Postcards from Qurantine combines photographs with text messages from individuals around the world to evoke feelings, moods, and realities that resonate now
As of today, 14 May 2020, there are over four million confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the actual figure is likely much higher. The pandemic has swept across the globe, forcing countries to lock down to slow its spread. The effects are significant and the long-term implications unknown. Confined to our homes and the areas surrounding them, the realities of others remain, for the most part, abstract.
With this in mind, writer and photographer Eva Clifford conceived of a project that would provide a glimpse into the lives of others living under lockdown. Postcards from Quarantine invites submissions of photographs and text messages, which are arranged into diptychs — carefully paired to evoke moods, anxieties, and everyday realities that resonate now.
“I send the pairing of image and text to the photographer who shot the picture, to hear what their thoughts are,” explains Clifford, “sometimes they like it straight away, other times we’ll go through several text messages together and come to an agreement”.
From the remote town of Ushuaia on the southernmost tip of South America to the Covid-19 hotbed of New York, below, individuals across the globe reflect on their images and shed light on everyday life under lockdown.
On life under lockdown: I’ve been in lockdown since 14 March. In Portugal, measures were taken very early to prevent the human catastrophe, which happened in Spain and Italy. Most schools and universities shut down even before the government made it mandatory. I’m a freelance photographer based in Lisbon, and I had just started a documentary project on social housing, which I was forced to put on hold. However, as photographers, I feel we’re quite lucky, as we are never really forced to stop. In fact, by documenting our personal experience of the quarantine, we’re creating an archive of this moment in history.
On her image: This picture was taken outside in the fields. It made me realise how we must look at the bigger picture, or the sky even, for answers. Freedom of the mind makes confinement less limiting. I hope we begin to value our freedom again once isolation is over.
On life under lockdown: I am hunkered down at my partner’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York. To be honest, I’ve lost track of time – I think it’s been a month? Two? We go out occasionally to catch some sunlight, but only if we think the number of people where we’re going will be safe. Parks are totally off-limits. New York is at the centre of the pandemic. Frankly, it’s a very strange mix — things look relatively normal when you go out, but everything is closed, and sirens blare. I would be going to my day job as a photo editor, however, sadly, the company I worked for laid off many people and I was affected. I’ve been handling this best I can – selling prints, picking up assignments. It’s tough to know where to stop with photography projects — what’s not worth it, what I shouldn’t pursue.
On her image: This photo was taken at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn. It is a place I’ve been spending a lot of time because it’s easy to socially distance there. It is beautiful. I learned recently that it was New York’s first tourist attraction. In the 19th century, before New York had any other parks, people would flock to Green-Wood with picnic baskets and spend the day basking in the sun. I’m interested in how this activity, which may have seemed a little morbid, suddenly became so normal. The photo was taken one evening as I was leaving — I saw the sun reflected on the granite tombstone, as though it was neon light.
“The southern climate and the island’s conditions have meant that extreme precautions must be taken. Although we are surrounded by nature, we are obliged to stay at home and only leave one day a week“
On life under lockdown: In Argentina we have been in lockdown since 15 March. I live on an island — the population is small and the health system is limited. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and a connection point for those travelling to Antarctica, meaning there used to be many tourists, which meant the virus came to Ushuaia despite its remoteness. The southern climate and the island’s conditions have meant that extreme precautions must be taken. Although we are surrounded by nature, we are obliged to stay at home and only leave one day a week, with our identity documents, to make essential purchases. My fear and my hope for this time are the same: that the world changes forever.
On her image: There is a tense calmness, but also a sense of respite. I took the photo on one of my outings. There have always been horses walking around, but, previously they were never so close to the street — they would not have felt safe going so close to the cars.
On life under lockdown: Here in Cairo, Egypt, we had a curfew, which started just over a month ago, but they lifted it recently because of Ramadan. Many Egyptians are not following the lockdown — the country has a big population and you cannot force them to follow the rules. After fasting everyone takes Iftar meal — some still gather and eat with other people, however, many now follow social distancing rules and eat at home alone.
On his image: I took this image two days after the curfew was announced, and I was photographing near the pyramids, which had just been closed. I could not find any transportation, then, a minibus arrived and I was the only one inside. Later, a young man boarded. I wanted to document him alone on the bus as I had been — normally, public transport would be heaving at this time. He’s happy to have his mobile; young people in Cairo are always online, and honestly, without the internet, lockdown would have been much harder.
“Georgia is not my home country — it is my second year here and being a stranger in a foreign place at this time can be scary”
On life under lockdown: In Tbilisi, Georgia, a state of emergency was announced on 21 March. What is becoming a real problem is the economy – people have lost their jobs, farmers could not come to the cities to sell produce, and prices keep rising. Georgia is not my home country — it is my second year here and being a stranger in a foreign place at this time can be scary. I always think about my home and family. We are spread between three countries. I cannot imagine how people have felt losing someone to the virus without being able to say goodbye.
