These photos reveal a hushed world

Empty beaches, still streets, sleeping children—photographers capture a world quieted by coronavirus.

Photograph by Luisa Dorr
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Cocoa Coast, Brazil

The day photographer Luisa Dorr took this picture the beach was deserted. "There were no signs of humans anywhere in sight," she says. "I was alone. It was quiet, clean, and full of love—not human but natural."

Photograph by Luisa Dorr

The pandemic has brought quiet, at least to some. Noise still fills hospitals crowded with coronavirus patients and homes containing pent-up kids. But quiet can be found in streets emptied of cars, in shuttered businesses, and in those times when there’s no place to go and nothing to do but listen to the soft sounds that used to be drowned out by our busy lives.

Photographers, confined like the rest of us, are capturing those moments of silence, of reflection, of clarity. In New York, a photographer, alone and sick with COVID-19, notices sunlight illuminating his parents’ portrait. In California, a couple cherishes a moment alone near the sea. In Poland, a library seems more hushed than it’s ever been, and in Spain, an ornate carousel has come to a stop.

How are people experiencing this new quiet? 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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Amman, Jordan

In the courtyard of an Islamic charity center, a woman finds a narrow spot of shade where she waits for aid to be distributed.

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New York, New York

Out-of-service taxi cabs fill a parking lot. "As a born-and-raised New Yorker," says photographer Celeste Sloman, "the quiet that we are experiencing now is something unfathomable, calming, surreal, and profoundly unsettling at the same time."

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West Stockbridge, Massachusetts

"Today the light took different paths," says photographer John Stanmeyer. "One of the many trees outside a window in the living room reminded me that she was still there."

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NESODDTANGEN, Norway

"We are having the first days of real spring, and all the foliage and flowers are starting to blossom," says photographer Jonas Bendiksen. "The quiet days without running off somewhere all the time has made me really grateful to have all this right where I live."

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New York, New York

"I didn't tell my family that I was isolated and sick in bed for three weeks with COVID-19," says photographer Ismael Ferdous. "That time was the quietest in recent memory. I looked forward to the moment every day when the light would hit my shelf and illuminate my parents, who are back in Bangladesh."

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Las Vegas, Nevada

"I've spent very little time in this city," says photographer Daniella Zalcman, "but my experiences have always been of extremes: opulence, lights, crowds, noise. It's strange and a little unsettling to drive along the Las Vegas Strip without seeing the usual chaos."

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

"I’ll never stop relearning the same lesson," says photographer Alec Soth. "A photograph doesn’t depict a thing; rather, it depicts light bouncing off of a thing. To absorb this lesson, it’s just a matter of quieting oneself and paying attention."

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Ventura County, California

"As crazy as it sounds," says Alexis Frutos (in red), "sitting behind a fence is as free as I have felt for the last few months." She and Kailey James (in black) live together with three others in an apartment in Long Beach.

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London, England

"I take pictures of flowers in the garden, in the park, mainly because I like flowers," says photographer Chris Steele-Perkins, "I send them to my wife, who is in Japan, and say, 'Look, the rhododendrons are in full bloom in Dulwich Park' or 'The tulips are fading.'"

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New York, New York

Before the pandemic, photographer Elias Williams would often hear people passing beneath his apartment window in the Bronx. "With most people staying indoors this all happens infrequently," he says, "amplifying the dragging sound of car traffic, hair-raising ambulance sirens, and the gentle chime for closing doors on the trains underground."

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Fécamp, France

With only a few children attending daycare, there are plenty of quiet moments for a story.

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Florence, Italy

"Normally, walking around Florence, I would have heard the sound of dozens of different languages," says photographer Gabriele Galimberti. "For two months now, silence has been the soundtrack of my walks in the city, only sometimes broken by the voice of a policeman calling out to check what I'm doing."

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Rochester, New York

"On the one hand, there's never any quiet in my life because my kids are home all day," says photographer Gregory Halpern, who took this portrait of his six-year-old daughter. "On the other hand, there's a deeper sense of quiet than perhaps I've ever had."

