Even with the particularities of each nation in the face of Covid-19, it is possible for us to establish communication with the rest of the world, which has entered the measures of quarantine for a considerable time, even if psychologically stagnant.
In this period, some photographers continue to go out to work, sneaking through the permitted wards of hospitals in an attempt to provide imagery records of the here/now. In the “behind the scenes”, they are covered from head to toe, wearing masks, gloves and goggles, just like Andrea Frazzetta, whose work will be covered below.
Others have seen their movements inevitably restricted to the home, which causes their hyper-sensitivity to turn towards their own homes and, in an extended reality, their neighborhoods and neighbors – within a recommended distance. With this in mind, Agência Magnum started the project “Diaries of a Pandemic”, focusing on a constantly updated page the new works made by photographers at that time when consciousness shifts, restless, between expansion and rest. Each week an edition of these images is presented, selected by the project coordinator Peter van Agtmael, alongside the photographers' personal notes and reflections on how they are coping with the situation as it unfolds.
In Normandy (France), grandparents make a surprise in the middle of their granddaughter's cello lesson, mediated by a glass window; in Thokoza (South Africa), with the portrait of his mother resting alone, the son laments the necessary social distance and reflects on families with five or ten people living in a shack – how difficult it must be for them to keep their distance necessary; in Delhi (India), the resident of a Barsati (small penthouse apartment, usually with only one bedroom) looks at her neighbors with voyeuristic curiosity as trips to the terrace become routine.
Robert Adams returns home
In the period when we cling to the interiors and explore the exterior through prying windows, Aperture launched its new volume under the motto “Home & Home”, for “foreseeing the future” or inexplicable timing. In it, a article by Lena Fritsch walks through the different expressions in the Japanese language that could be equivalent, at different times, to our “home” – a word that does not exist in Japanese. Fritsch does this by relating the expressions to photographic works by Daido Moriyama, Kazuo Kitai and Ishiuchi Miyako. A reminder of the power of Japanese photography. Pico Iyer brings back the homes of Robert Adams, an American photographer who began photographing in the mid-1960s, rising to prominence in the following decade with his series “The Plains” where he portrayed the vastness of the American west.
His work placed him as one of the central figures in the “New Topographers” movement, a term coined by William Jenkins to describe the visual documentation of man-altered landscapes. In the records selected by Iyer, instead of highlighting the effects of industrialization on what was once an imposing desert, the essayist turns to photos of interiors captured by Adams. “I just wanted to show what was in the houses that were part of my main subject, the new landscape of the west. I was also hoping, however, to find evidence of human care,” Adams tells Aperture.
In his text, Iyer points to a “courageous fragility” that takes the place of the “majesty of nature” in these rarely seen works. “A cruel eye may see the things we collect as foolish, inappropriate; an understanding eye sees that it is all we have”, adds the author of the text. Apart from the “more transcendental” optics chosen by Iyer, the spirit of the work can also come from a much simpler question that opens up space for identification: it is difficult to enclose these homes in a very specific time-space. Many people's homes can be mirrored in this series, if not yours, then your friends', your grandparents', a distant relative or ex-boyfriend.
Adams' aesthetic choice, his style almost imposed as a signature, delivers, along with the tenderness of homes, a melancholy, a feeling of loneliness that we can so well identify in our current daily lives. However, the “we” in this sentence is a selective “we”: people with a home; reasonably spacious houses. When we choose the home as an image, photographic and mental, symbolic of the quarantine, a filter is already placed on which people are represented by these images. While we've decided on hobbies in quarantine, those eager for a getaway don't see that far. The recommended isolation for a homeless population is a limbo between two countries, where one burns, the other is thirsty, and both need water, as Warsan Shire would write.
Is there a face to the pandemic?
In a pandemic, it is common to search for a “face”, a symbolizing image, a photo that represents the zeitgeist. With this, there is the risk of falling into a flattened representation and ignoring other multiple protagonists in this narrative, when designating a face for an event of such proportions. Before turning to the figure of the home, ghost towns appeared, for example, and preceding the images of pills and vaccines, we have the figure of doctors.
Unlike other pandemics in which the term plague was used – with misfortune – as a metaphor, in the incipient construction of the images of this crisis, the figure of the sick still does not appear in considerable volume, perhaps as a lesson learned in relation to respect for those portrayed. Perhaps because, from what has been observed so far, Covid-19 does not leave enough physical signs to have news value due to the shock caused by the deformation; in any case, the search for more dramatic images is “part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a stimulus for consumption and a source of value”, as Susan Sontag wrote. At this moment of crisis, we have the people who work on the front of national epidemics, mainly doctors and nurses.
on the cover of Sunday magazine from The New York Times is Monica Falocchi, head nurse of the Intensive Care Unit at the Civil Hospital of Brescia. For Andrea Frazzeta, she posed with the eyes of someone “who has just left the battlefield”. Frazzeta was responsible for the photographic profiles contained in the magazine. He decided to document the work of these professionals in the cities of Brescia, Bergamo and Milan after seeing the selfies taken by doctors and nurses with bruised faces from wearing the mask for so long.
Many of them were photographed at the end of their shifts, capturing a moment when wear and tear and fatigue are evident on their faces. In the process, the photographer stood five feet away, dressed in protective clothing, goggles, gloves and a mask.
In the middle of the report, Anna Maria Mentuni, Frazzeta's mother, became ill with Covid-19 and died on March 26. The NYT Magazine published the last photo he took of his mother, right after he left his grocery shopping on her doorstep; that day, they talked on the phone, although they were in the same place, one behind his mask and the other through the front window, a few feet away.