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.”
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.”
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.”
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.