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Love and loneliness in the time of the coronavirus

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Love has countless guises. It can be as cocooned as a couple’s intimacy, something only for them. Or it can be as big as love for a city or countryside — the sounds, rhythms, smells and exquisite details, such as how the sunlight falls in late afternoon. In all its forms, though, love defines us. It shapes our desires, decisions and aspirations.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is a thief. Among the things it snatches away are the connections that feed passion, contentment, belonging and all the other variations of love. Families are separated. Cities and towns are silenced. Places of worship are locked. Hospital quarantine rules keep a patient, desperately sick with the virus, from holding the hands of family members in one last moment together.

A harsh irony is this: The stay-at-home orders and the six-foot social distancing we are told will help keep us safe also limit the human interactions that some medical researchers believe are essential to our physical and mental health.

Through the deeply personal work of nine photographers and artists, we look at the universality of the sense of loneliness we are all feeling right now, no matter where and how we live. These photographers — in France, Japan, Brazil and Illinois published on Thursday, Morocco, Russia, Britain, New York and Massachusetts on Friday — show us the importance of love and human connections in this time of confinement.

This story is part one of a two-part series. See part two.

Lucile Boiron — Alfortville, France

“The being I am waiting for is not real. Like the mother’s breast for the infant, “I create and rec-create it over and over, starting from my capacity to love, starting from my need for it”: the other comes here where I am waiting, here where I have already created him/her. And if the other does not come, I hallucinate the other: waiting is a delirium.” — Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse.

“These images talk about desire, absence, fantasies and projection,” said Lucile Boiron. The French photographer, based in a small borough outside Paris, chose to live through the coronavirus crisis at home, confined on her own, away from her partner. “Solitude felt like the most salutary alternative in this moment where I felt this irrepressible need to have a proper space, ‘a room of one’s own,’ as Virginia Woolf described.

“Confinement disrupts the boundaries between the intimate and the outermost,” she said. “Time stretches, spaces melt into one another, and we become the witnesses of tensions within ourselves and with the other, the real and the virtual. When the other is just an image, that I don’t exist under their touch, the screen becomes the receptacle of my desire.”

Lucile’s images are a photographic introspection, one that forms a rampart against the void. “It’s a way to travel within the confines of oneself.”

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post)
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post)

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post). RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post)

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT
ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: ALFORTVILLE, FRANCE: Part of virus love project. (Photo by Lucile Boiron/For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

Liam Wong — Tokyo

“After midnight, time and people move differently,” said Liam Wong, a photographer and video game designer. For several years, he has wandered the streets of Tokyo, capturing the essence of a city at night. “I often take the last train from Shinjuku to somewhere on the outskirts and take pictures as I make my way back home on foot.”

But, over the past few months, Liam has noticed changes in the dynamic of the metropolis of 9 million people. “Areas that are typically crowded feel less alive, indicative of the effect the pandemic is having on tourism in the metropolis. The city feels lonely.”

That loneliness is one shared by millions of people around the world, as cities have shut down and social interactions are kept at a minimum, becoming, at times, suspicious. And yet, in Tokyo, people try to go about their business as usual. “Offices remain open into the early hours,” Liam said. “Taxi drivers wait patiently for their next passenger. Couples take shelter under the same umbrella. The city is still in motion, and the spirit stays hopeful. For now.”

Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Lonely platform. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) LEDE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Last train home. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: After hours. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Sea of umbrellas. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post)  SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Night shift. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Lonely umbrella. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Tokyo fog. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Tokyo fog II. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE
Image: TOKYO, JAPAN: Looking out over Tokyo. (Photo by Liam Wong/For The Washington Post) SINGLE

Luisa Dorr — Bahia, Brazil

She came from Sao Paulo. He lived in Brasilia. Both left big-city lives to seek the quietness of rural life in Serra Grande. But even hundreds of miles from large centers of life, the coronavirus is altering their plans. Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and Alessandro Junqueira are both health workers who have had to deal with the impending threat of the coronavirus.

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dorr followed the couple as they adjusted their daily lives to the virus’s invisible threat. “For us, it has been very heavy and at the same time an enriching experience,” Mariana told her. The 33-year-old mother of two is experiencing “a feeling of maximal connection with Alessandro and the girls and, at the same time, intense physical and mental exhaustion,” she said. Some of that stress come from knowing that her husband is running the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus as he continues to report to the Luis Eduardo Magalhaes clinic, which he leads.

“When I saw Mariana and Alessandro going through the dilemma of having jobs that is based on risking their own lives for the good of others, I felt that I wanted to tell their stories,” Luisa said. “It’s not going to help me with the feeling of not being really useful in a moment like this one, but I think their deserve public recognition. Them and all of their colleagues around the world.”

Image: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and the kids during a walk in the farm where they live. "We came to this region to enjoy the nature, seeking an easy and more frugal way of life". A good thing about living in the country side is that you are doing social distancing most of the time, with out even noticing. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
LEDE
SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares at the local health center in Serra Grande. She used to work here before the coronavirus outbreak. Because of the Covid 19 the couple decided that she will stay at home taking care of the kids. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH LEFT
SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares makes lunch for her daughters. Mariana: "With out school it is a learning experience to share so much time with the girls. As there are many things to take care of we end up leaving the superfluous aside. We are eating better, and taking better care of our health." (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25: Mariana Toledo Martins Soares at the local health center in Serra Grande. She used to work here before the coronavirus outbreak. Because of the Covid 19 the couple decided that she will stay at home taking care of the kids. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26: Mariana Toledo Martins Soares makes lunch for her daughters. Mariana: "With out school it is a learning experience to share so much time with the girls. As there are many things to take care of we end up leaving the superfluous aside. We are eating better, and taking better care of our health." (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

