Intimate photos show families adapting to a world changed by coronavirus

Some families have found themselves suddenly locked down with little space, while others are forced apart.

Saturday, April 4, 2020,
By Rachel Hartigan Shea
Nairobi, Kenya

"Nearly all my adult life I've lived far away from my family and yet they were never more than a day's flight away," says Nichole Sobecki. "In this photo, my parents, brother, and I are gathered around a birthday cake. There’s a yellow glow about the image that defines home for me. Last week Kenya closed its airspace entirely. I look up now into the cool, blue sky above Nairobi and I see distance."

Photograph by Nichole Sobecki

Families are fluid, constantly changing shape through birth and marriage, death and divorce, love and friendship. Until now, when coronavirus has frozen families in place.

"I usually spend two weeks at home and two weeks away on assignment every month," says Lynsey Addario, "so being in one household with my husband and children and my extended family—the same nine people—for an indefinite amount of time is really a novelty."

Photograph by Lynsey Addario

"My daughters Merel and Fleur are on a video call with Merel’s friend Iris, who lives 100 meters from our house," says photographer Jasper Doest. "The girls are clearly not used to this way of communication and don’t know what to say. They start to ask each other random questions about the weather situation at their place, forgetting they are practically neighbors. When I start laughing, Merel pushes me away and wants her privacy."

Photograph by Jasper Doest

From Normandy to Moscow to Johannesburg, illness and pandemic precautions are forcing families into intense intimacy or stark separation. There is no in-between. There are only the people you see every day, all day, and the people you can’t see, unless through a window or a video screen.

What do families look like when they share too small a space—or can’t share any space at all? National Geographic and Magnum Photos photographers bring you a global look at how coronavirus is affecting the worlds they see inside—and just outside—their windows.

Photographer Sim Chi Yin is expecting a baby in three weeks or less. She's been told that many parents are giving birth at home to avoid the hospitals. She and her partner are considering it, although she is an older, first-time mother. "Dear Lucas," writes photographer Sim Chi Yin to her unborn son, "we will do our best to shield you from the worst of these times."

Photograph by Sim Chi Yin, Magnum Photos

"We are so lucky to live where we live," says photographer Jim Goldberg, describing a daily routine in which the pace of emails is slower but vegetables still need to be picked for his morning smoothie. His partner, the photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti, nuzzles a mule.

Photograph by Jim Goldberg, Magnum Photos

"After a few weeks of covering corona in New York, I decided I wanted to ride things out with family in the D.C. suburbs," says photographer Peter van Agtmael. "My parents are in their 70s, so first there was the necessity to self-quarantine for two weeks at my folks' place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. For the first few days I was joined by my close friend Christian Hansen, who was en route to his own family in Kentucky. We kept six feet apart with one exception: He had to help me dig out a large glass shard that got stuck in my foot."

Photograph by Peter van Agtmael, Magnum Photos
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has resulted in most Magnum photographers being restricted in their movements. As part of a broader photographer-led response, a new series “Diary of a Pandemic” will present selections of new work, while "Quarantine Conversations," will present Magnum photographers in frank and unedited dialogues about work, current affairs, and everything in-between. Follow Magnum Photos on Instagram.

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