In mid-March, when it became evident many photographers were losing income and work opportunities, and living in isolation, Charlotte (Schmitz, a documentary photographer based in Berlin) went to the Women Photograph community, a three-year-old initiative to elevate the voices of visual journalists, and posted a question on its Facebook page: “What if hundreds of creative women photographers in 100+ countries document their private spaces and daily lives during COVID-19?”
This question became an open call and, in turn, a global collective project of more than 400 photographers. Hannah (Yoon, a freelance documentary photographer based in Philadelphia) saw the open call and volunteered to help. We never thought so many women would want to participate but quickly realized that it showed how much we need one another during these times.
Like many of the photographers who are participating, we have never met each other in person but have managed the project remotely from our homes. Through video calls, online documents and WhatsApp messages, we created “The Journal.” As relationships formed between the members and the project evolved, we could see compelling visual stories emerging that were focused on personal, emotional and psychological experiences. We have turned the camera on ourselves, our families, intimate moments and private spaces. For some of us, this is a new way to be making pictures. It can be vulnerable and exposing, but at the same time it has been helpful for many. We’re making friends, exploring our lives and creating images beyond assignment work.
With the help of Friendzone.Studio, we created a platform for participants across countries and time zones to collaboratively push the boundaries of storytelling on social media. We did this by organizing them into 45 groups, with eight to 10 people in each, and having the groups take turns posting their work on Instagram. Every Thursday we share images that respond to a different theme, such as time, self-portrait, nature or connection. As the economic crisis of this pandemic unfolds in the coming months and years, we fear that it might result in even more unequal access to opportunities for work in our industry. “The Journal” aims to reclaim space and wants to ensure that these impactful images by women are equally written into the history of this time.
A self-portrait of freelance photographer Sarah Pabst, top left, who is based in Buenos Aires, and daughter Elena, who was upset that she could not go to the playground. At the time in Argentina, children were not allowed outside.
Sofia Jaramillo, a freelance photographer in Jackson, Wyo., takes a portrait of her partner, top right, during the fourth week of their local stay-at-home ordinance. “The constant uncertainty of all of this has brought me to the uncomfortable realization that at times, I do need him,”Jaramillo says. “As a woman who prides herself on being independent, this thought is difficult to swallow. But our love is symbiotic, warm and healthy. In the absence of a quickly moving life, there is room for healing. The days we spend together bring me closer to him and closer to being okay with the fact that it’s okay to need someone sometimes.”
“I came to Los Angeles in December to escape New York winter, not knowing that this would be the state of the world,” says Stephanie Mei-Ling (above), a Taiwanese and African American documentary photographer based in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. “Being quarantined with my mother has allowed us to really work on our relationship and has forced us to get to know each other in deeper ways. I set up my camera on a tripod and self-timer mode to document us around the house. Because of the stay-at-home order, my mother hasn’t seen her hairstylist for weeks, so like many other women across the globe, we’ve had to find ways to maintain our personal care routine. This was us on one of our “self-care Saturdays.”
“This wall makes me wonder how many people have lived in this apartment,” says Charlotte Schmitz, a documentary photographer based in Berlin. “I love nightdresses. And pink. During these times, I long much more for a house with a garden. Maybe I would wear this while having coffee among the plants.”
A self-portrait of Laurence Philomene in their bedroom, taken over a month into home isolation. “As a chronically ill person, my bedroom has always been a space of comfort,” says Philomene, a freelance fine arts photographer based in Montreal. “I like to create a space where I can escape the real world for a while.” This photo was shot as part of Philomene’s ongoing self-portrait project “Puberty.”
“Tangerine Lungs,” by Koral Carballo, a photographer based in Veracruz, Mexico. “Rediscovering my home after the confinement has strengthened me as a storyteller, challenging me every day,” Carballo says. “Documenting how my days pass is to return to the origin of why I am interested in photography, it is to recharge energy to continue, it is to rethink the world and how we relate to it.”
“When the European borders started closing, I was in Tokyo for a solo show and to teach a workshop and decided to anticipate my return to Europe,” says photographer Loulou d’Aki. “The Greek border was already closed, so I couldn’t travel back to my base but ... to my motherland Sweden. I’ve been living with my sister and her family for a month now, in the Swedish countryside. This time of quarantine has forced me to stay home longer than I have for many years. I feel reconnected with my roots and am given time to spend with my niece and nephew that I see so little of. A beautiful moment within a terrible one.”
Andrea Hernández Briceño
“Every day I drink a cup of tea,” says Andrea Hernández Briceño, a photojournalist in Caracas, Venezuela. “Each bag symbolizes 24 hours of quarantine. I collected them until I had too many and my fridge started looking like a tea bag cemetery. All my life I’ve had a battle with domesticity because I resisted the fact that the women in my family had to take care of every single aspect of the household. For a long time I refused to cooperate if my brother was idle, but then I reconciled with it because I saw how happy my mom was when I helped her. It has made us closer. Now that I live alone, I think about all the teachings she has passed on while cooking and cleaning together. I still think it shouldn’t be only the women in the kitchen or with the mop, but I stopped being resentful about it.”