On her image: In Russia, I live on the 18th floor and here, in Tbilisi, I live on the first – I can spend hours observing people up close, which is how I made my picture. My street is a dead-end and there used to be lots of people who gathered for drinks, washed their cars on the weekends, and played with dogs. Very few people pass now — I wonder where they have gone and how they are feeling.
On life under lockdown: I am in Monza, near Milan, in the worst-hit region in Italy. We have been locked in our homes since the 09 March. Everything is confusing, our prime minister speaks on television once a month and he does not say very much. It is so weird to relate to the outside when all you see is the inside. To be honest, the first few weeks were horrible. We kept hearing the ambulances all day long, and the death rate spiked, as our population is older than average. Despite what is happening on the outside, the inside is not too bad. I am growing veggies. I get to work from my computer, binge watch all the movies I want, spend time with my dog, my family, and my roomie. The worst part is not being able to see my grandma — she is 94 and very precious.
On her image: One night my roomie knocked on my door. He was scared because a huge spider was wandering around his room. He said, “I put him beneath a glass but I am not sleeping there”. So, I went to look at the spider — it was so big that you could see her eyes. We didn’t name her but we decided that she was female. We put a sheet of paper beneath the glass and left her there until the next day. I took this photo in the moment that we set her free.”
“That is the most concerning part of the lockdown here: the decision people are forced to make between their health and their stomachs. It is not an easy one, but it is a daily choice for many”
On life under lockdown: I have been in Bogotá, Colombia, since 12 March; I went into quarantine just after I landed – I’m usually based in Caracas, Venezuela. The country officially locked down on 25 March and I didn’t leave the house for 30 days or so. I have started to go out recently to work on a story. Some places appear very silent and empty, but people in other areas cannot afford to stay home. Those living day-to-day are forced to leave and find food for their families. That is the most concerning part of the lockdown here: the decision people are forced to make between their health and their stomachs. It is not an easy one, but it is a daily choice for many. How long can people live like this before big protests start?
On her image: The photograph was taken during the first week here. The house had no furniture, only a table. So the image essentially depicts what would become our home and our only view, which we never thought we would have for who knows how long.
On life under lockdown: I am stuck in my flat, in a tall ex-council tower block, overlooking south London. I make films for a living, specifically documentaries for TV. The job involves going places to meet people and tell their stories, but, since the lockdown, all foreseeable work has been cancelled. Like any freelancer, being furloughed isn’t an option, but aside from money, I miss working. It’s a job that doubles as a hobby, so it’s hard not to be out doing it. I am anxious about the unknown: When will it end, when can I do my job again, when can I see people I care about and are they as okay as they say they are?
On his image: I don’t know if it’s living in a tall building, but it feels more isolated. The only people you can see are small and distant. You see the sun set every night, and it just makes you more aware of time passing — or not passing.
“At that moment, the sunlight and space came together perfectly; there was something in the atmosphere that was both sombre and peaceful”
On life under lockdown: My home country, Malaysia, has been locked-down since 18 March. Compared to the rest of the world, the situation in Malaysia is not as serious. That being said, the lockdown or, as we call it, Movement Control Order (MCO), is still quite strict. Kuala Lumpur has become a ghost town. I was not able to return to the UK for my final term at London College of Communication, during which I would have been preparing for my degree show. My biggest fear is completing everything for the deadline — my shipment of the equipment I need to work on my project is taking a long time to arrive; I am anxious about whether they will get here in time.
fear isn’t passing my degree, but rather completing everything for the deadline. My shipments containing the necessary equipment I need to progress my work are taking a long time to get to Malaysia, so I am getting anxious about if they will arrive in time or not
On her image: There is not a particular story behind the image I submitted. I walk past the same space in my home every day, yet I had never noticed this arrangement of objects, until now. Seeing them, I thought ‘that shot is perfect, I need to take it’. I spent way too long adjusting the composition to get it right. At that moment, the sunlight and space came together perfectly; there was something in the atmosphere that was both sombre and peaceful. It was a silent space — unnoticed and still; a space of solitude, yet it was not lonely, instead, it felt more tranquil, and I pressed the shutter.
Salik Khan — travelled from Lahore, Pakistan, to Los Angeles, US
On life under lockdown: In Los Angeles, the lockdown started sometime in late March, so it has been almost two months now. The situation here does not differ too much from other places — there seems to be a sense of fragility and confusion in the air. My biggest fear is our inability to comprehend the long process of political, economic, and social decay that the pandemic has laid bare. My hope is that in light of the crisis a lasting change can come about.
On his image: The image was taken on a train called the Karachi Express, it must have been just outside one of the earlier junctions on the 18-hour journey. Just someone speeding past the train — I was able to look outside my window and capture it.
To contribute, email firstname.lastname@example.org a photo that you have taken during the lockdown and/or a message that you have received.
Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.