The World’s Great Photographers, Many Stuck Inside, Have Snapped
Stephen Shore, Catherine Opie, Todd Hido and others have turned to Instagram to cure ‘corona claustrophobia’ or show how life has changed. They talk about their quarantine pics.
Here’s the good news: You now have a sharper camera in your pocket than professional photographers could dream of 30 years ago. Here’s the bad news: You can only shoot from your apartment.
With museums and galleries largely shuttered around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, Instagram has filled up these last weeks with “quarantine content”: snapshots of cramped apartments, pets surprised by their owners’ sudden ubiquity, uncannily deserted street scenes and cautious supermarket shoppers in beekeeping suits. But sprinkled among Instagram’s more than 1 billion users, you’ll also find some of the world’s greatest fine art photographers — some shooting on iPhones or Android handsets, some relying on digital cameras and uploading manually. Against the mandatory confinement imposed from Argentina to Zimbabwe, these photographers have taken to the platform with newfound vigor, plunging their imagery into the swim of the social feed.
“I returned to Shanghai from Berlin, and was quarantined at home,” said Liu Shuwei, an audacious young Chinese photographer best known for his portraits and nudes, who turned to Instagram during his weekslong confinement in February. Day after day, he shot the historical architecture and blossoming trees outside the window of his apartment in Shanghai’s former French Concession neighborhood — a relief, Mr. Liu said, from being “angry and disappointed most of the time.”
On Instagram (as well as Weibo and other local platforms), Chinese photographers offered the first view of what is now a global condition. The brilliant video artis Cao Eei ,who lives between Beijing and Singapore, has intermixed shots of hand sanitizer and social-distancing propaganda with pristine photographs of her children, a balm amid corona claustrophobia.
In Tehran, the young photographer Tahmineh Monzavi has been shooting the inauspicious beginning of spring from her window, sheltering in place as Iran endures one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 anywhere. “I took this photo on Nowruz, the first day of our new year,” Ms. Monzavi said of one recent Instagram post. “The mood was not like the past years. Tehran was a dead city.” But Instagram has offered a respite from the solitude; she has also posted touching long-distance portraits of her parents, waving from the safety of their own apartment windows.
The global outpouring of digital imagery includes the renowned Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi (@rinkokawauchi), who posted interior views filled with an almost rapturous light, in defiance of confinement. In South Africa, now on lockdown, the sharp young photographer Lindokhule Sobekwa (@lindokuhle.sobekwa) has turned to the sky: a dark cloud, a bleak portent, redeemed by a flock of migrating birds.
Here in the United States, five art photographers — some vigorous users of Instagram, others recent adopters — directly address the effects of the crisis on their lives, often in spectral images. We asked them to describe the role of the social photograph in their work, and the tension between the isolation of quarantine and the global reach of Instagram. These conversations have been edited and condensed.
I’ve always been one of the worst Instagrammers of all the photographers out there. I’m a formal photographer and it’s always been hard to figure out how to actually use that platform in an interesting way. It’s very rare that I post, but now I’m posting because I feel like that’s the way that I can be connected to a larger community.
I want to ride my bike around and just take photographs of L.A., which I imagine I’ll probably do on my phone and post. I started walking every day in the neighborhood because I’m a swimmer but the pools got closed down. So now I’m walking and finding all these weird little sculptural moments, like abandoned dishwashers
In this isolation I’m also opening up Instagram more to actually look at photographs. I suppose it’s because I’m away from my studio and library, where I sit with a lot of books around me. Instagram is my new book because my house doesn’t hold my library.
The hilarious thing is that I spent the ’90s making, where I would have to get up early Sunday mornings to find a landscape emptied out. All those years that I wanted to take images of empty cities, empty freeways — and now I have the perfect opportunity to actually do that, but I have no desire to, because it means something different now.
As the situation in my life changes, some of the work I do changes. I see two threads running through my Instagram feed. One is just, I go out and take pictures. The other is a more diaristic approach.
Some of the pictures I posted recently, the one of the glove a
Some of the pictures I posted recently, the one of the glove and the one of the hand sanitizer, are absolutely direct references to the current situation with coronavirus. But then, using the hashtag #ArtInTheTimeOfCovid, I posted pictures that I could easily have taken a year ago. One I might have taken 45 years ago.