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Krakow, Poland

The main reading room at the Jagiellonian University library has likely never been so hushed.

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Setubal, Portugal

"Our pace has changed," says photographer Matthieu Paley. "All the coming and going to visit friends, go to guitar or drawing classes, etc., all this has stopped."

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Athens, Greece

"After all these years I've been living in Athens, I feel the city has changed drastically in a few days," says photographer Enri Canaj. "There is a deep melancholic feeling, like the city's energy is vanishing slowly."

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Montreal, Canada

"Quietness does not always come with sorrow or sadness," says photographer Zied Ben Romdhane. "In my surroundings, I feel more an invitation to contemplate what is essential to bring joy or at least tranquility to one's life."

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Delhi-NCR, India

"After six weeks of staying indoors," says photographer Smita Sharma, "I finally ventured out to get a sense of what was happening in the vicinity of my house." At a once busy intersection, she came across this migrant worker selling vegetables. "It felt strangely silent."

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Miami, Florida

Reflected in a rain puddle, the Celebrity Equinox is empty except for the crew members who clean and maintain the massive cruise ship.

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Paris, France

Pigeons flock to the only people in the Louvre's empty courtyard.

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Petaluma, California

"The woman in the sun came from Berkeley to find the quiet of nature at this small pebble beach alongside the Russian River," says photographer Jim Goldberg. "Few cars pass by on the bridge above her. The only sounds are of birds and the rippling water."

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Milan, Italy

"These quarantine days I spend a lot of time with my son," says photographer Andrea Frazzetta. "The quiet only returns within the walls of the house when he falls asleep. Today he told me he had a beautiful dream: His own toys had started talking to him."

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"In the late afternoon, rolling thunder marks the arrival of a tropical downpour as lightning illuminates the darkened sky and all below it momentarily," says photographer Ian Teh. "After the rain, the sweet scent of wet leaves drifts through the window, its lingering air cool against the skin."

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Bucerias, Mexico

Photographer César Rodriguez was walking on the beach when a woman on a horse passed him. "The wind was against her so I couldn't hear the steps of the horse," he says. "She appeared and went fast, like a mirage."

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Silver Spring, Maryland

"With fewer cars on the normally busy main road near our home, we’ve started hearing the chorus of songbirds migrating through the area," says photographer Greg Kahn. "With the chirping as the soundtrack, my three-year-old daughter spends quiet time using the windows as her canvas."

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Thokoza, South Africa

Even during the pandemic lockdown, "this view is literally the only truly quiet place you'll find in the township," says photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa. "It is also where my father is laid to rest."

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New York, New York

"I took this photo in the early days of the stay-at-home order in New York," says photographer Peter Van Agtmael. "I was trying to reckon with the eeriness of an empty city, with the knowledge that the worst was about to come."

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Barcelona, Spain

Carlos Hernandez (left) and Rocio Cano, journalists from a local news program, report on the city's empty beaches.

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Madrid, Spain

"With 6.5 million inhabitants, the city is mute and empty," says photographer Cristina Garcia Rodero. "You only hear the sounds of some cars or footsteps on the way to the supermarkets and pharmacies."

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Brighton, England

A sunlit corner helps photographer Mark Power's daughter Chilli continue to work toward her fine art degree, despite the lockdown.

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Milan, Italy

"As I was taking a shower, I realized something was moving to my left," says photographer Camilla Ferrari. "It was my reflection on the wet surface of the shower box. I felt less lonely."

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Topanga Canyon, California

"One of our outside chairs is being taken over by weeds," says photographer Karla Gachet. "This is a reminder of time going by, even though our days seem to blend into each other and we feel suspended, waiting for the normal."

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Tehran, Iran

"This normally is one of the busiest streets in our neighborhood," says photographer Newsha Tavakolian. "There are traffic jams, buses that zip by, and people navigating the traffic. I never thought I would see this street so quiet."

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Wellfleet, Massachusetts

"Sequestered here on Cape Cod, I wander the quiet, deserted beaches of my childhood hometown," says photographer Alex Webb, "following the subtle movements of time and tide, wind and water."

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.