Image: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 27:
Although Alessandro Junqueira's family lives five minutes away from the beach, it has been more than a month since last time they went to swim. Today Alessandro was supposed to come, but he was left at home sleeping, since he is completely tired after the stressful days at the hospital, his wife and daughters go without him. Going to the beach has been forbidden in many places in Brazil, but here it has been left to common sense. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
SINGLE
IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
Alessandro Junqueira preparing for the daily job at the hospital Igrapiuna, in Bahia, Brazil. Gloves and mask have been in high demand for the past weeks, and hard to get. Not because of lack of economical resources but because they were none available. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH LEFT
SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares' medical uniform hanging on her closet. She is using part of this time home during the coronavirus outbreak to play guitar. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25: Alessandro Junqueira preparing for the daily job at the hospital Igrapiuna, in Bahia, Brazil. Gloves and mask have been in high demand for the past weeks, and hard to get. Not because of lack of economical resources but because they were none available. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26: Mariana Toledo Martins Soares' medical uniform hanging on her closet. She is using part of this time home during the coronavirus outbreak to play guitar. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
Doctor Alessandro Junqueira preparing himself for a long day at the hospital Luis Eduardo Magalhaes in Igrapiuna city in the state of Bahia where he works as a clinical director. For him education is the base of all. ÒIn order to be aware of the present situation with Covid, it is fundamental to have a basic education. An illiterate patient with diabetes or hypertension is not aware of heÕs own situation, even less something like Covid. You only access information if you have a basic educationÓ. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH LEFT
SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and Alessandro Junqueira's daughters, Flora, 2, right, and Ana, 5, just found and stray cat around their home couple of days ago. Now the cat is part of the family and a great way to divert attention. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25: Doctor Alessandro Junqueira preparing himself for a long day at the hospital Luis Eduardo Magalhaes in Igrapiuna city in the state of Bahia where he works as a clinical director. For him education is the base of all. ÒIn order to be aware of the present situation with Covid, it is fundamental to have a basic education. An illiterate patient with diabetes or hypertension is not aware of heÕs own situation, even less something like Covid. You only access information if you have a basic educationÓ. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 26: Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and Alessandro Junqueira's daughters, Flora, 2, right, and Ana, 5, just found and stray cat around their home couple of days ago. Now the cat is part of the family and a great way to divert attention. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

Image: IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
Nurses going through new data from patients at hospital Igrapiuna. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
SINGLE
SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and Alessandro Junqueira are doctors, both general practitioners.To protect their family they decided that Mariana would stay at home taking care of the children and Alessandro would go to work. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH LEFT
IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:
At the hospital Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, in Igrapiuna city, the cleaning staff is working with extra care because of the  coronavirus. 
(Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
DIPTYCH RIGHT

LEFT: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25: Mariana Toledo Martins Soares and Alessandro Junqueira are doctors, both general practitioners.To protect their family they decided that Mariana would stay at home taking care of the children and Alessandro would go to work. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH LEFT. RIGHT: IGRAPIUNA, BRAZIL - MARCH 25: At the hospital Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, in Igrapiuna city, the cleaning staff is working with extra care because of the coronavirus. (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post) DIPTYCH RIGHT

Image: SERRA GRANDE, BRAZIL - MARCH 29:
Social apps for video calls have been a great help to the family. The girls are calling several times per day to Alessandro when he is on duty. Sometimes he's not able to answer. But whenever he can the girls enjoy it, and keep asking "when are you coming back? " (Photo by Luisa Dorr/ For The Washington Post)
CLOSING SINGLE

Anjali Pinto — Chicago

Overnight, Anjali Pinto’s sources of income evaporated. The freelance photographer, and occasional Airbnb host, has been sheltering in place for the past three weeks in Chicago with her partner, Uchenna “Uche” Chukwu, a full-time student in a nursing program. “He’s been trying to maintain calm as my anxiety ebbs and flows during this time.”

Three years ago, Anjali’s husband died suddenly. “I have been grappling with waves of grief that come through this period of uncertainty,” she said. “I am again reminded how little we can truly control in life, and how quickly our circumstances can change.”

But there are still moments of joy, peacefulness and hope, she said. They still visit her sister, Kiran, and nephew, Julien, interacting with them through a window as to not endanger them. And then, there is their own baby, who will enter into the world after this pandemic slows, when life will, hopefully, she said, regain its normalcy. In the meantime, Anjali sees her photography as a way to document a unique place and time in history. A history shared by millions of people around the world.

Image: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. Self portrait, 15 weeks pregnant during shelter-in-place order.(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
Image: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. Detail shot of a moses basket, one of the few items I purchased in anticipation of our baby due in September. Now with work and housing uncertain, IÕve stopped buying anything in preparation for the new addition.

(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
Image: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 31, 2020. Uchenna Chukwu and Anjali Pinto enjoy breakfast together during the shelter-in-place order in Illinois.

(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. Detail shot in Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. 

(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. My immediately family catches up over Zoom from Seattle, WA, Peoria, IL and Chicago, IL.

(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)

LEFT: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. Detail shot in Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. (Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post) . RIGHT: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. My immediately family catches up over Zoom from Seattle, WA, Peoria, IL and Chicago, IL. (Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)

Image: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. Detail shot in Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. 

(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
Image: CHICAGO, IL. MARCH 29, 2020. My nephew, Julien Pinto and my sister, Kiran Pinto, through the window of their home in Chicago. Though it was difficult, weÕve decided to not have any physical contact during the coronavirus outbreak.
(Photo by Anjali Pinto for The Washington Post)
About this story

Photo editing by Chloe Coleman, Karly Domb Sadof and Olivier Laurent. Text by Olivier Laurent and Brian Murphy. Design and development by Jake Crump.