These globe-trotting photographers rediscover their own backyards

Their pictures capture life under lockdown: vibrant, surreal, and just outside their doors.

Photograph by Bieke Depoorter, Magnum Photos
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Ghent, Belgium

"The kids of my neighbors are doing well at social distancing," says photographer Bieke DePoorter. "It's great to hear them play over the fences."

Photograph by Bieke Depoorter, Magnum Photos

With the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the world to our homes and a few essential stores, the people and places close by—our neighbors and neighborhoods—take on greater significance. We really see them now, when before we might have rushed by on our way to work, gaze focused inward on the next place to go, the next thing to do. Now we have time to notice the people walking toward us, if only to move six feet out of their way, nodding in solidarity. We observe the changes in our neighborhoods—shuttered stores, empty streets, spring-crazed birds—because there’s nowhere else to go and not much else to look at. (Psychologists are watching how we adjust to the isolation.)

This heightened awareness is especially true for photographers used to leaving their homes behind to work all over the world. Now they are turning their eyes to the places and people around them. In Normandy, France, a photographer spots one neighbor helping another, while in Paris another spies friends sharing a physically distant drink. In New York City, one photographer mourns the local butcher, while in Dallas another admires his neighbor’s backyard gym. In Istanbul and Delhi, photographers find reason to celebrate when they observe their neighbors outside on balconies and rooftops for the first time.

How does our view of neighbors and neighborhoods change when they’re the only people and places we can see? 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.

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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Barcelona, Spain

"While walking to the grocery store 50 meters from my apartment," says photographer Paolo Verzone, "I met this young woman wearing a plastic bag to protect her hand. She told me she usually wears a mask and gloves when shopping."

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"Once busy roads are now mostly deserted," says photographer Ian Teh. "Courier bikes and taxis are often the only vehicles to be seen in my neighbourhood."

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Normandy, France

Photographer Jean Gaumy captured a scene of solidarity: a woman bringing food to her elderly neighbor.

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Nairobi, Kenya

"Easter is a time when our neighborhood usually gathers," says photographer Nichole Sobecki. "This year, unable to go anywhere, we traveled in our minds. Beams of light projected slapstick, and Charlie Chaplin stumbled his way through the grinding wheels of industry in 'Modern Times.'"

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Madrid, Spain

"Every day at eight," says photographer Cristina Garcia Rodero, "the balconies are filled to applaud the health workers for their courage, devotion, and dedication."

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Tepic, Mexico

One day, photographer César Rodriguez stopped by his 77-year-old uncle's house with groceries. "I kept calling him and he wasn't answering," says Rodriguez, "so I went upstairs and found him like this."

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Topanga, California

"Walking and connecting with my parents in the neighborhood I grew up in has been healing in a time of such extreme social isolation," says photographer Ivan Kashinsky. His parents, Deborah and Dan, look through a window in their house.

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Graz, Austria

Photographer Chien-Chi Chang looks out on a neighborhood of windows from his home in Austria.

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Catania, Italy

Photographer Alex Majoli has spent the last month covering the pandemic with Matteo, his intern. "Everyday," says Majoli, "we look into each other's eyes to see if one of us got the virus."

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Nesoddtangen, Norway

During the Easter holidays, a neighbor's daughter came by to visit photographer Jonas Bendiksen's family.

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New York, New York

A memorial honors Moe Albanese, a butcher in Little Italy who died at 95 from the coronavirus. "Moe Albanese learned to be a butcher from his mother, Mary," says photographer Susan Meiselas. "They were my next door neighbors and legendary."

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Johannesburg, South Africa

"In our neighborhood," says photographer Miora Rajaonary, "the only persons we see in the streets are the essential workers on their way to the office or home."

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Milan, Italy

Photographed by Camilla Ferrari through binoculars, a man smokes a cigarette on his balcony during day 10 of the lockdown.

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Delhi-NCR, India

"Home delivery of groceries is now a daily timebound event," says photographer Smita Sharma. "The online vendor brings in the ordered supplies and arranges them in an open badminton court that has been zoned based on the towers in the apartment complex."

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Thokoza, South Africa

"People haven't stopped going out to the street," says photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa. "They chill by the tuck-shop with their friends. Children play in the streets, only running back home when the police tell them to stay indoors."

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Istanbul, Turkey

Photographer Emin Ozmen's neighbors enjoy the sun on their balcony. "I'd never spoken to them before," he says. "I'd never even seen them. Now I am happy to see them everyday from my home."

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Moscow, Russia

"I noticed this dog some time ago," says photographer Nanna Heitmann. "He's changed his outfit, seemingly to fit the current situation. He takes a walk at least three times a day—sometimes in the company of a woman, sometimes in the company of a man."

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Paris, France

Neighbors share a drink in the alleyway, trying to maintain a safe distance.

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Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

"Since the mandatory quarantine was established in Tierra del Fuego, almost a month ago," says photographer Lujan Agusti, "the neighborhood has been desolate." She photographed her neighbor Alejandra returning from the supermarket.

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Santa Rosa, California

"My daughter Catalina misses her friends very much," says photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti, "so we did the rounds in our car and visited her best friends from far way. Here she's breaking the rules and touching fingertips with her best friend Avery."

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Dallas, Texas

"Our neighbor welcomes friends and clients into his yard for training sessions," says photographer Carl De Keyzer.

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New York, New York

"The changes in the neighborhood have been startling," says photographer Peter van Agtmael. "It became a virtual ghost town overnight."

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Delhi, India

"I live in a one-room apartment on the terrace atop a residential building," says photographer Sohrab Hura. "It's a very Delhi thing, this way of living, and it's dying out slowly. With the lockdown, people have come up on the roofs again."

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

"It looked like an old-school drive-in movie theater," says photographer David Guttenfelder. "People had parked their cars with wide spaces between them to watch nature's cinematic, wide-screen beauty."