“Since I’m home more than usual, I find I’m starting to pay attention to details of my space,” says Hannah Yoon, a freelance documentary photographer based in Philadelphia. “Normally I would not be concerned with furniture and how to decorate my home, but I’m confronted by our space more than I’d like to be.”
“Since I have been self-isolating myself, my day-to-day life has been spent staring into [a] computer sceen, trying to keep my mind occupied, though my mind so often wanders,” says Nyimas Laula, a photographer based in Indonesia. “Here my thoughts wander to my mom, who’s a retired public health consultant but still occasionally went on and off to the frontline to help. We live separately on different islands, but her presence is near as her blanket wraps around my body, keeping me warm every night.”
“Aside from breast-feeding, our household roles never ascribed to traditional gender norms: My husband loves to cook and is far better at making time for laundry and cleaning than I am,” says Emily Schiffer, a photographer and mixed-media artist based in Brooklyn. “Now, the combination of a slower pace of life and endless time at home have helped me focus on our home. With 16 years as a teaching artist under my belt, I jumped at the chance to home-school our daughter and had big plans for all of the ways we could integrate art into what she’s learning. Instead, home school has been a battle. Lola is willing to do a worksheet for school if I sit with her in her fort.”
Isadora Kosofsky’s mother puts on makeup one afternoon in her bathroom in Los Angeles. “I haven’t lived under the same roof with my parents since I was a teenager,” says Kosofsky, a documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. “I have spent my adulthood running from them due to family violence. When the quarantine began, knowing they were vulnerable due to age, I moved in with them. During his entire marriage to my mother, my father has perpetrated domestic abuse. While they remain together, my mother has created a schedule where she is not in the home during the day for the past 40 years. In light of the pandemic, they are now perpetually in close quarters. I photograph my mother as we all share a space of past trauma. History can never be erased, yet we can move to a place of acceptance. Through photographing my mother, I am falling in love with her, attempting to understand her and our complex relationship as I hold space for her grace and beauty. Many of the people I shadow remind me of my relatives, so this work allows me to return to my blueprint, the original script.”
“As a photojournalist, free, alone and on the move, I’ve built my womanhood in opposition to the commonly established standards of domestic life,” says Adrienne Surprenant, a Canadian photojournalist based in Paris. “Life is independent, somewhat lonely. While documenting the pandemic in the Ambroise Paré private clinic, in France, where they did the incredible work of tripling their capacities ... to support the public sector and receive covid-19 patients, my eyes were attracted to close details of tenderness and human touch. The hands, feet and chest of this patient in an artificial coma were all meaningful to people who shared his life. And now, with death hovering in the room, the only contacts allowed were gloved, foreign ones. Domestic and daily life is all about how we connect — or not — to other beings. It’s about togetherness and caring, qualificatives that shouldn’t be applied only to womanhood, but to humanity at large.”
“Some days I don’t wake up feeling like a wet rag,” says Khadija Farah, a travel and documentary photographer from Nairobi, Kenya. “When this happens, I muster enough energy to do a face mask, paint my nails, gab with my best friends the world over about non-virus-related issues. These days are becoming more frequent and when I feel a bit more of myself coming back.”
A self-portrait of Marzena Skubatz, a freelance documentary photographer based in Berlin and Iceland, in her bathroom at home. “Living in this ... contradictory reality, which is characterized by distance and hygiene, gives me the feeling of living more than ever before in a bubble. I have switched off my thoughts and withdrawn emotionally. I take more baths than usual. They give me ease.”
Nathalie Bertrams, a freelance photographer and journalist in Zambia, captures currents in the Zambezi River.
“With my own initiative to self-isolate at home, I spent most of my time in the kitchen,” says Nyimas Laula, a photographer based in Indonesia. “Here I’m making ... fresh orange juice from foraged tangerine for a daily dose of vitamin C.”
Photographer Iman Al-Dabbagh’s daughter swims as her cousin waters the plants at Al-Dabbagh’s in-laws’ home, three weeks into distance learning and three days before a 3 p.m. curfew was imposed in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (The image inside the pool is a picture of a dolphin made up of square tiles.)
A self-portrait by Guligo Jia, a Chinese photographer based in Beijing, in a guesthouse in Kathmandu, Nepal, on the fifth day of the local lockdown. Jia is in Nepal indefinitely, as her return flight to China has been canceled multiple times. “Lockdown to me is like an opportunity for self-reflection, and a time to deal wtih loneliness and boredom,” Jia says.
“I usually spend most of the year on the road, only seeing my family during the holidays,” says Keri Oberly, a photographer and cinematographer based in Ventura, Calif. “This pandemic has taught me to slow down and focus on family. I find myself getting lost with my nephew in his imagination and love of outer space and turning to nature to heal in uncertain times.”