Intimate photos show families adapting to a world changed by coronavirus

Some families have found themselves suddenly locked down with little space, while others are forced apart.

Photograph by Enri Canaj, Magnum Photos
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Athens, Greece

"In front of the mirror is the reflection my daughter loves to see," says photographer Enri Canaj, "and the reflection of the society I want to see after all this is over—a colorful playground, just like the one our house has turned into."

Photograph by Enri Canaj, Magnum Photos

Families are fluid, constantly changing shape through birth and marriage, death and divorce, love and friendship. Until now, when coronavirus has frozen families in place.

From Normandy to Moscow to Johannesburg, illness and pandemic precautions are forcing families into intense intimacy or stark separation. There is no in-between. There are only the people you see every day, all day, and the people you can’t see, unless through a window or a video screen.

What do families look like when they share too small a space—or can’t share any space at all? 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.

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Normandy, France

"On the fourth day of confinement, I was faced with a new reality," says Jean Gaumy. "My daughter, Marie, was sick with this virus. Her children were with her: They were certainly carriers, healthy but affected. Marie, feverish and sleep-deprived, bravely assumed her role while we, grandparents, could only approach at a distance from their window. Nearby, I encountered this duo, the girl the age of my own grandchildren, the young mother the age of my daughter. At their doorstep getting some fresh air, they seemed worried and stunned, surrounded only by silence. We exchanged a few words; the regulations of confinement did not permit more. I could only feel empathy.”

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"Family is family—it's where home is," says photographer Ian Teh. "Mine is at home with my partner. We are sitting by our favourite spot in our apartment, looking out to the nearby houses and greenery. It's peaceful."

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Warsaw, Poland

"I took this picture on one of the last walks I could have before people were advised to stay home," says photographer Rafal Milach. "These are my friends. We had a distant chat. I took a portrait and left to document my neighborhood in quarantine."

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Graz, Austria

"I used to think that without photography, I am nothing," says photographer Chien-Chi Chang. "It wasn't until I had kids that I realized that without love, I am less than nothing. Due to the nationwide lockdown here in Austria, I haven't been able to see my kids as often as I would like. That has been difficult."

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New York, New York

"I had a decision to make: Go back to Bangladesh and be with my family or stay in New York," says photographer Ismail Ferdous. "I chose to stay. Every day at 7pm, New York City claps for two minutes to show gratitude for all essential workers. At these moments I’m enveloped in our collective positive energy and feel validated for staying."

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London, England

"Being grounded is not a problem for me at all," says photographer Olivia Arthur. "I love having the chance to just be here with us all together. The hardest part is learning how to be teachers as well as parents and to find a line between the two."

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Thokoza, South Africa

"Because of the current crisis and our small house, my family had to separate," says Lindokuhle Sobekwa. "My mother lives with my two nephews, my brother with my two sisters, and I stay with my girlfriend at her place. I think about the families of five or 10 that live in a shack and how difficult it's going to be for them to social distance."

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Nesoddtangeen, Norway

"I’m spending my days in the nutty, charming, and emotional rollercoaster world of two- and four-year-olds," says Jonas Bendiksen. "The world shrinks down and we’re in some sort of state of incredible right-here-and-nowness."

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Brighton, England

"My son Milligan is learning how to tie a tie, into a Full Windsor naturally," says photographer Mark Power. "No Half Windsors for any son of mine!"

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Moscow, Russia

"I'm living in the flat of my grandmother, who passed away one year ago," says photographer Nanna Heitmann. "My parents live in Germany, where my mother emigrated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A friend asked me how I would reach my parents in case they fell sick, and I realized that all Russian borders are closed. I suddenly feel like I'm living in another era when traveling outside of the country was impossible. I found this suitcase with many old pictures, which reminded me of how few photographs I've taken of my family, even though they are so important to me."

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Paris, France

"A friend 'took me along' on a Zoom call celebrating her niece's daughter's first birthday," says photographer Thomas Dworzak. "Previously when I covered a crisis, people at home didn't really understand or always care. Now all around the world, we are in the same situation."

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

"Zubair, my partner, finishes the first part of the Asr prayer," says photographer Gulshan Khan. "It has been a while since we prayed together. We’ve lived such hurried lives."

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Rochester, New York

"This morning I sat in bed with a cup of coffee next to my older daughter Ava as she woke up," says photographer Gregory Halpern. "It was the kind of thing I would never do on a typical morning when we're all racing out the door. When she woke up, she told me she had two dreams last night: In the first one, she could fly; in the second one, her friends showed up at our house."

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Istanbul, Turkey

"We are stressed after learning two of our nephews have been diagnosed with Covid-19," says photographer Emin Ozmen. "They are four and six years old, living in France, far from us. My wife Cloé is sitting on the couch, lost in her thoughts and hoping for the best for our loved ones."

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Nairobi, Kenya

"Nearly all my adult life I've lived far away from my family and yet they were never more than a day's flight away," says Nichole Sobecki. "In this photo, my parents, brother, and I are gathered around a birthday cake. There’s a yellow glow about the image that defines home for me. Last week Kenya closed its airspace entirely. I look up now into the cool, blue sky above Nairobi and I see distance."

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Somerset, England

"I usually spend two weeks at home and two weeks away on assignment every month," says Lynsey Addario, "so being in one household with my husband and children and my extended family—the same nine people—for an indefinite amount of time is really a novelty."

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Salvador, Brazil

"My mother, who is 76 years old, has been alone for the last two weeks," says photographer Cristina de Middel. "We used to talk two or three times a week when things were normal, but since she is isolated, she has become much more dependant. I now talk to her twice a day everyday, in the morning and to say good night before she goes to bed."

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VLAARDINGEN, Holland

"My daughters Merel and Fleur are on a video call with Merel’s friend Iris, who lives 100 meters from our house," says photographer Jasper Doest. "The girls are clearly not used to this way of communication and don’t know what to say. They start to ask each other random questions about the weather situation at their place, forgetting they are practically neighbors. When I start laughing, Merel pushes me away and wants her privacy."

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London, England

Photographer Sim Chi Yin is expecting a baby in three weeks or less. She's been told that many parents are giving birth at home to avoid the hospitals. She and her partner are considering it, although she is an older, first-time mother. "Dear Lucas," writes photographer Sim Chi Yin to her unborn son, "we will do our best to shield you from the worst of these times."

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Petaluma, California

"We are so lucky to live where we live," says photographer Jim Goldberg, describing a daily routine in which the pace of emails is slower but vegetables still need to be picked for his morning smoothie. His partner, the photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti, nuzzles a mule.

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Cocoa Coast, Brazil

"Gabi is my friend, my neighbor, and my tai chi teacher," says photographer Luisa Dorr. "She has been living in this house, completely isolated, for a while. There's not even electricity or tap water. The good thing is that life here is pretty frugal, basic things are less expensive then in cities, and the community engagement is strong."

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Milan, Italy

"This image was created to resemble memories I have from when I lived with my family," says photographer Camilla Ferrari. "It's a screenshot from one of our video calls. I asked my mom to be my eyes and frame the images following my directions — it was something very new for us, this creative collaboration. Probably it’ll become a new shared memory."

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Easton, Maryland

"After a few weeks of covering corona in New York, I decided I wanted to ride things out with family in the D.C. suburbs," says photographer Peter van Agtmael. "My parents are in their 70s, so first there was the necessity to self-quarantine for two weeks at my folks' place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. For the first few days I was joined by my close friend Christian Hansen, who was en route to his own family in Kentucky. We kept six feet apart with one exception: He had to help me dig out a large glass shard that got stuck in my foot."

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.