‘I want my smile back’: A photographer creates portraits with his family to cope with isolation

For the better part of this year, much of the world has been stuck at home. Many of us have been trying to find ways to spend our extra time, whether it’s by baking bread, tie-dying or bingeing reality shows on Netflix. Argentine photographer Jorge Vargas has spent his time creating imaginative portraits of his two daughters.

The project is a family collaboration, a way to document their experience in this historical time. Vargas’s wife, Karina, finds objects around the house, and their daughters, Athena, 10, and Indra, 13, figure out creative uses for the items before Vargas directs and photographs them. A colander becomes a hat. The scroll of a cello becomes part of a hairstyle. Two pairs of sunglasses become one very glamorous accessory. The portraits are whimsical and reminiscent of classic fashion photography.

“We wanted to work on a project that reflects on the sign of the times mixing documentation and art,” Vargas said. “This is why we chose to play with the language of fashion. What at first sight seems to be borrowing from the visual language of fashion quickly shifts from elegant to trashy. Party dresses mix up with pajamas, strainers, sleeping bags and goggles. Frisbees as necklaces, fruit baskets as hats, messy hairstyles and pan-ethnic scents combine with a homely flavor.”

The family has been working on the project since the lockdown began March 20 in Buenos Aires. At this point, much of Argentina is still locked down as the country’s case count continues to rise. Vargas has taken hundreds of portraits, which he said explore themes of isolation, uncertainty, dislocation, ambiguity, contradiction, boredom, fear and hope. You can see all of them in the faces of Athena and Indra.

The photos document this time and help Vargas and his family deepen their bonds. The project also allows them to escape, if only for a moment, the anxieties that come with living through these challenging months.

“When it’s so difficult to make sense out of the world around you, emotional balance and even mental health is at risk,” Vargas said. “Creating a new world out of the reminders of the old one is a way to preserve sanity. The pictures tell a story, a story that is the reversed reflection of a dreadful world. If these photographs had anything to say it would probably be ‘I want my smile back.’ ”

To see more of Vargas’s striking photos, check out @portraits.in.quarantine on Instagram.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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