s not for granted. Like I always tell the customers, ‘Have a good day. Be safe.’ What else is there to say?” —Jennifer Alcantar: Cashier, Super A Foods.

Terri Thompson, an ER and Trauma nurse, L.A. County + USC Hospital shares that, “There were times when I came home and I cried; there were times when I cried on my way home. There were times where I had to stay over, because my coworkers were sick. This has been the most trying time of my career. I want people to know that we do the best we can with what we have.”

And John Grant, UFCW 770 president, has seen up close how “COVID-19 has fundamentally changed us. We never intended to be on the front lines and essential workers in the middle of a global pandemic and in the eye of the storm. Documenting the strength, power and emotion of the people who kept working through it all is also essential.”

Sam Comen’s The Longest Shift: “There were customers that would come up to you without a mask on, and then they’d get mad at you for not wanting to talk or take their mail. I was like, ‘Okay, wait a minute, my son has chronic asthma, my mother has kidney failure, and my sister has lupus, so I can’t afford to bring anything home.’ I tried to explain it to them.” —Nicole Luckie, USPS Letter Carrier (far right) with (L to R) Hector Robles, Hyun Joo Kim, Kim Chow, Maria Alviso, and Lance Goosby.

Participating Organizations: UFCW 770, SEIU 721, SEIU 2015, Teamsters, Teamsters Local 399, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Mobile Workers Alliance, Warehouse Worker Resource Center, IATSE, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Committee of Interns and Residents, Fight for $15, the National Association of Letter Carriers, TransLatin@ Coalition, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

More story portraits are being added every few days. Follow along at and with #TheLongestShift across social platforms.

Sam Comen’s The Longest Shift. “I lost my brother in Guatemala to COVID on January 6. I thought about going. I wasn’t able to, because I would have to quarantine myself when I arrived in Guatemala, so why was I even going? And then when I returned, I would have to quarantine again. So, no.” —Amado Montejo, Port of Los Angeles Trucker.

LA Weekly