A Colombian sanitary worker cleans inside of The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, near Bogotá, Colombia, due to the advance of Covid-19, April 4, 2020. Photo by Ivan Valencia/Covid Latam.
Latin America -
July 27, 2020

How to take photos of the pandemic

 July 2020. Latin America is the focus of the Covid-19 pandemic. Several countries in the region have some of the highest infection rates per capita in the world. The humanitarian and economic prospects are shocking: in a report, the UN warned that in addition to deaths from coronavirus, unemployment is expected to go from 8.1% to 13.5% and 45 million people go into poverty. The region’s GDP will decrease by 9.1%. It will be the biggest drop in a century.

When the new coronavirus advanced through Europe but barely reached Latin America, eighteen Latin American photographers (nine women and nine men) began working on COVID LATAM, a collective project that seeks to keep a documentary and journalistic record of the pandemic on the continent.

Sebastián Gil Miranda –an Argentine photographer born in Paris– called them because he considered that with the virus newly arrived in Latin America it was a good way to accompany oneself in isolation, being, he says, “together at a distance”.

“There is no way to do a regional approach individually, because the plurality of voices and perspectives generates an enormous plus, a power that transcends,” he explains. He had previous experience as an antecedent, a collective project that showed the “other side” of the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. 

Flor Vaso pushes her mother Carmen Reyes, 84, in a wheelchair after she was vaccinated against Influenza, during the state of emergency decreed by the government in Lima Peru, March 18, 2020. Photo by Rodrigo Abd/Covid Latam.

 They started by uploading individual photos and creating lattices, building collective narratives. Then they decided to add stories that each of them was developing, to have a deeper perspective. “We felt that something more had to be told,” Sebastián explains.

“The photo alone in itself fell short and it is also good to tell about the development of the work that each of us has been doing.” For three or four days, each photographer or photographer does a “take over” of the account and publishes their work. The idea is that each one can develop their own visual narrative in order to build a choral narrative from their different perspectives. One day a week they publish the work of external collaborators to the group, a way to make the project more inclusive and participatory.

The result is a huge choral portrait of the pandemic in Latin America, built from images that narrate confinement, death and despair but also hope, encounter, and family intimacy: a woman who reads in bed, a mother with her baby in the bathtub, a hand that holds the saint’s picture by the candle, the man who carves the coffins, the used mask hanging from the mirror of a car, a wedding with a mask and white dress. 

Marta Jaque lights a candle to the saints on her home altar during Easter Sunday in Quito, Ecuador, Abril 5, 2020. Photo by Johis Alarcón/Covid Latam.

 All of it are postcards of a health and social crisis that seized the world unexpectedly and hit Latin America with the force of a tsunami; images that although resonate with scenes from other parts of the world, can not be anything other than deeply Latin American.

“There are two aspects that were fundamental to building the collective: one is gender equality and the other is the collective voice, that voice that is built and that there is no way to achieve it individually,” Sebastián explains. It is more than a formal choice: “We think that from this situation we can come out collectively and from the crisis too.”

Each photo is accompanied by a short story, often in the first person. “Although we aim at hard situations and from the most vulnerable contexts, we are also interested that it can be linked to the possible reconstruction, to life, to what remains and to the possibility of reflecting and understanding that we are not here by chance,” Sebastián says.

“There is a whole crisis of very large social inequality, a great mistreatment of the environment, and this crisis is a wake-up call that touches us more closely with regard to the climate issue, which has not yet exploited in our faces. We want the project allow us to see if we can get out of here a little better than how we got in.” 

Emptiness, solitude and silence in the streets due to the advance of Covid-19 in Bogotá Colombia. April 9, 2020. Photo by Federico Rios Escobar/Covid Latam.

Portrait of my daughter Irene looking through the window during the quarantine in Montevideo, Uruguay. April 6, 2020. Photo by Matilde Campodónico/Covid Latam.

Woman shopping in a local market during the health emergency in La Paz, Bolivia, March 20, 2020. Photo by Sara Aliga/Covid Latam.

Family and friends during the funeral of Janete Da Silva, who died of coronavirus, in the Vila Formosa Cemetery in San Pablo, Brazil. April 7, 2020. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Covid Latam.

Sanitary worker cleans  the streets at the Santa Marta favela, with self-managed equipment by the brothers Thiago and Tande Firmino, inhabitants of the community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. April 13, 2020. Photo by Ana Carolina Fernandes/Covid Latam.

A man rides a bicycle in Villa 31, one of the largest and most central emergency neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 14, 2020. Photo by Sebastian Gil Miranda/Covid Latam.

Doña Eida, 98 years old, looks on through the window of her house, during social isolation in San Jose, Costa Rica, March 24, 2020. Photo by Glorianna Ximendaz/Covid Latam.

Homeless man sits in front of an interior design business in full compulsory isolation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 7, 2020. Photo by Pablo Piovano/Covid Latam.

The El Chaparral crosswalk between Mexico and the United States, always has a couple of hours of waiting, but now due to the closing of the border for pleasure trips, the wait was reduced to a few minutes in Tijuana, Mexico, March 24, 2020. Photo by Alejandro Cegarra/Covid Latam.

Sellers wear face masks while they organize the merchandise at a local fruit market in Guatemala City, Guatemala, March 19, 2020. Photo by Daniele Volpe/Covid Latam.

The Cuban Anarle Travieso Figueroa leaves his house in the town of Bauta on the outskirts of Havana. Elders are at increased risk of becoming infected with the Covid-19 virus. April 12, 2020. Photo by Eliana Aponte/Covid Latam.

Central American asylum seekers keep social distance meanwhile  they make a line to receive food in Matamoros, Mexico. Border between Mexico and the United States. April, 2020. Photo by Fred Ramos/Covid Latam. 

A group of children pose for a portrait in their apartment at La Lira, a neighborhood in the Petare area of Caracas, Venezuela, during the Covid-19 outbreak on March 25, 2020. Photo by Andrea Hernandez Briceño/Covid Latam.

group of women, distanced from each other, pray before receiving food handouts from the Catholic group Amigos Misión Colombia in Bogotá, Colombia, April 18, 2020. Photo by Fabiola Ferrero/Covid Latam.

Portrait with my mother at the house during the quarantine of Covid-19 in Santiago de Chile, Chile, April 4, 2020. Photo by Tamara Merino/Covid Latam.