Glimpses of grief and resilience, captured over an unforgettable year

“The pandemic stripped away a lot of fears and amplified my desire to connect with others.” One year into COVID-19, photographers reflect on their own images.

The Shipibo-Konibo Indigenous people from Peruvian rainforest in the Amazon use healing plants as a way to connect with nature. Their work with traditional plant-based medicine is under threat amid the coronavirus pandemic. "I accompanied the Shipibo-Konibo people in their quest to survive this violent disease...I saw them take refuge in their origin, in their forest. And I felt myself in refuge with them," said photographer Florence Goupil.
Photograph by Florence Goupil

It was a moment we will never forget. Professional sporting events were canceled, colleges sent students home, the lights went out on Broadway, offices closed their doors.  Last March, the world went on lockdown as COVID-19 swept across the globe.

The projected toll was then unimaginable. Since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic one year ago, more than 118 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded worldwide and more than 2.6 million people have lost their lives. The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths: More than 29 million people have contracted the virus and more than 520,000 have died.

It was a year that tested our humanity. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Funeral homes raced to keep up. Millions lost jobs.  Acute hunger increased dramatically. Family members stayed away from each other.

During the pandemic, the National Geographic Society launched an emergency fund to support journalists covering COVID-19. From resilience to reconnection, photographers captured impactful moments of people around the world, dealing with the pandemic in different ways. We asked some of the grant recipients to choose the image that most resonated with them and share their reflections.

Rita Harper photographed geriatric nurse Breonna Leon in Atlanta, Georgia, who has cared for many COVID-19 patients who passed away. Harper says she wanted to document how urban communities have been affected due to reduced resources, pre-existing conditions, and limited access to care.

Photographer Gab Mejia captured wildlife rangers in the Philippines bidding their last farewell to the lone captive-bred tamaraw on the planet. There are an estimated 500 tamaraw, the world’s rarest buffalo species, left in the wild. Lockdowns and economic hardships have impeded wildlife conservation efforts as each loss brings the species closer to extinction.

“It was a traumatic experience to witness the death and corpse of the critically endangered tamaraw,” Mejia said. “More so, the hardships that the pandemic has brought on the wildlife rangers, who have dedicated their lives in saving this rare species in the Philippines. The stringent lockdowns made it so much more difficult to document in wildlife conservation sites due to the fear brought by COVID-19.”

Though some are hopeful that the struggles of the pandemic may be nearing an end, for most—particularly the relatives and friends of those who have died—this devastating year will forever impact our lives.


This work was supported by the National Geographic Society's COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Journalists.

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